I think, on that side of the coin, it was actually harder at TBD than it was at the Post to forge a relationship with the folks from the legacy side of the business. I think there was a fair amount of resistance from the Channel 7 folks, and, in fairness, they’ve accused us of the same. I don’t think they were ever really that happy that Channel 7’s website got rolled into TBD—though I’d argue that the reason that that happened was that Channel 7’s website wasn’t particularly good, there just wasn’t a whole lot of attention or strategic focus on it. So that part was hard. We had a lot of great people, and there are a lot of great people over at Channel 7, and when we were in a breaking news situation, we worked pretty well together. But I think in a lot of the day-to-day stuff, and a lot of our strategies around social media and linking out, I think they were just never on board with those, and I’m sure aren’t to this day.
So that’s where I think the evolution of TBD will be interesting, because with the TV station now back in charge of the site, I just fear a lot of the things that I thought were unique about TBD—the linking out, the aggressive social media campaign, and the sort of edgier tone—I fear that those things won’t survive under the new regime. And I think that, once you take those things away, you’re not that far from where you were before, which is an okay website that doesn’t really have any distinction from any of the other ones in the region. That’s what we were aiming for right from the start, that this had to feel different from any other news site in town, and I think it did. If you look at the traffic numbers that Paul Farhi referenced in his story the other day, traffic was pretty good, uniques were pretty good. Obviously we were doing something right.
That story also reported that Allbritton had originally said that TBD would be given three to five years to work itself out. Everyone knows that it takes a very long time for any new outlet to make money. So why do you think it was cut off so quickly?
I’m speculating at this point, because I don’t really know, but I suspect that this isn’t just related to TBD. I assume it’s a company-wide decision, made off of factors that aren’t just about TBD—and I don’t know whether those are strategic, or personnel, or financial. But I do think that, as I said to Paul the other day, you don’t give something that long a runway and then shut it down this quickly without something having changed in the interim. I mean, I saw someone from Channel 7 quoted as saying there was a big gap between our revenue and our expenses. My response to that would be, that’s exactly what was budgeted in year one. It’s not as if we had expected to be raking in the cash in year one, and now we’re taking a hit; it’s part of the building process. You lose money early on when you’re building your audience and evolving your strategy. So I don’t think that alone answers the question, I think there’s got to be more to it than that.
I do think the tension between the legacy media and the startup mentality is really the issue. A lot of people have couched this out to be the TV people versus the web people, or people who are new to the company versus people who have been there for a while—but I think it’s really just a classic legacy/startup conflict. You have to take some resources away from the legacy business if you want to start a new business. And that tends to put a fair amount of pressure on the new business—to perform quickly, and to fit into the culture—and that just doesn’t always happen.