For me, True/Slant began a long time ago.
It didn’t have a name when I scribbled the beginnings of an idea on a calendar page during an interminable flight from Washington to New York. There was a vision, though: to enable credible and experienced journalists and content creators to self-publish and to build audiences around their names and topic-specific news knowledge. Along the way, the idea was to adhere to and honor traditional news values and to embrace the powerful dynamics of the Web.
True/Slant has evolved from those early thoughts as creative people injected their passion and ideas. Today, T/S is a unique news platform company. In a social media setting, more than 300 talented contributors provide their expertise across 18 topic areas, connecting with consumers seeking a more open news experience. Contributors engage with their audience, their followers and one another in a dialogue unlike any other on the Web.
A few months back, we took another bold step. We started a pilot program to offer our publishing tools to marketers. It was our twist on the advertising model, and we called it the T/S Ad Slant. Just as important, it was our way to aggressively tear down the walls between True/Slant’s Entrepreneurial Journalists, our audience and our advertisers so each could publish and share their take on the news and events of the moment. To us, the future of news and the news business itself is the free flow of those three important voices, all clearly labeled and identified.
It all worked. Our audience has grown nearly every month since our launch in April 2009, when Walt Mossberg told his readers that True/Slant was launching with “a novel approach to journalistic entrepreneurship, new forms of advertising, and an effort to blend journalism and social networking.” In May, a record 1.5 million unique users will have visited our site.
For the last six months we’ve been engaged in second-round fund raising.
In brief, here are a few observations:
– In first-round venture capital funding, start-ups traditionally raise money to build the product — and in our case to scale both our contributor base and our audience. The second round of cash is used to monetize the product. Today, venture capitalists on the East Coast are obsessed with revenue generation, even for young companies such as True/Slant. In effect, there’s a merging of rounds one and two. West Coast venture capitalists remain very interested in the team and the idea and generally seem less fixated on revenue. But they have their own obsession: finding the next Facebook and Twitter that will attract an audience of 50 million. In the face of these twin obsessions, multiple VCs showed strong interest in True/Slant’s lower-cost, incentive-based contributor model and our audience growth.
– Strategic investors are an entirely different story. Since I came from the land of Big Media companies, walking into their offices as an entrepreneur opened my eyes even wider to their issues. Those engaged in the news space are obsessed with the need to change now that they’ve slimmed down their operations. Many seemed envious of what we had accomplished in such a short time. Still, most remain incredibly paralyzed and calcified in their thinking, except perhaps when it comes to their delusional belief that Steve Jobs and the iPad or its successor will save their lives (i.e. what’s left of their retirement savings), their business models and the future of a free press.
Please remember, I said “most.” Forbes Media, an original investor in True/Slant, is one of the forward-thinking companies that is not afraid to act.
I worked at Forbes a decade ago. It has always been iconoclastic and contrarian. Perhaps that’s why Forbes, with the strategic thinking and strong support of Tim Forbes, long ago entered the digital space in a big way while other traditional media companies just dabbled. Our other investor is Fuse Capital. One of its partners, Jonathan Miller, who has since moved on to News Corp., deeply believed in True/Slant’s mission. Jon played a big part in our unfolding vision. Our name, True/Slant, came about because he pushed me in his uniquely understated way to find just the right one.
The exciting next stage of the True/Slant vision is about to begin. Forbes Media is acquiring True/Slant and bringing it in house.
What does that mean? Some start-ups continue on as separate entities and build a business. Others become entrepreneurs within a larger company to effect change through technology innovation, new processes, creative thinking and more. Think how Twitter brought in Summize and its engineers and search technology to scale operations.
The small True/Slant team, with more than 100 years of Web, publishing and TV experience, will now be working side-by-side with talented and dedicated journalists at Forbes Media. The goal: to work together to further develop a mindset around the power of the Web and traditional news values. With hard work, we can implement new blogging platforms and more efficient digital, print and video content creation models; we can find better ways for audiences to engage with news and information; and we can pursue new integrative approaches for marketers and advertisers.
The Forbes brand has deep meaning for audiences, journalists and marketers. The brand befits the entrepreneurial spirit that is so vital to capitalism and business creation. Working together as one team, we can propel a great and storied brand into the next stage of its media life.
We always told our 300+ contributors that True/Slant was their digital home. We watched as they provided context and perspective on the news, conducted interviews and even broke some news. We were inspired and we learned so much as they used our tools to publish and connect with the audience and fellow T/S contributors.
Our contributors believed, and that meant everything to us. We will always be grateful for your pioneering spirit, dedication and professionalism. As True/Slant transitions, some of you may be interested in moving with us to Forbes. We look forward to discussing the possibilities with you.
To our audience we say thank you — for giving us a chance, for following our T/S contributors, for coming back to visit us month after month.
To all our supporters, particularly those who stood squarely behind me and guided me throughout my 35-year career (you all know who you are), I offer my sincere thanks. True/Slant would have never happened without you.
The news business remains in tremendous turmoil, searching for both credible journalistic experiences and profitable models: High cost, high quality journalism is staring into the face of low cost “content farming.”
The True/Slant team is quite proud that it helped lead the way in producing high quality content in an efficient manner. Now, we are incredibly excited about moving our ideas and passion on to the bigger stage of Forbes.com and all of Forbes Media’s other properties.
We’ll see you there.