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May. 25 2010 - 11:23 am | 5,372 views | 3 recommendations | 42 comments

About those M&A rumors: Forbes to acquire True/Slant

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.

Summer, 2008: From idea to True/Slant concept

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    Congratulations to the T/S team! You’re small, but scrappy.

  2. collapse expand

    Well, Lewis, it’s been a fun ride thusfar and I’m excited to see what lies ahead at Forbes.

    It’s great when small companies realize a vision and all that hard work is vindicated. It doesn’t happen often enough. I hope, now that this is all finalized, that there’s some quality bubbly being passed around the T/S offices.

  3. collapse expand

    yet another semi-independent media absorbed into the infotainment borg…

    let the censorship begin ! ! !

    why not just get it over with and buy democracy now!…

    (i just have to remember my perspective as a media consumer is unimportant, it is whether someone is making money off of this endeavor… *that* is the important thing…)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

  4. collapse expand

    A very significant move, at a time when the traditional media ignores voices from distant (away from the United States) places like the Himalayas, from where I write.
    Good luck Lewis with the new project.

  5. collapse expand

    Hoping some of us will get to stick around. Big news. You must be very proud of this achievement, in a crowded, chaotic space.

  6. collapse expand

    I’m not sure what you just said. Is T/S finished? Do we go to Forbes.com now? Will my avatar ever work consistently if you become Forbes.com? Is Tina Brown kicking your ass? Do you need some money? I might be able to do a small stained glass ad. Tom Medlicott

  7. collapse expand

    Thanks for being forthcoming, and congratulations!

    The big fish eats the little fish and at least you haven’t met the hyena yet (obscure reference to something on Alternet this past week).

    Though, to be fair, my initial response was a frustrated scream. As a news consumer this makes my self-imposed three separate sources rule harder to follow. It’s all right though. While I am making animal kingdom comparisons, I think all the dinosaurs like me will die off soon.

  8. collapse expand

    Like Forbes will permit Matt Taibbi or Allison Kilkenney to publish what they have to say here… True/Slant, it’s been good while it lasted.

  9. collapse expand

    Honored to have been a part of this all so far and intrigued to see what happens next.

  10. collapse expand

    Nice exit strategy. Now you can retire.

    Independent though Forbes may be, it’s still a media powerhouse. I’m not confident your original vision will be carried out once their ad sales machine gets its hands on your product (speaking as a former ad executive, of course). Nope, I see this more as the Silicon Valley model invading publishing and rarely do the acquired entities retain their unique qualities. Remember Macromedia? Great Plains? Compaq? No? Neither does anyone else.

    I’ll stick around as a reader for awhile to test the waters, but since Matt Taibbi already announced he’s bailing, you’ve already given me far fewer reasons to return.

  11. collapse expand

    Some of the contributors MAY want to make the move? How many will you shed? Will the ones that remain have editorial independance? Will you ever get overseas contributors from Asia or Africa?

  12. collapse expand

    So I went to the Forbes website, found the announcement of what I guess is a merger, wrote a comment, and bookmarked the site. I see that some of the contributors I follow are trepidatious. I also read about advertisers – never saw any – and writers receiving bonuses for frequent visitors, etc. That’s good, I guess, otherwise who would know? Just don’t let your invention become Walmart. I’ve been proud to follow T/S thus far – gave me a small voice, made me believe I could do a little more than recycle the LA Times, or the Redlands Daily Facts – I wrote a letter to them about “open carry” and the morons who promote that practice at our Thursday Farmer’s Market. Tom Medlicott – again

  13. collapse expand

    Lewis, I started visiting T/S when I added it to my RSS feed last June when the Beta came around, Love it and thought, this is it, this is what it should be.
    I follow 24 writers on here and have enjoyed my daily “experience” here. From Bob Franken to Harmon Leon, Laurie Essig to Matt Taibbi. I mean come on man, BOB FRANKEN!!! I’ve grown up with him on TV! and now he speaks his mind, how cool is that.
    Again I wish you the best in your endeavors and hope I am still thoroughly entertained in the coming years as I have been this past year
    Cary Aye

  14. collapse expand

    Sorry Lewis, but try as I might, I can’t respect this move.

    Yes, I know it all comes down to the numbers and the fact that the pipers have to get paid. You could have moved this into a user-supported NPR-type model, yet chose not to. Like the once-great CNN, I just can’t bring myself to forgive the management decision to align itself in competition with Fox News.

    True/Slant will not be the same under the Forbes umbrella. Heck, it hasn’t really been the same since Ad/Slant was introduced.

    I came across True/Slant by a happy surfing accident, when there were only a handful of great writers on the roster. I stayed because the writers all had non-standard “beats” like poverty or law, and also because the writers bothered to interact with the readers to clarify their points.

    As True/Slant roster grew, I expected to have a wider spectrum of quality, assuming that True/Slant was just testing them out to see if the audience would respond to their articles. Now I see that under the Forbes umbrella few (if any) research articles will be promoted, and favor opinion rather than fact. No wonder Taibbi jumped ship.

    Ah, well at least you tried, so thanks for trying!

    A loyal reader,

    Viv Hathaway

    P.S. I’ll be renewing my subscription to The Economist instead of subscribing to Forbes. I would have gladly subscribed to old True/Slant, though.

  15. collapse expand

    Disappointing.

    With the money comes the censors and egos to please.

    Anyone want to join with me and create T/S #2?

  16. collapse expand

    So now you are just another evil corporation? Don’t tell Ms. Kilkenny!

  17. collapse expand

    Congratulations from Out West. I hope some of us who have had a great few months introducing &/or elaborating on critical issues we feel passionate about — and interacting with readers who share (or passionately oppose) our views — will be able to stick around. Thanks for an innovative platform from which so many good dives into the news of the day have been launched.

  18. collapse expand

    I’m unclear, too, about whether this is the end of True/Slant as it now exists, or whether some version of this will exist under the Forbes umbrella. The interaction among the contributors–the conversation–is one of the best aspects of T/S, and I hope the continues. Please let us know as soon as you can.

  19. collapse expand

    Lewis, thanks, I really enjoy T/S, it is a Great idea with a capital G! Thanks.

    Forbes, people like picking and choosing what they want to read, I think your smart enough to let T/S keep it’s anonymity, I sure hope you do.

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    About Me

    I'm the Founder and CEO of True/Slant. It's been a long journey: The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, a little tabloid TV, Forbes, AOL -- and I certainly don't want to forget TMZ. I lived through a newspaper strike (sounds quaint, right?), the New York City Black Out in '77, my bout with the Cabbage Patch Dolls -- and a few stints on the unemployment line. I got hooked on the News business as the editor of the Daily Iowan, during the days of Vietnam, Watergate and Roe v. Wade. I can quote all the best lines from "All the President's Men," and I still think Howard Beale did it better than all the real-life pretenders who followed him. I owe so much to James Bellows -- a truly gifted editor, an extraordinary human being and a mentor who was always there for me.

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