When you launch a news start-up on the Internet, there’s two ways you can go: harness your powers of ego projection and hope your product catches up with it; or get down to work and start keeping up with and occasionally defining the news cycle.
True/Slant chose the latter path.
In April 2009 we went live with approximately 60 great writers. Within a few months, it was like we had always been a part of the network of websites that produce, aggregate, and comment on news. We eschewed buzz and buying our way in front of the online audience, choosing instead to let our ever-expanding assortment of terrific writers do their own thing, guiding them when necessary, and trying our best to help them get their content picked up in the right places.
We reached our first month with 1 million unique visitors, December 2009, without a single formal partnership or any other common traffic-generating gimmick. And we sustained that pace through the month of May when our CEO, Lewis D’Vorkin, announced that we were being acquired by Forbes, finishing the month at 1.5 million unique visitors.
This record of success – in terms of high quality content produced, and visitors to our site – was not a mistake. It reflected the hard-work of a team of five (supplemented by some great interns and consultants) who focused on sustaining a platform from which a pool of up to 300 writers were given the right incentives to produce engaging content that readers enjoyed, and returned to.
What we asked our writers to do – identify a unique approach to a news subject, and connect it to an audience – is where we distinguished ourselves from most news organizations. At so many newspapers, magazines, and even websites, writers continue to compose copy in the hopes that it satisfies editors who publish and pay them, and then they’re done. Here, we seldom asked our contributors to satisfy us. Rather, we asked them to think about the conversation they wanted to be a part of, and figure out what mattered to an audience they needed to imagine. These competencies, common among top editors and publishers, were suddenly requirements for every generator of content on our network.
It worked. As the months went on, more and more writers were starting to routinely generate audiences of 5,000, and then 10,000, and then 15,000 unique visitors a month, with the occasional breakout month. That audience was not strictly coming for slideshows filled with T&A, cheap shots, and other trickery – although we had that, too. Just as often, it was coming for insight that couldn’t be found in other spaces on the Internet, and news that had not previously been published elsewhere. And we put the pageview count there on each blog post so you could see it, too. continue »