April 27, 2009

NY Times Declares Comment King Through Clenched Teeth

by tolles at 1:33 PM

Virginia Heffernan's article Comment is King in yesterday's Sunday NY Times magazine was an insightful piece around the role of commentary on news sites like the Washington Post, Salte and others -- although perhaps more insightful than she intended..

For what Ms. Heffernan really shines light on is the way that journalists at publications see comments, commentary and commenters.

"Most journalists hate to read it, because it’s stinging and distracting, and readers rarely plow through long comments sections unless they intend to post something themselves."

I'll skip the knock about unsubstatiated generalizations, since I think she's right -- print and old school journalists do hate commentary. And I will give a shout out to MS. Hefferman here for what opened that paragraph:

"Someone should be paying more attention, especially since online newspaper commenters as a whole seem to have (at least) the stamina, drive and spare time to become a cogent part of online journalism."

Well, they are. Michael Arrington of Techcrunch regularly responds in the comments of his news site. And if you were following what the AP was up to, the comments were where it was at for that story, with Jim Kennedy and Arrington mixing it up. And, here at Topix, we're powering through the lack of local reporting by enabling the people to power that news themselves through commentary in over 20,000 cities and towns.

What she's missing here, and what informs the relationship here around journalists and commentary is that commentary makes the story secondary. In commentary, the original article becomes the seed of a conversation or discussion. And, the commentary is not merely some sort of add on to the article, but the main point of the exercise.

The Internet is not, at the end of the day, a distribution vehicle for your content. The Internet is a place for people to interact and participate with your content, add to it, and make something new. The people transform what they get to touch.

The article describes some of the more common behaviors in online commnetary -- the back and forth between commenters, and the observations that most commentary is written for the commenter themselves. If the article had enabled commentary, I would have perhaps pointed out that the Internet does not have "signature 'fact-checking'", or rather, it's called fisking

Perhaps more telling is her point that the fact checking "rarely potent enough to compel corrections by The Post". Maybe it's because the comments are petty and banal. Or maybe the Post (and other publications) aren't really involved or paying attention. Or both.

. And maybe nothing can — or even should — be done to curb entirely the brute urge of readers to defy what they’ve read.

Despite Ms. Heffernan's clear bias here, she gets a lot of it right, and if you care about the future of what news looks like, and why journalists and journalism will fight that future into bankruptcy, this is a great piece.

April 21, 2009

Topix becomes #1 news site of Gannett, Tribune & McClatchy Internet Portfolio

by tolles at 7:34 AM

In March of 2005, we received investment from the three largest newspaper companies in the US, Gannett, Tribune and Knight Ridder. Flash forward four years: In March 2009, we edged out USA TODAY to become their #1 media property at 6.5M unique visitors (comScore) with a focus on hyper local participation. Out of US newspaper sites, only the New York Times has more unique visitors.

News Site        Unique Visitors (000)

NYTimes.com                      10,942
Topix.com                          6,495
USA Today Sites                   5,960
WashingtonPost.com          5,829
LATimes.com                        5,173

Source: comScore, Media Metrix, March 2009

The folks I’ve worked with over the past four years are smart, savvy and realize where they stand. They wanted to make sure they had a stake in a news aggregator with Google having just launched Google news. A little while into their investment, we told them that news aggregation was a great start to a business, but it wasn’t very interesting, from either a traffic or a revenue standpoint. And that doubling down on hyper local news – especially where there currently wasn’t any – was the strategy we were going to pursue.

As Robert Scoble points out in his recent post, Topix and our pursuit of a model to deal with hyperlocal news, is one of the online efforts our newspaper investors have a stake in, and also that local is a pretty major part of the future of the news busienss

While we started out as a broad-based news aggregator, we noticed that what people wanted most was news about their town. So, we moved to augment our news with comments and stories from our visitors. And today it’s great to see that our strategy has paid traffic dividends, and being the #1 site with respect to unique visitors with company like the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY is something we’re pretty proud of here at Topix.

There has been a lot of hue and cry about decisions made by the newspaper companies. Looking at the moves made by Gannett, Tribune and Knight Ridder (acquired by McClatchy), it is not like they did nothing. They created the #1 job site online, Careerbuilder, some of the largest classified sites online (cars.com. apartments.com, homegain, and the #1 local news site online – Topix). Despite what journalists think, with the decoupling of classified revenues, there is going to be a huge restructuring in the news business, and it’s going to be bloody. There’s really nothing that would have prevented most of what’s happening here.

Over the past four years, we have grown Topix with its roots in aggregation technology, to the place where people discuss the news and issues important to where the live and work. Embracing audience participation is for us the critical engine for content creation and traffic growth.

Local news is not a search problem, it’s a community opportunity.

There’s still a lot of work to do here, but it feels good to tell my board that we are their #1 most visited site.

April 10, 2009

LAist interviews Topix

by tolles at 4:26 PM

Mark Dienger, roving reporter for the LAist interviewed my at the Web 2.0 show, and I think he teased out a pretty good overview of Topix, the opportunity for local content and advertising as well as my take on LA vs. SF tech....

April 9, 2009

Topix at Web 2.0, local audiences and local advertising

by tolles at 1:33 PM

Lots of discussion around the fate of the news business -- for us, connecting our local audiences to business wanting to reach them seems to be a growing part of our revenues, and I'm on the road talking about that to people at conferences like the Web 2.0 Expo.

Here's a video from Jolie O'Dell who's reporting for Brian Solis' Bub.licio.us where I talk to Jolie about Topix and what's going on in the local space...