When Walt Mossberg, Wall Street Journal, reviewed True/Slant–an online news organization started nine months ago by Lew Dvorkin, former AOL editor-in-chief—he said:
“It is clear what you are getting—editorial or advertorial—a blend of journalism and social networking.”
In December, True/Slant surpassed one million unique visitors in the month and features 300 credible contributors including Miles O’Brien, formerly of CNN, and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.
Dvorkin’s mission is to “remain committed to the values and standards of traditional news journalism that have served the public interest so well for so long,” while giving marketers an opportunity” to be part of the news discussion.” I spoke with Dvorkin yesterday; here are highlights of our conversation.
1) Readers are interested in individual voices they trust, not in institutional brands. They also want a chance to participate in the dialogue, moderated by the True/Slant contributors. The reporters are expected to engage with those posting comments.
2) Readers prefer a point of view, not a “he said, she said” approach. “They want context and perspective….transparent and passionate voices…news reported by journalists they recognize.”
3) Journalists self-publish under their own names “in a curated network environment, to build audiences around their expertise.” The contributors must have subject-specific knowledge in industry verticals, such as Business; Science and Technology; Health; Entertainment. “We are aggregators of talent, not copy editors. Each journalist is responsible for what he/she produces and how he/she markets the content.” Dvorkin calls them Entrepreneurial Journalists. Most receive incentive-based compensation structured around the growth of their audience. Some share in the site’s revenue and others have equity in True/Slant. The contributors also choose stories from around the Web that are featured through “headline grabs.”
4) The content is organized by journalist and by topic “to enable the audience to efficiently find interesting news culled by contributors they respect.” RSS feeds push material out while T/S Suggests, a new function soon to be launched, matches reader interests with contributors and content.
5) Marketers can “offer their unfiltered view of the world” through the T/S Ad Slant, “a new kind of real-time advertorial.” The paid content is clearly labeled and “dynamically and contextually integrated throughout the site.” Marketers can also place ads on their T/S Ad Slant page, or anywhere on the site. Dvorkin said, “A company like Merck can talk about drug discovery, explain research and patents, engage with our healthcare contributors and the audience, build a community and curate the conversation with comment management tools.” BIO, the biotechnology association, is a charter advertiser.
6) Dvorkin modestly posits, “We have decided to build the New Newsroom for the digital age. On True/Slant, our T/S contributors, their audiences, marketers and featured content partners can all publish content and discuss with one another in a public and credible environment.”
The opportunity for us in PR is to work in both the free and paid sides of True/Slant. The advertorial can be the company’s view on a set of issues, updated in real time. The reader community’s participation is enhanced with links and cross-references to bloggers or journalists in mainstream media. And we can help reporters with their stories, particularly news not getting space elsewhere. This is a venture worth supporting.