Yesterday, the alpha version of an exciting new journalism site called True/Slant became public. This is something I have been working on behind closed doors since January. True/Slant, a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group, is based in New York and has recruited about 60 writers, or ‘knowledge experts’ to write columns about things we’re interested in, along the lines of our motto: “News is More Than What Happens”. You can see my column, named Cheeky Geeky, here.
As the Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Walter Mossberg points out in the premiere review of True/Slant this morning, the site is truly trying a new model of web journalism. When I had some initial discussions with the True/Slant team, particularly the Executive Director Coates Bateman (who will no doubt be challenged with ‘managing’ me), I was very excited to hear how social media tools would be mixed with original long form writing. And they were excited to hear about my knowledge of social networks and new marketing that’s come from experimenting with the tools for some time now.
Another quasi-news site based on blogging and funded by advertising, you say. What’s really different about True/Slant? Actually, a LOT.
For one, each contributor has their own platform under the True/Slant umbrella. That means that you can subscribe to just my articles from True/Slant, and not every author’s articles. That also means that advertisers can place ads about, say, technology on my column, and ads about food on my friend Robin Dorian’s ‘foodie’ column called Weird and Delicious. Hence, writers have a vested interest in exploring their niches and making their pages the best possible, worrying somewhat less about the overall True/Slant site.
True/Slant also wants you to know what it’s columnists are reading. Don’t you sometimes ask yourself where your favorite authors get their food for thought? At True/Slant, we tell you. We rip headlines of stories we’re reading and post links on our pages. And on the homepage, editors curate these headlines so you can see a mix of what everyone’s reading, and perhaps get a peek inside our minds as we work throughout the day.
Another thing that is different about True/Slant is a sense of community. As columnists we are strongly encouraged to follow other writers’ columns and post comments on their blog posts. This is already starting to build cohesion among the writers and throughout the site. Readers will learn more about our personalities and understand us more as people, and not just anonymous writers that put up a column once a week. I think this is not unlike the ‘ambient intimacy‘ that people feel when following someone on Twitter for a while.
Yet another unique feature of True/Slant is the plan for advertisers to have columns. Clearly marked as advertising, and perhaps similar to glossy special advertising sections of magazines, this is another potential revenue source that at the same time does not involve columnists in, say, getting paid to write about their views of brands – a highly controversial topic.
Finally, we want True/Slant to be a social network. The readers get involved too – when you comment on our posts, we can “call you out” for a great comment. Readers that get called out a lot will get recognition, as will readers that comment frequently. So, this is a multidirectional conversation – columnists are readers and commenters, and readers are commenters that join our social network. Even management is commenting on our columns – which is pretty cool if you ask me.
I truly believe that True/Slant is a step forward in combining the best of journalism and opinion writing with the best of social networking. It’s something I haven’t yet seen in sites like the Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, or Salon. Even great sites like Mashable and TechCrunch that cover the Web 2.0 sphere of news, for all their RSS subscribers and Twitter followers, do not empower their columnists nor engender a sense of community. So I think we are pushing the envelope. As I once heard Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, say – Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment. True/Slant is poised to make a large ROE by creating a platform for the community that may evolve into loyal readers, in order to then generate a more traditional ROI.
And this is just the start. Looking towards a beta version in May 2009, in the near future True/Slant will have more WordPress plug-ins, integration with Facebook walls and Twitter posts, and other new features that should make the columnist and reader experiences even better. Remember, what you see now is just the early alpha site!
Every week, I plan to publish exclusive opinion pieces on Tuesdays, satires on Thursdays, and a feature called “The Best, The Worst, and The Weird” on Sundays, the latter of which will highlight the best, worst, and weird thing I read in the past week – so send me your ideas!
As Mossberg says in his review of True/Slant, there’s no guarantee that this will all work. But I think that the management of True/Slant is pushing the envelope with regard to the interface of old and new media, and so at the very least it is very exciting to be a part of a great experiment at its most nacent.
For now, check out my column, and start interacting with some of the other great writers on the site. They also author stories for Rolling Stone, Time, Financial Times, and other great outlets, and write about everything from politics to restaurants to neuroscience. Comment on the columns, and tell me about what you do and do not like about the site! From the CEO and Founder, Lewis Dvorkin on down, they are truly listening to what you have to say – and writing columns themselves!