CNet's Dan Farber on the new news model

Bambi Francisco Roizen · June 9, 2008 · Short URL:

 On Tuesday morning, I'll be moderating a panel, at AlwaysOn's OnHollywood conference, focusing on the new news models across the Web. On my panel will be Dan Farber, Editor in Chief at CNet, Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, Alan Citron of TMZ and Pete Vlastelica of Yardbarker. It should be fun as Drew Curtis is going to warm up the crowd with a "Not news update."

I caught up with the panelists for a pre-interview. Dan's answers and quotes from Rupert Murdoch are worth noting. Here's my interview with Dan.   

BF: Name three major trends in the news business (besides the fact that the audience is fragmenting and more people are getting news online and from multiple sources)

Dan: Rich media, mobile access, collaborative filtering

BF: What do the changes at the Journal - starting to look a lot like USA Today and NYTimes combined - underscore about the changing news landscape?

Dan: From Rupert Murdoch: "A Wall Street Journal story is touched or edited by 8.5 people, and the story gets longer and longer, and people don't have time for that," he said. "There is not a story you can't get in half the space. If the whole Wall Street Journal were like Mossberg's column, Murdoch said he would be a happy man, getting some big laughs from the D6 crowd. The 77-year-old media mogul understands the shortening attention span of the planet.
Murdoch apparently isn't fond of journalism prizes. He says: "Stop having people write articles to win Pulitzer Prizes--give readers something they want to read." Additionally, Murdoch says
that "one of the challenge for news today is writing for the short attention span. It doesn't make sense for every kind of story, and not enough editorial investment is going into investigative journalism and deeper narratives. Winning journalism prizes is a byproduct, not the product or motivation. In the new world of blogs, twitter, 'citizen journalism' etc., bits of information are loosely coupled and sometimes are patched together to expose a bigger picture. It's more random than traditional journalism, but it can yield results and has the advantage of harnessing a much larger pool of data sources and researchers.

BF: What news outlets do you admire? Who's doing it right and what are they doing?

Dan: Mainstream media outlets such as NYT are combining print, Web, mobile and continuing deliver source material and the best of blogs—it boils down to who has great talent turning out content.

BF: Who's making money in news today, and why?

Dan: Whoever has the most monetizable audience and a good sales force or a hot property.

BF: How are you producing the content? To what extent do you count on bloggers, freelancers and/or wannabe pundits who enjoy opining and have a lot of free time on their hands?

Dan: We have a combination of our own experienced and credible staff writers and external writers, many of whom offer more opinion and commentary.
Practically everyone at CNET News blogs—if you mean we present the content in a blog-like template. We have types of stories---straight news, opinion and hybrid (news with some informed opinion from the author).

BF: What payment models are you incorporating to incentivize contributors, writers, producers and editors?

Dan: Vanity payment ($0), honorariums, flat fees, hourly wage, pay per post, pay based on traffic

BF: Who's breaking the news these days?

Dan: Everyone, but especially the major sites and top bloggers...who have audience and are viewed as the most valuable conduits for getting a story out...but increasingly the value of scoops for any author or publication is more difficult realize....the Web refactory instantly grabs them and give enough that people won’t link back...even if there is a link.

BF: Who's distributing the news these days? CBS, Google or Twitter?

Dan: Everyone....

BF: How are the changes in the news industry affecting your business negatively/positively and what are you doing about it?

Dan: Blogs obviously changed the dynamics of the business, giving anyone the capability to be a publisher and reach and audience. Blogging has expanded the pie and we were early to embrace blogging, podcasting, vlogging, twitter and other technologies. The blogosphere makes us better and we can also find talented people to bring into our tent.

BF: Seems big media companies thought about getting into the ad-network game - Reuters, Wired - but they've dropped that initiative. Are creating ad networks of small bloggers a tough business?

Dan:’s difficult for big media to get their head around selling small....

BF: If everyone is breaking news these days, is CNet changing its style or news? Are you less breaking and more analysis?

Dan: We continue to focus on breaking news, and we get our share, and we have more competition than in the past. That said we also focus on continually adding value, advancing stories with more analysis and talented authoritative voices as well as packaging with video, images, audio.

BF: What areas of news gathering are new ground for CNet? Or, what is CNet  doing to differentiate its news?

Dan: See above for differentiation. Green tech and Car Tech are new areas in addition to the tech news we have covered for a decade.

BF: Katie Couric is not serious enough for the Evening News, yet Jon Stewart is not serious at all and he seems to be the place to get news. What does this say about what Americans want to watch?

Dan: Different strokes for different folks...watchers have dozens of choices online and offline. Tradition TV news no longer has a monopoly...and viewers are finding outlets that appeal to them for whatever reasons...

BF: How will CNet change the way CBS covers its news?

Dan: What we are doing at CNET News is at the front edge of where online news is heading.

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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