Forbes: One reporter, one blog

forbes.com logoUnder new management, Forbes Media is making a very smart move that I think more media companies should emulate. Under the edict “one reporter, one blog,” every reporter on staff gets a blog, most starting from scratch. This is a far cry from the old régime, headed by former Forbes.com CEO Jim Spanfeller. According to Business Insider, Spanfeller, who retired last year, was very anti-blog.

Lewis D'VorkinBut Forbes’ new editorial director is Lewis D’Vorkin — known to some staffers as “Darth” D’Vorkin. D’Vorkin came to the company in its acquisition of his freelance blogging startup, True/Slant, so the idea of shifting to a more blog-dominant environment should come as no surprise.

In an article in the New York Observer after D’Vorkin’s appointment as Forbes’ chief product officer, Zeke Turner wrote that the magazine was also adopting D’Vorkin’s controversial views of the business of journalism.

Mr. D’Vorkin…thinks of stories as product. And the most efficient way to churn out and make money from this product is to create a more efficient editing process with fewer layers. “Moving forward, when I look at an operation like Forbes, I look at a mixture of a full-time staff base and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of freelance contributors. It’s that blend,” Mr. D’Vorkin said.

…“There is a fit and finish that you must have in print. Online, it’s not about fit and finish; it’s about the flow of information, the updates of information. It’s about relevance and timeliness. It’s not about craftsmanship. Quality online does not equal craftsmanship. In print, quality does equal craftsmanship.”

D’Vorkin hinted to Daily Finance last month that Forbes needed to become a “content creation force.”

Dvorkin, a former AOL executive, believes his model, which he calls “entrepreneurial journalism,” is a big part of what Forbes needs to start growing again. Entrepreneurial journalism — in which writers function as freelance contractors with a financial interest in building their own readership — is the golden middle road, he says, between the old paradigm represented by print magazines and newspapers, and the new one represented by blogs and websites.

I think D’Vorkin’s model is spot-on for local media companies, too, and I’ll be eagerly watching him develop and execute the strategy. There are three reasons I think he’s right.

  1. The flow of information does not require complex packaging, so the need for layers of management is diminished. When speed is of value, this is especially true, and independently-functioning journalists can operate more freely in such an environment as D’Vorkin proposes. News and information is a real-time service today, and that demands nimble systems able to move on a dime.
  2. Independent journalists are less expensive, more efficient, more motivated and easier to manage than employees. It is inevitable, given the economics involved in the business of content, that resources slide to that which is most efficient. Journalists, too, will discover the freedoms of working independently, the ability to set their own schedules and the cost savings of being an independent contractor are sufficiently compelling to give up the questionable “benefits” of being employees.
  3. Personal brands are able to compete in the social context of modern media where institutional brands cannot. Personal brands, not media brands, will carry the journalism torch well into the future, and the sooner we all get started, the better. This is why the concept of “one reporter, one blog” resonates so well with me. These reporters, whether they realize it or not, are being given the opportunity to start promoting their own brands. They should jump at the chance.

So the Forbes empire will be a place to watch over the months and years ahead, as it attempts to develop, under its own brand, what AOL and content farms like Demand Media are attempting to do on a larger scale. In a world where people are all networked together, this seems incredible smart to me, and I believe the model is workable on any niche level, including those defined by geography.

Let’s hope the employees and staff of Forbes are able to see that the benefits of “Darth” D’Vorkin’s plan vastly outweigh the perceived downsides.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

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