True/Slant is a recent arrival on the online-only news scene, aiming to offer a voice not only to its 100 or so contributors, but to the reader and the advertiser also. It is not a typical news site offering breaking news, but rather features commentary, opinion and some original reporting. Based in New York, the start-up has just six full-time staff, led by founder and CEO Lewis Dvorkin who has a total of 35 years of media experience, the last 12 of which has been in online news. The other employees have a similar mix of traditional and new media backgrounds, he said. T/S is a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group. The Editors Weblog spoke to Dvorkin to find out more.
The five differences
Dvorkin stressed the five ways in which T/S is "very different from any other news site." Firstly, because of the tools that it gives its journalists to create their own original content in real time. Second, because of its approach to copyright: contributors are encouraged to offer their perspective "around a piece of content that might have been produced elsewhere." Third, the relationship between the contributor and the audience is different because the contributors are contractually obliged to interact with their community. The last two differences are that the journalists have a variety of salary options and that the site has adopted an unusual approach to advertising.
For entrepreneurial journalists
True/slant offers "entrepreneurial" journalists their own homepage on the web, or as Dvorkin put it, "we enable them to create their own brand of one." They must be "experienced" in a specific field such as finance, politics or health but do not have to be a journalist from a traditional background: bloggers, authors or academics are also welcome. True/Slant is not a typical news publication with an editorial line, rather the work of a collection of individuals. "We don't have any ideology here, we have 100 different contributors, 100 different voices and 100 different perspectives," Dvorkin said.
Interaction with the audience is compulsory. Apart from that, it is up to each contributor to decide what they write and when. Much of what they write is opinion and commentary, but some also do original reporting. It is easy for them to comment on other news, by simply highlighting a section of an article they find on the web and clicking a button, the highlighted text will be placed on their post with a link to the contributing site. They are able to publish photos, audio and video as well as text and can self publish in real time. Their content can be automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook at the time of publishing. There is no traditional editing process in place, Dvorkin explained. Contributors are welcome to discuss their article ideas with a member of the T/S team, but they are not edited before publishing.
Different payment options are available, depending on the amount of risk that an individual contributor wants to take: journalists can choose to receive a monthly stipend, to participate in revenue sharing or they can actually have stock in T/S. Contributing to T/S is more likely to be one of several projects that a writer is working on, rather than their main source of revenue.
Promoting journalist-reader dialogue
Readers who want to interact with journalists must register and then they can 'follow' their chosen contributors and comment on articles, being drawn into a dialogue. Contributors highlight the user comments that they feel "further the conversation." A selection of these highlighted comments are then be integrated on the home page, amongst contributors' content. Dvorkin believes that this is very important to today's news reader, who enjoys "engaging with and being part of the news life of a professional media person." He believes that the True/Slant environment can be a "powerful experience" in the way that it encourages dialogue between contributors and users, as well as between fellow users.
A voice for advertisers
True/Slant is currently relying on advertising as its sole source of revenue. As well as display advertising, the company is incorporating "a very unique feature" called T/S Ad Slant for corporate marketers. They too can have a voice on True/Slant: they can pay for their own page and have access to the same tools that a contributor has to interact with a community. "It's a more direct and engaging approach," Dvorkin commented. He explained that such pages are integrated into the larger network in a "contextually relevant way," but stressed that the pages are clearly labelled as from marketers. Will this prove more lucrative than traditional advertising?
Dvorkin said that the site has plans to grow, hoping to add more contributors and enhance its features. He believes that True/Slant is offering consumers a different way to experience news, one that is "more in line with how they want to access and interpret information today." Breaking news can be found in abundance throughout the web. What readers do need, is experienced, knowledgeable journalists to analyse and explain the news that they find, and this is where True/Slant steps in. It is indeed likely that many readers will appreciate the chance to be part of a conversation and form a relationship with their favourite writers. And from a writer's perspective, considering the growing number of out of work journalists today as traditional media outlets are forced to make cutbacks, a site that provides them with the tools for successful freelancing could be very welcome.