January 8, 2014 Last Updated 8:48 am

New tech site efforts target different audiences but reflect changed world of media

Re/code and Yahoo Tech launch, while old media properties attempt to recover from loss of media stars

Those who cover technology for traditional news outlets have watched the growth of the tech websites and have probably felt more than a bit jealous that Engadget or The Verge can dedicate so many pixels to tech while their properties only deliver news (and silly rumors) in drips. The old formula of newspapers and their web properties just are too constricting – and new media launches are, apparently, out of the question.

Pogue-video-screenAs a result, it proved easy for the team at AllThingsD to find backers to launch their own outlet at Re/code.net, and David Pogue was picked off by Yahoo! to lead the launch of Yahoo Tech – an address that doesn’t need an exclamation point because Pogue will provide them en masse.

The launch of two new, well-funded media properties in one week would be deemed unusual were it not for the fact that we appear to be entering a time when there is enthusiasm, and plenty of money, for funding new media launches – as long as those launches are primarily digital, and they are outside the world of traditional media. The money may not always come from outside the traditional media world, as Re/code’s backers include NBC, but those old media companies are rarely at the center of the effort.

YahooTech-screen-frontYahoo Tech got a rousing, if cringe inducing, launch yesterday at CES. Centered around David Pogue, who left The New York Times for the effort, the new site is relentlessly consumer oriented. Pogue and team can now offer readers the volume of material found the web-only tech sites, but geared not for geeks but for consumers. Yahoo Tech will, no doubt, get raspberries from the tech media, but their audience is certainly not the same.

Pogue is a talented and occasionally entertaining journalist. Yahoo Tech, though, allows Pogue to become a characterization of himself, like Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson. But over time this relentless consumerism may get toned down and some sort of equilibrium may be found.

As for the new site, I find it very attractive – and that from someone who absolutely hates the whole move towards boxes of content used in web and tablet page design (read: Flipboard). I especially like the way stories appear in new layouts that can be closed so that the reader returns to the contents page. I wonder what those who try to drive web page traffic think of the design, however. No matter, it is reader friendly.

As for the content, it is perfect for Yahoo! – shallow, sugar coated, and relentlessly consumer. Tech writers will hate it.

recode-front-lgRe/code is the new site from Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, and parts of the AllThingsD team. Backed by NBCUniversal News Group and Windsor Media, the new venture is a true media launch rather than simply a new portion of an existing media venture (like Yahoo Tech). It is truly a jump into the unknown, though with around $10 to $15 million in funding, it isn’t entering the media world exactly naked.

Re/code also has the advantage of having an experienced team and sense of mission that most new launches do not. It isn’t AllThingsD, but it’s damn close. Because of this, the new site appears to have tried very hard not to copy the look and feel of the old one. This, it may turn out, is a bit of a mistake.

The new site is powered by WordPress and it’s look is not that dissimilar to other WordPress sites, including this one.

But as I was looking at the site I reflected on the fact that I so rarely visited AllThingsD through the home page. That site, which was attractive, and somewhat in keeping with the corporate look of The Wall Street Journal, was one I always entered through Twitter or a Google search, or a direct link. Mossberg, Swisher and team (especially the team) produced stories from original sources that were often the first or most popular source for a story and so social media drove the traffic – the home page was less of importance.

This is a very different situation than the NYT or WSJ has. Readers more often come in through the front door, so home page design is extremely important.

I find Re/code far less attractive than Yahoo Tech, but I am quite sure that I will be on that site more often than Yahoo Tech – far more often.

Should traditional media companies like the NYT or The Washington Post be the ones launching these kinds of new media ventures? That is a very relevant question today as we have seen Mossberg, Pogue, Nate Silver, Glenn Greenwald and others bolt the somewhat secure world of traditional media for new ventures. But, let’s be honest, none of these media professionals are leaving the comfy corporate world for a garage start-up.

On the other hand, $10 to $15 million is a modest investment in a new media venture by today’s standards. When I went searching for start-up funds a decade or so ago I only wanted $5 million, but was told that if I wanted $15 to 25 million I would have an easier time getting in the door. It took me only a couple of weeks to line up an appointment at a NYC investment company.

Last week the NYT reported that Ezra Klein had approached the publisher of the WaPo Katharine Weymouth, and the new owner Jeff Bezos, about investing an “eight figure” amount of money in a new media venture. They turned him down. At least one media/tech reporter thought the WaPo should have invested the money.

Had I been at the table at the meeting I am sure I would have asked for a proposed budget and P&L and probably would have rejected out of hand any launch proposal that did not thoroughly consider revenue.

But that doesn’t mean that traditional media properties shouldn’t be launching these kinds of new ventures. In fact, they are in a far better position to do so than any start-up. Yet newspapers, in particular, have stubborning held onto the idea that the existing property is what is important. It has taken many newspapers more than a decade to recognize the importance of the web – but now they simply have added their websites to their print newspapers as protected properties, afraid to compete against themselves for fear of diluting their audience. The result has been that as advertising moves towards digital, newspapers move towards a paid circulation model. A fool and their money are soon parted.

Some are arguing that the new ventures are pointing out that the value today for newspapers is in their star reporters, that the rise of Twitter and other social media have made it so that readers follow individual reporters rather than media properties as a whole. This is not at all true – this has always been the case.

When William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Morning Journal in 1895 the first thing he did was raid the New York World of its staff. Individual journalists have always been the draw that attracted readers. There is no power shift, ask any publisher who has ever negotiated with a reporter or editor to retain them – they have always known the value of their personalities. Denying this, and promoting the media property’s brand, is simply a way to keeping labor costs under control.

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