Forbes blogs for sale

By Felix Salmon
September 26, 2010
uproar over the website's blogging platform.

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Lewis D’Vorkin has got off to a rocky start as the guy in charge of editorial at both Forbes magazine and its website: the controversy over the magazine’s execrable cover story by Dinesh D’Souza continues to reverberate. Now, to make matters worse, D’Vorkin seems to be hell-bent on stirring up a Scienceblogs-style uproar over the website’s blogging platform. (Which is basically D’Vorkin’s True/Slant, rebranded.) Michael Learmonth reports:

There’s a business side to Mr. DVorkin’s big idea, and that’s what’s taken him on sales calls to Detroit along with chief revenue officer Kevin Gentzel. The pitch is this: We’ll sell you a blog, and your content will live alongside that of Forbes’ journalists and bloggers. This isn’t the “sponsored post” of yore; rather, it is giving advocacy groups or corporations such as Ford or Pfizer the same voice and same distribution tools as Forbes staffers, not to mention the Forbes brand.

“In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment,” Mr. DVorkin said…

“For the last however many decades of traditional media, you’re a reader so your stuff can only go here,” Mr. DVorkin said, starting to get animated. “You’re an advertiser so stuff can only go here. And our stuff? It goes right here. But there’s a flow of content that’s contextual. Anything can appear in any place as long as it’s contextual — that’s the web and we are bringing that sensibility to the magazine.”

When Scienceblogs tried something along these lines with Pepsi, Newsweek summed things up by saying that “it’s pretty clear that a line was crossed with the Pepsi blog and that the line should never be approached again”. But what D’Vorkin seems to be selling here seems actually to be several steps over the Pepsi/Scienceblogs line.

If you put advertisers on the same distribution platform as your editors and writers, and if you say that there are no lines separating what’s editorial content and what’s advertising, then at that point you don’t need Dinesh D’Souza to destroy your editorial integrity: you’ve managed to do it all by yourself.

In a way, this all makes a certain amount of sense. Forbes editors are by necessity a craven bunch: the magazine side has to do whatever Steve Forbes (who’s the publisher, as well as the editor in chief) tells them to do, no matter how bonkers or wingnut it might be. Meanwhile, the web site has long been an abject lesson in creating enormous quantities of worthless material, largely in the form of SEO-optimized slideshows and the like, on the grounds that the only number that matters is the number of pageviews and ad impressions. The advertisers pretty much run the show already, so why not just give them the keys to the publishing platform and tell them to have at it.

I suspect, though, that Forbes’s bloggers — who hated the D’Souza article — might fight back on this one, just as the denizens of Scienceblogs did. Forbes itself might not have much in the way of editorial integrity, but that doesn’t mean its bloggers don’t have some pride left in them. And if D’Vorkin wants the new Forbes to be built around his stable of bloggers, he might soon learn that they’re much more vocal on such matters than the kind of Forbes staffers who know they have to simply shut up whenever Steve Forbes has another bright idea.

(HT: Roush)


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The line between real content and advertising is blurred everywhere, and it’s too bad.
When I read ‘stories’ on Reuters about specific, ‘promising’ start-up businesses, or particular individuals in the beginning of their ‘promising’ careers in certain companies, or a headline saying that Samsung and RIM don’t stand a chance against Apple in the tablet war – I immediately reject it as false, or pseudo information, i.e. a covert ad, or the result of an effective PR campaign.
Reader beware!

Posted by yr2009 | Report as abusive

After that drug-induced D’Souza piece (and their lackluster correction efforts), it’s pretty galling to see them declaring that “the Forbes environment” is “the news environment.”

Wackier still is the assumption that anyone wants to see that content. One of the most significant changes from “traditional media” decades is the relationship between advertising, media content and media consumers. Advertisements and P.R. are annoyances, like mosquitoes or gnats at a picnic – something to be swatted away lest they spoil the experience.

Even people who like Pepsi now dodge its ads. And Pfizer doesn’t need a “voice.” It’s already bought plenty of them in the scientific, medical, academic and legislative communities.

‘Not much in the way of editorial integrity’ is putting it lightly. Sounds like they’re building the digital equivalent of the old-school junk mail everyone throws in the garbage.

Posted by j657 | Report as abusive

D’Vorkin’s actual title is “Chief Content Officer.” Which, I’d say, tells you everything you need to know.

Posted by MattF | Report as abusive

When the Internet eventually exposes the irrelevance and bias of Forbes, and it gets the burial that capitalism eventually give all useless businesses (unless the US Chamber of Commerce makes it its official mouthpiece), what will its namesake do for money and attention? Is there someone else he can inherit a fortune from?

Posted by OnTheTimes | Report as abusive

Hey, Felix — Pot, meet Kettle!

To journalists such as yourself on the hard left, anything on the hard right smacks of extremism. Well guess what the editorial page of the New York Times looks like not only to conservatives, but independents?

There is no denying that D’Souza’s piece is very firmly on the right, but the strong left line of much of media is actually driving traffic to the likes of Fox News, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and dozens of smaller, thriving outlets. Seriously, does Fox News grow like kudzu if not for the bias already existing in news?

I voted for Obama because I was very impressed with someone who looked to my untrained eye as a bridge builder. I was willing to overlook his 20-year attendance at a church whose pastor was filled with anger and more than a little hate.

Felix, you are not an American, so perhaps you don’t understand how Americans treasure American exceptionalism. You should treasure it too, because the alternative in this century is Chinese exceptionalism. I am 50% European and watching Europe’s long, slow decline on dozens of fronts, which is accelerating as they face demographic collapse is very painful indeed. Socialism is beautiful and comes from the heart but it does not make for vibrant nations.

Here is Obama on American exceptionalism:
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”


Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

Dan Hess-Felix Salmon is not a ‘hard left’ journalist. More like Brad DeLong-’fair and balanced’.

Posted by crocodilechuck | Report as abusive

Hey MattF — I work with Lewis @Forbes. Just wanted to clarify: his title is actually Chief Product Officer.

And, Felix — to this point: “if you say that there are no lines separating what’s editorial content and what’s advertising…”

We’re not saying there will be no lines, no separation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There will be lines, clearly labeled and transparent to all. Very much like what Walt Mossberg saw when he reviewed the True/Slant version, called Ad/Slants. At that time, Walt reacted positively to the idea and the proposed implementation.

Hopefully the criticism will wait until after we actually launch an AdVoice, when everyone can see it and judge for themselves.

Posted by andreaitis | Report as abusive

Okay, I’ll hold follow-on snark in abeyance until there’s actually something to be snarky about.

Posted by MattF | Report as abusive

I helped build True/Slant and am currently working with Lewis D’Vorkin at Forbes.

All news – print, broadcast, online – is sponsored by or underwritten by someone. Advertisers have *always* been “on the same distribution platform” as the editorial their dollars support.

At least as far back as David Brinkley, news editorial was being vocally underwritten, e.g., by Arthur Daniels Midland.

You can claim there’ve been effective Walls and hermetic seals between advertisers and editorial. That doesn’t make your claim true. In my experience, the claim is false. (And this is in addition to and regardless of right/left editorial slants you refer to in your post.)

Understood and agreed it’s an area to be treaded carefully from everyone’s perspective:

- Publishers weaving advertising and marketing with editorial need to take care to be transparent and not to mix messages

- Advertisers and Marketers need to create messages that have some value and interest for people reading and interacting with it – if they don’t, no one will read and interact with it

- Journalists should take care, as ever, to be transparent, too

- Participants / Consumers / The People Formerly Known as The Audience should take care they understand that with which they’re interacting

We’ve been working toward new, sustainable – profitable! – models of news and opinion. We don’t expect a single silver bullet. We do expect to continue iterating until we have a workable, successful and profitable solution.

Posted by smcnally | Report as abusive