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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