What is Dealbook?

November 9, 2010
Dealb%k as it seems to have become.

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The NYT is putting a lot of effort into pushing the newly-relaunched Dealbook, or Dealb%k as it seems to have become. The site certainly looks very clean, an open-sided design with the same acreage of white space that can be seen in the NYT’s similarly-relaunched op-ed section.

There’s more going on here than a new silly logo. A lot of open questions remain, and I’m holding out a smidgen of hope that if I pose them in public, Andrew Ross Sorkin might embrace his bloggier tendencies and respond in kind.

  1. What’s the difference between Dealbook and Business Day? Dealbook prominently features, on every page, a full masthead of 20 contributors: this is much more branding of individual journalists than the NYT has traditionally gone in for, beyond a few star columnists. Is this the crack finance team, writing for the industry elite rather than a broad national audience? The official NYT press release certainly hints that it is, talking as it does about “the C-Suite audience” and “industry leaders in finance, banking, brokerage, legal and real estate”.
  2. What’s with Dealbook’s print presence? The franchise now has its own page of the NYT’s B section every day, in an arrangement which looks very similar to the WSJ’s Heard on the Street franchise, which has a miserable web presence. Is Dealbook looking to be the NYT equivalent of Heard? And if so, whither the Reuters Breakingviews column which appears earlier in the section? With Dealbook featuring opinionated columns from the likes of Steven Davidoff and Jesse Eisinger — not to mention Sorkin himself — what need is there for Breakingviews as well?
  3. Where are the links? Dealbook’s daily email is popular largely because it features links to a lot of rival publications. And Sorkin is on the record saying that he likes to “aggregate by hand” rather than by algorithm. But the email is impossible to find on the Dealbook website: those links are fit for email, it seems, but not for nytimes.com. The website, in turn, has much less aggregation, and the one nod it makes in that direction — a section called “The Wire” — is indeed entirely automated and features no human curation at all.
  4. How will Dealbook navigate the NYT’s paywall shoals? That Telegraph profile says that Dealbook might “be given an initial reprieve from the paywall” — a hint that Dealbook pageviews might not count towards your NYT quota. Or, possibly, they might be treated in the same way as pages reached from other blogs, or Twitter, or Facebook: they count towards your quota, but they will always display, even if you’ve exceeded your quota of allowable pageviews. I think of it like a foul ball in baseball: it counts towards your tally of strikes, but it’s not going to end your at-bat. That system, of course, would still give people an incentive to avoid Dealbook, since doing so would increase the number of other NYT articles they could read before hitting the paywall. More conceptually, is Dealbook considered a premium product for NYT subscribers, or is it considered an open blog which anybody on the internet is encouraged to visit daily?

I like the idea that the NYT is putting a lot of resources into a financial site which has aspires to become the “Politico of finance” — setting the agenda, breaking news, and aggregating the best of the web. But you can’t be the Politico of anything if you’re behind a paywall — at that point you just become a premium subscription newsletter. So what’s the strategy here? Or is that a closely-held secret to be known only to a handful of elite New York Times Company executives?

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