The Outline built itself on being “weird.” But is it weird enough to survive?


This post is by Laura Hazard Owen from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




There are some sites that everyone roots for. Scrappy, beloved. See: The Awl. The Toast. Or not so scrappy, but beloved still. See: Grantland. When they shut down, people mourn them. Then there’s The Outline. In April 2016, Joshua Topolsky wrote a Medium post entitled “Your media business will not be saved.” Topolsky, the cofounder of The Verge, had left his position as Bloomberg’s top digital editor several months before. “Your problem,” he told his fellow media people, “is that you make shit”:
A lot of shit. Cheap shit. And no one cares about you or your cheap shit. And an increasingly aware, connected, and mutable audience is onto your cheap shit. They don’t want your cheap shit. They want the good shit. And they will go to find it somewhere. Hell, they’ll even pay for it. The truth is that the best and most important things the
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Continue reading "The Outline built itself on being “weird.” But is it weird enough to survive?"

Hot Pod: Macmillan’s new network shows how podcasts can be a logical next step for book publishers


This post is by Nicholas Quah from Nieman Lab


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Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue ninety-nine, published December 6, 2016. Midroll’s new executive hires:
  • Korri Kolesa is the new head of sales, replacing Lex Friedman as he settles into his new chief revenue officer role.
  • Eric Spiegelman is the new VP of business affairs, taking now-CEO Erik Diehn’s place. I’m told more information on this hire will be released soon.
  • Peter Clowney is the new executive editor. He was previously the head editor at Gimlet Media.
Of particular interest is Kolesa, who is taking over what is probably Midroll’s biggest revenue engine, its ad sales business. A digital media veteran with ample experience heading up sales teams for digital products not yet quite understood by the advertisers — she led the strategy for sites in the Fox Interactive Media portfolio like MySpace and IGN in the late 2000s, if that means anything to you —
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Josh Topolsky’s The Outline officially launches and it burns the eyes (but the ad experience does look cool)


This post is by Shan Wang from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




If you were confused what The Outline, the ambitious new digital media project from The Verge and Bloomberg veteran Josh Topolsky, was supposed to be (or look like), its official launch today offers some clarity (its public products were thus far a Westworld recap/fan theory podcast and a Mars landing game). On the editorial end, it’s defining its coverage against other well-established outlets: The site’s work falls somewhere between a legacy outlet like The New York Times and a digital native like BuzzFeed, Topolsky told The Wall Street Journal on Monday. It’s a “next-generation” version of the New Yorker, ostensibly, a “New Yorker for millennials.” the-outline-mobile-swipeOn both the design and revenue sides of things, the venture-funded site is hoping to break new ground. The mobile-focused design is also graphics heavy and built around the action of swiping (including for its ads, which are kind of…fun Continue reading "Josh Topolsky’s The Outline officially launches and it burns the eyes (but the ad experience does look cool)"

Hot Pod: What will happen to the election podcast boom on Nov. 9?


This post is by Nicholas Quah from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue ninety-three, published October 25, 2016. “We’re built on top of a foundation that we feel pretty good about,” PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman said. “I’m excited that we’ll never start from zero again.” We were discussing Radiotopia’s 2016 fall fundraising campaign, which kicked off on October 13 and ends later this week, and Hoffman was telling me how she’s significantly less stressed out this year. Last fall marked the first time the organization switched away from a seasonal Kickstarter strategy to a recurring donor model, an approach whose internal logic bears more than a passing resemblance to public radio’s pledge drive system. The bulk of last year’s work, she explained, involved building out basic fundraising infrastructure: pulling together email lists, developing the beats of their marketing push, testing out the messaging, and so on. A lot of those
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Newsonomics: Sketching in the details of Josh Topolsky’s new Outline


This post is by Ken Doctor from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Don’t call Josh Topolsky’s just-announced The Outline “a New Yorker for millennials.” Or do. The 38-year-old digital media veteran of Engadget, The Verge, and Bloomberg can see it, and explain it, both ways. I asked the CEO and editor-in-chief of the just-announced site, launching in the fall, what he thought about that shorthand description. “I get it. It’s not the worst description I’ve ever heard…The New Yorker for millennials in some ways makes sense, and in a million ways doesn’t,” he told me. Topolsky is a rookie CEO and he rejects marketing shorthand in favor of deep and wide editorial explanation. He believes his joint title provides competitive advantage: “There is no other business that I can think of right now, and feel free to correct me, where the editor-in-chief is the CEO. If you can find another new media business where that’s the case, that actually has the Continue reading "Newsonomics: Sketching in the details of Josh Topolsky’s new Outline"

Daily Must Reads, July 13, 2015


This post is by Julie Keck from MediaShift


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




  1. How to cut children’s screen time? Say no to yourself first (Jane E. Brody / New York Times)

  2. Putting the public into public media membership (Melody Kramer / Nieman Lab)

  3. Joshua Topolsky on his accomplishments at — and departure from — Bloomberg (via Joshua Topolsky)

  4. Comcast offers its alternative to cable TV, using the web (Emily Steel / New York Times)

  5. How MATTER succeeded in spite of itself (Naomi Lubick / Poynter)

  6. What it’s like to get paid for clicks (Jack Murtha / Columbia Journalism Review)

Bloomberg Business’ new look has made a splash — but don’t just call it a redesign


This post is by Caroline O'Donovan from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Bloomberg launched a fresh, new Bloomberg Business Tuesday night, to both acclaim and confusion. Change has long been afoot lately at Bloomberg Media, which hired Justin B. Smith away from Atlantic Media in 2013 and Josh Topolsky away from The Verge last July to help reconfigure the company’s digital presence. The new look — inspired in part by the boldness of Bloomberg Businessweek, the print magazine the company bought in 2009 — is fresh, colorful, and not a little bit dizzying. In a piece for VentureBeat called “Bloomberg Business’ new site design is beautifully bizarre — and it’s begging for haters,” Harrison Weber writes that the design “pulls you in as much as it spits in your eye. Yet, for some reason, I want more.” This sentiment was, meaningfully, echoed on Twitter.

Mediatwits #71: Facebook’s New Look News Feed; SXSW on The Verge


This post is by MediaShift from MediaShift


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This week's Mediatwits has a Southern flavor, with a preview of the coming South by Southwest confab in Austin, as well as a look at Facebook's latest rootin' tootin' revamp of its newsfeed and what it means for media folks. Our special guest is Joshua Topolsky, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Verge, who will be down in Texas as a SXSW keynote questioner next Monday. Our roundtable also includes Mark Glaser moderating, along with Seattle Times' Mónica Guzmán, Reuters' Felix Salmon and surprise special guest Staci Kramer. Other topics include the state of affairs for freelance writers, who often get paid less (or nothing) to write online. Plus, Time Warner decided to spin off its magazine unit, Time Inc., rather than sell it to Meredith.

You can watch or listen to this week's podcast right here:

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Listen to the Mediatwits and follow us on SoundCloud! Thanks to SoundCloud for providing audio support.

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Mediatwits Bios

monica guzman.jpg

Mónica Guzmán is a columnist for the Seattle Times and Northwest tech news site GeekWire and a community strategist for startups and media. She emcees Ignite Seattle, a grab-bag community fueled speaker series. Mónica was a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and seattlepi.com, its online-only successor, where she ran the experimental and award-winning Big Blog and drew a community of readers with online conversation and weekly meetups. Follow her on Twitter @moniguzman

felix_salmon.jpg

Felix Salmon is the financial blogger for Reuters. He was named one of Time Magazine's 25 Best Financial Bloggers, and offers his frank view on the maneuverings of Wall Street, Washington and popular culture. Watch him on Felix TV or follow him on Twitter @felixsalmon.

Special Guest

joshua topolsky.jpg

Joshua Topolsky is the co-founder and Editor-in-chief of The Verge, an online publication that covers the intersection of technology, art, science, and culture. Joshua was named Adweek's 2012 Digital Editor of the Year. He is the resident technology expert for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Joshua makes regular appearances on Bloomberg TV, NPR, Fox News, NBC, ABC, and CNN, and hosts the Vergecast, a popular weekly podcast. Prior to founding The Verge, Joshua was the editor-in-chief of Engadget from 2008 to 2011. Josh has spent his life exploring a creative curiosity, from a childhood spent tinkering with computers and electronics, through his formative years touring the world as a music producer and DJ.

More Reading

1. Facebook wants to provide "best personalized newspaper"?

Facebook launches multiple topic-based feeds, bigger images, and a consistent design across devices at TechCrunch

Live Blog: FB Newsfeed Announcement at Wired

About the New Newsfeed at Facebook

If followers can sponsor updates on Facebook, social advertising has a new horizon at O'Reilly Radar

2. What's the business model for freelance writers?

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist at Nate Thayer's blog

The Problem with Online Freelance Journalism at Felix Salmon's blog on Reuters

Why I Write for Free at The Atlantic

3. SXSW keynote questioner Joshua Topolsky from The Verge

SXSW Interactive

SXSW 2013 Schedule

SXSW 2013 is not about the next big thing at Adrants

Want to Get Value Out of SXSW? Stop Looking for the Next Big Thing at AdAge

4. Time Warner to spin off Time Inc. mags after Meredith talks fail

Time Warner spinning off Time Inc. magazines at USA Today

3 Questions About the Time Inc. Spin-Off at CNN Money

Meredith Talks Dead; Time Inc. Will Spin Off at Adweek

Poll

Be sure to vote in our weekly poll, this time about SXSW:


Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

The future of the feature: Breaking out of templates to build customized reading experiences


This post is by Kevin Nguyen from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




When it comes to reading long form, the web can be an ugly, distracting place. It’s the reason why services like Instapaper and Pocket (née Read It Later) exist: to strip content of its context — noisy site designs, advertisements, and other unnecessary elements. But perhaps we’re moving into a new era where more of the web is clean and readable. Maybe the future of web publications will be beautiful enough that the reading experience is more enjoyable in its natural habitat.

This is how I felt, at least, when I came across ESPN.com’s “The Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis,” a gorgeously designed feature about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. It’s arguably one of baseball’s most colorful tales; this take on it is certainly one of the most ambitious web designs ever attempted by a traditional media company for a single article. The piece is generously adorned with accompanying visuals — photos of Ellis, memorabilia like trading cards, pull quotes, all moving and sliding while the reader scrolls. The reading experience is very comfortable on both desktop and tablet, thanks to a larger text size and generous amounts of white space. It feels like an experience instead of a block of words surrounded by the detritus of the web.

But at a time when news is increasingly consumed without context — stripped down in tablet readers or on mobile devices — and when templates have taken over news web design, what’s the point of dedicating design resources to online feature layouts? Why are outlets like ESPN, Pitchfork, and The Verge investing in bespoke design for articles?

From Super Mario Bros. to ESPN.com

For John Korpics, vice president of creative at ESPN Digital and Print Media, much of the goal is to replicate the immersive experience of reading a magazine — to stand out from the sea of low-end clickbait that fills up so much of the web. “The same way you might read a magazine article, you can browse the surface layer of visuals like graphics, captions, and pull quotes, or you can dive deeper. The key is that the user has the choice of how to interact with the story,” said Korpics.

But while “The Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis” takes a lot of design hints from magazine layouts, the most interesting and attractive visual elements are unique to the web. Most remarkable is the use of parallax scrolling, a method in which the background moves more slowly than the foreground to give the illusion of depth. (Think of the way the background looks in Super Mario Bros.) Design elements like this exist separate from anything that could ever be done with a traditional magazine layout.

Jena Janovy, deputy editor at ESPN.com, said that several other stories had already chosen for similar deluxe design treatment for later this year and early next year. The design execution alone for “Dock Ellis,” from inception to conception, took three weeks. Which begs the question: How scalable is this? And will smaller publications, without the resources of a site the size of ESPN.com, be able to create something as beautiful?

Building a better template

Tech site The Verge was only about a month old when influential bloggers like Daring Fireball’s John Gruber started declaring it was “one of the best publications in the world.” Founded by Joshua Topolsky, who had previously led Engadget, The Verge represented a chance to build something new and ambitious from the ground up.

“When I left Engadget, there was an emphasis on ‘cheap, fast, and dirty.’ The truth, in what we found, is that people are psyched about longer stuff that’s in-depth and beautiful,” Topolsky said.

There’s nothing cheap, fast, or dirty about The Verge’s impressively designed feature content, which the site has been regularly publishing since its launch a year ago. Take, for example, the versatile design of this long-form piece on biohackers, which elegantly balances text, photos, and video in its storytelling.

The Verge’s secret weapon is Chorus, its custom content management system that makes it easy for writers and editors to create intricate feature layouts. Vox Media — which owns The Verge, as well as GIF-savvy sports site SB Nation and new gaming site Polygon — is protective of Chorus’s features, but a piece about the CMS by TechCrunch describes it as an extremely robust, flexible publishing platform with a strong emphasis on both editorial workflow and design.

As a testament to its power, The Verge only hired its first full-time designer last May. Up until that point, all feature layouts, such as this visual history of Android and this personal essay about Starcraft, had been designed by the editorial staff. The Verge’s features don’t quite have the single-use designs that stories “Dock Ellis” do; they share a common visual frame and differentiate from one another mostly through creative typographic highlights and small graphical touches. But they are definitely designed for reading, not content consumption, and it doesn’t take anywhere close to three weeks to build a story out.

When I asked if each publication should have its own custom platform, Topolsky quickly agrees — explaining that, though his title at The Verge is editor-in-chief, he guides much of the feature development and provides a lot of design input for Chorus.

“I think everyone is going to do this. We’re fighting the same battle [as other publications]: trying to figure out how to create a scalable tool for writers and designers that lets you create beautiful things for the native web.”

In fact, Topolsky’s motivations behind The Verge’s design is deeply rooted in an optimism in the native web, as opposed to designing platform-specific apps to enhance the reading experience. (Though, to be fair, The Verge has an iOS and Android app.) All the site’s feature pieces render appropriately on mobile devices and tablets, and fully adaptive designs will appear on the site early next year. (SB Nation and Polygon are already adaptive.) In contrast, that gorgeous “Dock Ellis” spread is difficult to read on an iPhone without zooming.

According to Topolsky, “Building it once and making it work in multiple places is where everyone is headed with publishing.”

Pitchfork goes horizontal

Venerable indie music site Pitchfork has been publishing album reviews since 1995, and over the past decade and a half, has gradually expanded its content to news, columns, and long-form profiles. This July, the site began publishing Cover Story features, profiles of big artists with specially designed “dynamic” layouts.

They fall somewhere between The Verge’s templated-but-designed and ESPN’s highly-customized approaches. Though most of the profiles so far appear to use a similar template and design language, the tone and aesthetic of each piece is drastically different. Compared to the vertically scrolling designs from ESPN.com and The Verge, I found Pitchfork’s columned, horizontal layout a bit more difficult to read. But visually, it’s much more interesting. Pitchfork takes advantage of the dynamic features of the web. This profile of Cat Power has subtly shifting colors; the Ariel Pink piece animates pull quotes as the reader scrolls; and appropriate for a music site, there’s an embedded music player that persists throughout the layout, featuring a selection of playable tracks from the profile subject. These things improve the Cover Story features not just in terms of readability but tonality, existing to supplement content but never distracting from it. (The fourth Cover Story, on Bat for Lashes, shares the vertical, parallax approach of “Dock Ellis.”)

“I’m less excited about the bells and whistles,” said Michael Renaud, a creative director at Pitchfork. “This level of control just provides the opportunity to present content in a more traditional layout environment that gives focus to the story itself.”

The Cover Story pieces are well-written profiles, but also come from a tradition of great long-form music writing published by Pitchfork. It’s only recently that browsers are catching up to support the kind of visual design that can match the quality of written content.

“Web design has long been plagued with limitations on things like typefaces and bandwidth,” said Renaud. “And now that things seem to be loosening up in those areas, I hope designers can come back to the basics that we once had to abandon, rather than over-designing some grandiose experience for every piece of content. It’s certainly an exciting moment.”

Going mobile

Like “Dock Ellis,” Pitchfork’s Cover Story features are hard to read on a mobile phone. Martin Belam, the UX consultant formerly of The Guardian, criticized the Bat for Lashes piece for it, quoting his friend Mary Hamilton: “Lauding web design that doesn’t work at all on mobile as brilliant is like praising a static PDF of a gorgeously designed print page posted to the web.”

While there’s still work to be done on responsive design — the more complex a design, the harder it is to make it look beautiful on varied screen sizes — readers seem to be reacting positively to these designed pieces. “Dock Ellis” has been one of the most popular long-form presentations from ESPN.com in the past five years; Pitchfork saw a big boost, especially from referrals from social networks (“the design does give people another excuse to tweet about it or whatever,” said Renaud); and for each of its design-heavy pieces, The Verge consistently sees a traffic uptick.

While researching this piece, I asked friends and colleagues about other unique feature designs they’d come across, but in the process, I had a hard time coming up with a single term to describe the trend (I often defaulted to the not-so-elegant phrase “design-y feature pieces”). Even within publications, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent nomenclature for it. Pitchfork makes a distinction between “dynamic” and “standard” viewing experiences; at The Verge, Topolsky says they simply call them “feature layouts.”

But perhaps we don’t need a word for it. There’s a clear trend that both major media outlets and independent web publications are investing the resources and energy into more thoughtful and uniquely designed article layouts, and expect more sites to follow suit. We might not need a word for these kinds of designs, because soon this might be the way all serious publications treat their features.

Three lessons news sites can take from the launch of The Verge


This post is by Joshua Benton from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Maybe it’s just the 30-something former rock critic in me, but I keep accidentally calling new gadget site The Verge The Verve instead. But whatever you call it, The Verge’s launch today is one of the most anticipated in the online news space in some time. The chance to build a new platform from the ground up, with talented editorial and tech teams attached, combined with the months of buildup at the placeholder site This Is My Next, meant a lot of people were waiting to see what they’d come up with.

And it is impressive: bold, chunky, and structured, all at the same time. The gadget/tech space has no shortage of competitors, and building a new brand against some established incumbents takes a bold move. Which of The Verge’s moves might you want to steal for your own news site? Here are three.

Don’t be afraid of big, bold visuals

Engadget, the tech site from which most of The Verge’s core staff came, has long committed itself to having big, 600-pixel-wide-or-so art on each of its posts, be they short or long. But the Verge takes that a step further. Just look at the home page — big beautiful images with lovely CSS-driven tinting in the top promo area, then more photos attached to nearly every linked story. Because every story has all the visual fixings, they can ebb and flow as the story moves down the front page. (The movement is still blog-style reverse-chronological.)

The story pages expand the photo well even more and feature page-width headline slots with a nice slab serif, Adelle Web. (Slab serifs are all the rage these days.)

The Verge’s short, aggregation-y posts get a bigger design treatment than most news sites’ feature stories do. (They also carry over Engadget’s highly annoying habit of burying the credit links for what they aggregate in a tiny box at post bottom.) But if you really want to see the power of big visuals, look at one of the site’s feature stories, like its review of the iPhone 4S or this takeout on survivalism — photos over 1,000 pixels wide, bold headlines and decks, structured story organization, embedded galleries, columns that don’t all stick to a common template well, page-width graphics. And check out the gallery and video pages, both of which stretch out Abe Lincoln-style to fill the browser window. In all, it’s the kind of bold look that you’re unlikely to see on most daily news sites; its design DNA lies much more in magazine layout.

That bold look comes with some tradeoffs, of course. While the front-page content is still generally newest-up-top, it’s not quite as obvious what’s new if it’s your second time checking the site in a day. And the front page has far less information density than a typical news site; on my monitor, the first screenful of The New York Times homepage (to go to the opposite extreme) includes links to 32 stories, videos, or slideshows, while The Verge’s has only eight. But that’s okay — while prolific, The Verge produces a lot less content than the Times, and I suspect the appealing graphical look will encourage scrolling more than a denser site would. And each story on The Verge homepage gets a bigger sales push — between a headline, an image, a deck, and an excerpt — than all but a few newspaper stories do on their front pages.

I suspect we’re going to see more of this big, bold, tablet-ish design approach finding its way back into more traditional news sites in the next year or so; you can already see movement in that direction comparing the Times’ (redesigned) opinion front to its (almost unchanged since 2006) homepage. In a world where an increasing proportion of traffic comes from social media and search — that is, from some place other than the front door — it makes sense that the burden of a site’s homepage to link to everything might be lightened.

Layer your reporting on top of structured data

It’s telling that the first item in the top navigation on The Verge is “Products.” Not “Articles” or “Latest News” — “Products.” Just about every significant product in the gadget universe — from cell phones to TVs to laptops — gets its own page in the underlying Verge taxonomy. Here are all the cameras, and here are all the gaming systems, for instance, and here are some sample product pages. (Intriguingly, you can search through them by using filters including “Rumored,” “Announced,” “Available,” “Canceled,” and “Discontinued.” Did you know there were 129 different tablets out there?)

The product pages feature basic information, full tech specs, related products, and in some cases “What You Need To Know” sections. These will be good for SEO and pageviews, and they’ll likely be useful to readers; stories about a product link prominently to their related product pages. (I’m actually a little surprised the product pages don’t take the logical next step and slap “Buy Now” links next to everything, with affiliate links to the appropriate vendors.)

Topic pages are nothing new, of course, but few news sites make this sort of commitment to being a reference point outside the boundaries of the traditional news story. A newspaper may not care much about the Nokia Lumia 800, but they could build their own semantic structured web of data around city council members, professional athletes, local restaurants, businesses, neighborhoods…whatever matters to readers. Most news organizations will have something that completes the SAT analogy The Verge : gadgets :: Your News Site : _________.

Build a place for community

Engadget has a famously active community — so much so that it had to turn off comments entirely for a stretch in 2010 when things were getting out of hand. (“What is normally a charged — but fun — environment for our users and editors has become mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations…and that’s just not acceptable. Some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place, but that’s simply not the case.”)

The Verge appears to be doubling down on community, though, adding topic-specific forums to the voluminous comment threads on specific entries. Forum posts get big bold presentation too. The same Josh Topolsky who wrote that rip of Engadget’s commenters above writes today that the new site is designed to let “reader voices be heard in a meaningful way…we think it’s totally cool and normal to be psyched about a product or brand and want to talk about it.” He also promises that active commenters and posters will get “special sneak previews of our newest features.”

Will it work out and generate positive, useful discussions (or at least enough pageviews to satisfy the ad sales team)? We’ll see. But it’s good to see some attention to reader forums, a form of reader interaction a number of news sites have walked away from in recent years.

What’s most promising about The Verge, though, is not any one specific element — it’s the fact that they’re giving a lot of thought to the form of their content, at a time when the basics of the blog format have congealed into a kind of design conventional wisdom. Here’s hoping other sites join that process of thinking about their tools and their structures along with their daily content.

This is their next: Vox Media becomes the new parent company to SB Nation and The Verge


This post is by Justin Ellis from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




When it was announced that SB Nation was getting into the technology blogging business with the refugee all-stars from Engadget it was a clear indicator the blog network was planning on growing beyond sports fans. Today they made it official, not just with the launch of The Verge but with the creation of Vox Media, Inc., a new parent company that will oversee the newly christened technology site, SB Nation, and no doubt new sites in the future.

It’s a classic publishing move — plant the flag and expand as you gain audience, a strategy that’s one part Luce and one part Denton. The mix combines distinctive editorial voices with an ambition to scale, running headfirst into a crowded party. Just like there is no shortage of gossip, politics, or pop culture blogs, we’ve got a wealth of sports and technology sites. What Vox CEO Jim Bankoff told me is that the crowded field isn’t his biggest concern. While there are plenty of ad dollars to fight over, competition, especially in media, doesn’t mean what it once did.

“The competition may not be the exact same zero-sum game as it was before,” Bankoff said. “On the web, people have access to products and consumers can go from one site to the next. It’s not like the newspaper world or magazine world where you choose one or the other exclusively.”

That changing dynamic, as well as the shifting relationship between writers and their audience, is more or less what SB Nation and The Verge are counting on. Readers’ media diets are more varied, while at the same time they enjoy more direct connection with writers and outlets. They’re going to go after the same scoops, but the stories and personalities are just as important as scoops, which is why VOX places a value on having engaging technology and writers. Vox is, after all, Latin for “voice.” “We think it’s the marriage of talent and technology that will help to define successful media companies going forward,” Bankoff said.

It seems like that’s been the recipe for Bankoff from the beginning and one of the reasons he finds himself, and his company, where they are today. SB Nation built its reputation on accessible writing and on innovating in the oft-stagnant blog-technology space, which was one of the lures for Joshua Topolsky and other former Engadget staffers to make the leap to a company primarily known for sports.

Vox will rely on a common ad sales staff and developer core working behind the scenes, Bankoff told me. The underpinnings of the sites will share a lot in common, but design-wise there won’t be much carry-over, Bankoff said, as the now-launched Verge makes clear.

Still, there are some similarities. In the way SB Nation is broken down into sites by teams or schools, The Verge appears to go a similar route for tech companies or products. Taking the place of Roll ‘Bama Roll is the Android hub, one of 12 hubs given prime top-of-page real estate. (Fans’ passion for Apple shares a lot with fans’ passion for the Packers.) They’re distinct sites with aggregated content on products and companies, though all under The Verge instead of standalone sites.

The Verge is the first big test for Vox — introducing a new title in a field they’ve got less than eight months’ experience in. They had a head start and launching pad in This is My Next, the site where the editors and writers of The Verge have kept busy breaking news, offering product reviews, and hosting a podcast, all of which they’ll carry over to the new site. All of that translates into an audience they should be able to take with them to The Verge, like when your favorite TV show moves to a new time slot. In the months the site was active as a placeholder, they reached 3 million monthly unique visitors and over 10 million monthly pageviews, Bankoff told me. “Before they knew it, This is My Next had really taken off organically,” he said. “We’re really excited to have all that momentum.”

The next step for Vox is continuing to grow the audience to the sites. One way they’re going to do that is through partnerships, with SB Nation is taking part in the new YouTube programming project. Meanwhile, editor Topolsky will be busy spinning plates of his own, writing columns for The Washington Post and making regular appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

The birth of The Verge and Vox pose an obvious question: What new sites are in the pipeline? You don’t go through the trouble of developing a new media-company structure (not to mention raising several new rounds of investment) if you’re not planning on becoming bigger. Fashion, politics, entertainment? Bankoff said no decisions have been made on Vox Site 3 just yet. What they won’t do, he said, is simply target a category because of its market potential. Bankoff said the same kind of process that went into developing The Verge — identifying the right team, defining the editorial direction, and understanding the relationship to technology — would be used in creating new sites.

“Our approach will be to understand where there is opportunity,” Bankoff said. “Where there is a business opportunity, but also an opportunity to find a team that will continue down the path of high quality talent and understands the medium.”

Topolsky and Bankoff on Engadget, SB Nation, and the new tech site that’s bringing them together


This post is by Justin Ellis from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




There can be a very real “through the looking glass” feel to working on a site that covers technology, especially when you start contemplating the technology of publishing. At least, that’s the situation Joshua Topolsky and his group of Engadget expats are finding themselves in as they ramp up to the fall unveiling of a new technology site that will live under the SB Nation flag.

“What we’re building and what we write about are the same thing in many ways,” Topolsky told me. “And for us that provides an incredibly unique point of observation.”

It says a lot about Topolsky, as well as his fellow Engadget-ites Nilay Patel, Ross Miller, Joanna Stern, Chris Ziegler, and Paul Miller, that while they could have spent the intervening time developing their new site in a bunker, they’ve instead decided to get out front and do what they do best, which is covering tech. They’ve been doing that on This is my next, their placeholder blog.

In migrating away from Engadget — and, in that, from the AOL/Huffington Post empire — the attraction to SB Nation, as Topolsky has written, came from the company’s publishing philosophy as much as its evolving publishing technology. As purveyors, chroniclers, and users of technology, Topolsky and his team are now in a unique position to develop a phenomenal tech site. It’s a scenario with Willy Wonk-ian overtones: They’ve been set loose in a candy store.

And yet, Topolsky told me, their aspirations are more modest than fantastical. If anything, they’re not looking to re-invent the blog or news site as we know them. They just want something that’s more adaptive both to the way stories are written and published, and to how audiences actually read them.

“We’re not trying to be Twitter or Facebook, as in this new thing people are using,” he said. “We want to be something that is just the evolved version of what we have been doing.”

The point, he said, is this: Reading on the web is an ever-changing thing, and publishers need to develop or embrace the technology that can respond to its evolution.

Topolsky isn’t releasing much information about the new site at this point, but in terms of his team’s coverage of the tech industry, he told me, they won’t be straying far from their Engadget roots. In many ways, what their Project X represents is an experiment in publishing and engagement technology, which fits in well with SB Nation’s M.O. One of the things they’re likely to be using on the site, for example, is SB Nation’s story streams, which provide constantly updated information on stories while also offering different access points to readers.

Though the site will also need to be able to accommodate things like multimedia (Topolsky said they it might use something similar to The Engadget Show for that, that that dynamic approach to narrative will work well for covering the latest updates on Google’s Android OS, say, or the tribulations of a phone producer like BlackBerry. “You write the news as seems appropriate and connect it automatically to a larger story, encompassing the narrative,” he said.

But what’s just as important as the tech, Topolsky pointed out, is an understanding between the editorial people and the developers, so when you need a new module or feature on the site both sides understand why — and how — it could work. In some of the more frustrating moments at Engadget, Topolsky said, he found himself having to plead his case to AOL developers in order to get site changes made.

That likely won’t be the case at SB Nation, which, as we’ve written about before, is more than willing to experiment with the blog format. It also helps that they’ve secured a healthy dose of new funding. When I spoke with SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff, he noted that publishing companies are only as successful as the technology and people that comprise them.

“The foundation of our company is the marriage of editorial talent and technology, — sometimes I say people and platform,” he said. “We really believe that to be a new media-first company you have to be based on people who understand how to craft stories online.”

But other than trying to build inventive publishing systems out of the box, what makes the difference for SB Nation is its habit of addressing regular feedback from readers, Bankoff said. The developers at SB Nation, he noted, constantly update the sites based on comments from readers and contributors. If something’s in the service of making a better product, they’ll try it, he said.

Though the audiences for sports news and tech news have their own vagaries, there are some elements — cast of players, data points, and healthy competition — that they have in common. And those will go a long way towards helping to adapt and grow SB Nation’s publishing platform, Bankoff said. “Just like sports, there is an arc to every tech story — and we’re going to be able to really convey the various milestones across any big news item.”

Topolsky and Bankoff on Engadget, SB Nation, and the new tech site that’s bringing them together


This post is by Justin Ellis from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




There can be a very real “through the looking glass” feel to working on a site that covers technology, especially when you start contemplating the technology of publishing. At least, that’s the situation Joshua Topolsky and his group of Engadget expats are finding themselves in as they ramp up to the fall unveiling of a new technology site that will live under the SB Nation flag.

“What we’re building and what we write about are the same thing in many ways,” Topolsky told me. “And for us that provides an incredibly unique point of observation.”

It says a lot about Topolsky, as well as his fellow Engadget-ites Nilay Patel, Ross Miller, Joanna Stern, Chris Ziegler, and Paul Miller, that while they could have spent the intervening time developing their new site in a bunker, they’ve instead decided to get out front and do what they do best, which is covering tech. They’ve been doing that on This is my next, their placeholder blog.

In migrating away from Engadget — and, in that, from the AOL/Huffington Post empire — the attraction to SB Nation, as Topolsky has written, came from the company’s publishing philosophy as much as its evolving publishing technology. As purveyors, chroniclers, and users of technology, Topolsky and his team are now in a unique position to develop a phenomenal tech site. It’s a scenario with Willy Wonk-ian overtones: They’ve been set loose in a candy store.

And yet, Topolsky told me, their aspirations are more modest than fantastical. If anything, they’re not looking to re-invent the blog or news site as we know them. They just want something that’s more adaptive both to the way stories are written and published, and to how audiences actually read them.

“We’re not trying to be Twitter or Facebook, as in this new thing people are using,” he said. “We want to be something that is just the evolved version of what we have been doing.”

The point, he said, is this: Reading on the web is an ever-changing thing, and publishers need to develop or embrace the technology that can respond to its evolution.

Topolsky isn’t releasing much information about the new site at this point, but in terms of his team’s coverage of the tech industry, he told me, they won’t be straying far from their Engadget roots. In many ways, what their Project X represents is an experiment in publishing and engagement technology, which fits in well with SB Nation’s M.O. One of the things they’re likely to be using on the site, for example, is SB Nation’s story streams, which provide constantly updated information on stories while also offering different access points to readers.

Though the site will also need to be able to accommodate things like multimedia (Topolsky said they it might use something similar to The Engadget Show for that, that that dynamic approach to narrative will work well for covering the latest updates on Google’s Android OS, say, or the tribulations of a phone producer like BlackBerry. “You write the news as seems appropriate and connect it automatically to a larger story, encompassing the narrative,” he said.

But what’s just as important as the tech, Topolsky pointed out, is an understanding between the editorial people and the developers, so when you need a new module or feature on the site both sides understand why — and how — it could work. In some of the more frustrating moments at Engadget, Topolsky said, he found himself having to plead his case to AOL developers in order to get site changes made.

That likely won’t be the case at SB Nation, which, as we’ve written about before, is more than willing to experiment with the blog format. It also helps that they’ve secured a healthy dose of new funding. When I spoke with SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff, he noted that publishing companies are only as successful as the technology and people that comprise them.

“The foundation of our company is the marriage of editorial talent and technology, — sometimes I say people and platform,” he said. “We really believe that to be a new media-first company you have to be based on people who understand how to craft stories online.”

But other than trying to build inventive publishing systems out of the box, what makes the difference for SB Nation is its habit of addressing regular feedback from readers, Bankoff said. The developers at SB Nation, he noted, constantly update the sites based on comments from readers and contributors. If something’s in the service of making a better product, they’ll try it, he said.

Though the audiences for sports news and tech news have their own vagaries, there are some elements — cast of players, data points, and healthy competition — that they have in common. And those will go a long way towards helping to adapt and grow SB Nation’s publishing platform, Bankoff said. “Just like sports, there is an arc to every tech story — and we’re going to be able to really convey the various milestones across any big news item.”

Both the short and long of it: How sportswriting is taking over the web through innovation and adaptation


This post is by Tim Carmody from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Readers paying attention to sportswriting for the past few months have had ample room for excitement. Not only have we been treated to great takes on the Super Bowl, March Madness, new seasons for baseball and tennis, the specter of an NFL lockout, NBA and NHL playoffs, and an upcoming Barcelona-Manchester United UEFA soccer final at Wembley Stadium — we’ve also seen the launch of several important publishing experiments on the web deliberately breaking out of sports’ traditional press box.

If you’re catching up, here’s your cheat-sheet (organized by chronology):

  • In January, ESPN.com/Associated Content alumnus Dan Shanoff started Quickish, a “real-time(-ish)” aggregator of sports-related tweets, links, and commentary. It’s designed to give readers a quick peek at the day’s biggest news and sharpest observations, powered by a combination of reader tips and Shanoff’s own curation: “Come back when big news happens, drop by in the morning or at the end of the day to find out what you might have missed or just visit the site when you have a free 60 seconds to catch up. It’s that easy.” Shanoff plans to expand the site’s reach beyond sports later this year: “Mother’s Day” and “Bin Laden Dead” are already trending topics on the site.

  • In April, recently-departed Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky announced that he and fellow tech-writing ex-pats Nilay Patel, Paul Miller, Joanna Stern, Ross Miller, and Chris Ziegler were creating a new technology vertical for rising sports blog empire SB Nation. It’s SB Nation’s first move beyond sports, but for Topolsky, what mattered most was the editorial model and developing technology: “SB Nation is actively evolving its tools and processes to meet the growing and changing needs of its vast editorial teams and their audience communities. They’re building for the web as it is now. From the perspective of a journalist who also happens to be a huge nerd, that’s a match made in heaven. SBN isn’t just another media company pushing news out — it’s a testbed and lab for some of the newest and most interesting publishing tools I’ve ever seen.”

    The yet-untitled site is slated to launch this fall out of new office space in New York’s Union Square; meanwhile, the core team has a temporary home writing about gadget and technology news at This Is My Next.

  • Around the same time, Longform.org launched a sister site, SportsFeat, spotlighting well-crafted longform sports and sports-related writing. Most of the stories are current, but others reach into the archives even as they relate to the day’s news. For the Kentucky Derby, the site featured Hunter S. Thompson’s famous “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”; when basketball coach Phil Jackson announced his retirement, they linked to Jack McCallum’s 1991 profile of Jackson for Sports Illustrated.

    The typical SportsFeat blog post features a link and story excerpt, with minimal commentary. Recently, Bethlehem Shoals (founder of the sadly shuttered FreeDarko.com) contributed a kind of review-essay, under the column title “Three Seconds,” linking and commenting on three classic stories from sportswriters around the web. Besides Shoals and Longform’s Max Linsky, other curators on the site include Wired.com’s Erik Malinowski, PBS Frontline’s Gretchen Gavett, and Alan Siegel, who’s written popular sports/pop culture stories for Deadspin.com and The Atlantic.

  • Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks owner and tech entrepreneur questioned whether it was worth it for sports teams to give web journalists access to players and coaches at all, calling out Yahoo and ESPN.com by name: “I think we have finally reached a point where not only can we communicate any and all factual information from our players and team directly to our fans and customers as effectively as any big sports website, but I think we have also reached a point where our interests are no longer aligned. I think those websites have become the equivalent of paparazzi rather than reporters.”

    Now, slamming bloggers (or reporters, period) for trafficking in headline-grabbing gossip is old hat. More significant is Cuban’s argument that between the organization’s PR machine, players’ use of social media, and amateur blogs, sports teams can communicate just as well with their audience, and fans’ desire for information can be just as satisfied, without the need for professional journalists as intermediaries. It’s a provocative claim, but also a signal that sophisticated writing about sports is being produced for digital media by many different organizations with very different interests.

  • Finally, later in the same month, ESPN.com unveiled Grantland, a long-awaited joint venture driven by superstar writer Bill Simmons, fresh off his best-selling Book of Basketball and acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series, both of which successfully fused sports history, pop culture, and personal/eclectic storytelling. That’s the formula for Grantland, and the reason why Simmons’s team is packed with names not necessarily known for sportswriting: Malcolm Gladwell, Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Lane Brown, and former GQ/Entertainment Weekly editor Dan Fierman.

    The first Grantland preview stories, Katie Baker’s “The Garden of Good and Evil” (thick description of the New York Knicks’ promise and shortcomings paired with a personal history of Baker’s own Knicks fandom) and Molly Lambert’s “Summer of Robots and Reboots” (a good-naturedly snarky preview of summer movies) offer a glimpse of the site’s future: smart writing for a sports audience infinitely less obsessed with scores and stats than it is absorbed by games as a forum for witty observations and conversation.

If there’s a common thread to all of these moves, it’s hybridization and metastasis. The tools that drive compelling sports journalism on the web aren’t limited to sports. Nor are they exclusively held by sportswriters working for independent media companies.

As Rob Neyer wrote when he moved from ESPN to SB Nation, the new ethos in sports journalism, as elsewhere, seems to be breaking down the distinction between “us” and “them.” And this is a distinction that you can interpret much more broadly than one between writers and readers, pros and amateurs, sportswriting and non-sports writing. When the walls tumble, they tumble everywhere.

My bet is that this will be good for everyone — not just sports fans, sportswriters, and smart media companies, but everyone looking for new ways to read and write smart material on the web.

Give Me Something To Read

In particular, the shift towards faster and more readerly sportswriting helps correct a long-standing imbalance in sports fandom, perhaps especially online. Net-connected computers let you store and search for hitherto unimaginable amounts of data. And in any subject area, the web tends to empower a vocal population of argumentative superfans. Both amplify some of sports’ longstanding tendencies towards fetishization of the same, whether in print, on sports radio, or at a corner bar.

Sheer erudition — and erudition of a very specific type — throws up large barriers to entry. Too often, newer, younger, and more casual sports fans “can sort of get to a certain point of enthusiasm before they hit the ‘stat wall’ where discussion of sports becomes pedantic and quantitative for no discernible reason other than as a social indicator of investment/knowlegeability,” says Grantland’s Katie Baker. “In particular, I constantly see women driven away from sports because they are fed it as a zero-sum game: either you know everything about everyone or you don’t.”

Now, what defines a committed fan is much less monolithic. Quick, real-time tools like Twitter help open up a richer sense of what counts as meaningful information in sports. “To me,” Baker says, “sports has always been just as much about, say, the face that Player X makes when he fouls out of a game as it is about the argument, hashed and rehashed boringly for days over sports radio, about whether that was ‘the right foul to take in this situation.’”

Short, observational takes on sports also recognize the time constraints placed on new media formats. Even those superfans want to be able to stay plugged-in to the discussion when they don’t have hours or days to spend listening to sports radio: on the subway, at the airport, at work, on the move.

In this case, even “less” news helps feed the desire for more. In “Five reasons it’s still a great time to become a sportswriter,” SportsJournalism.org’s Jason Fry writes that “if there’s an upper limit to the desire for sports news, we haven’t found it yet.” When CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell tried to go a week without Twitter, he says “I felt like a guy who strangely just decided to stop talking to his friends. My followers were sending me tweets telling me to end the experiment. Translation? What I was doing wasn’t fair to them.”

And as hungry as fans are for quick takes and real-time updates, they’re equally hungry for history of the game and the stories that shaped how we see it. Longform/SportsFeat co-founder Aaron Lammer explains the hunger for old stories for a generation accustomed to tracking down and collecting the best of the past:

Everyone has that one standout piece that gets seared into their skull, so it was exciting, when someone mentioned one, to actually be able to track it down and pass it around. For me, the process echoed the early days of MP3s, when out of print and ultra-rare recordings that had been stuck in record industry purgatory all started making the rounds. Except with long-form stories, the whole thing is amplified, because most of these pieces have totally dropped off the map. [emphasis mine]

And with a hundred and one ways to get the day’s stats and highlights and deals and signings, including directly from the teams themselves, anywhere and everywhere, there’s a premium on well-curated, extended, critical profiles and analysis — especially when we have time to sit and read.

The sports-tech demographic

At the same time, there are reasons that outlets cater to the audiences they do that go well beyond feeding the news hole or the geek-premium in sports culture. There’s fierce competition across all media for high-information readers/viewers/listeners/app users, particularly men, whether teenagers or middle-aged dads. This is a prime demographic for advertisers; it’s also a choice target for media companies or sports teams looking to cross-sell products in other businesses.

That’s one reason why SB Nation’s first non-sports vertical will focus on consumer technology. CEO Jim Bankoff helps explain the logic in this insightful interview with Forbes’s Lewis DVorkin:

“First of all, we have a big male audience,” Bankoff says. “Depending on who you believe, anywhere from ten to twenty million adult males — tech-savvy adult males.” Already at SB Nation, according to Bankoff, “about 30 percent of our revenue is coming from advertisers who are tech companies.”

When the post-AOL/HuffPo Engadget exodus began, Bankoff — who as VP of programming convinced AOL to buy Engadget and its parent company Weblogs Inc. back in 2005 — found his team to bring sports and tech together.

“Our company was built on the marriage of talent and technology,” Bankoff told DVorkin. “The talent makes the technology better… The more talented storytellers we find for what we do, the better they push our product team, and the more excited our product team gets to work with them.”

Changing how (and where) news is presented

As the Lab’s Laura McGann wrote last year, by building its platform around sports teams and sports fans, SB Nation had to create sophisticated platforms to:

  • manage many sites at once
  • blend local and national news
  • blend text with multimedia
  • facilitate reader participation and content creation
  • update developing stories in realtime using “story streams”
  • whittle down a huge number of stories to find the most important/relevant while still allowing news junkies to go as deep as they’d like
  • push news everywhere and to every device sports fans want to find it

In short, it’s the same challenges every news organization faces, but arguably compressed and magnified. If tech talk/geek culture dominated the anonymous, text-heavy newsgroups and forums of the 1990s, and snarky, image-heavy media, gadget, and celebrity gossip sites represented (fairly or unfairly) the first wave of for-profit blogs in the 2000s, sports networks might be the best indicator of where news is going in the 2010s.

Back to the roots

Quickish’s Shanoff sees it a little differently. Sites like Simmons’s Grantland, he says, remind him more than anything of ESPN’s lauded Page 2 site during its “classic period” from the early-to-mid 2000s, when literary-minded writers like David Halberstam, Ralph Wiley, and Hunter S. Thompson brushed against unknown, try-anything bloggers with strong voices, including a young Bill Simmons. (Even the name “Grantland,” an allusion to sportswriting legend Grantland Rice, suggests a return as much as a step forward.)

“The connective tissue between Page 2 and Grantland,” Shanoff says, “is a notion that there is always room to push boundaries when it comes to compelling editorial in sports — most relevantly, that there are undervalued talents who can, when paired with critical resources like distribution, can emerge and create new value for readers and publishers.”

Even sports coverage on television has become increasingly web-like, both in look and tone. If you watch a sporting event, news recap, or opinion show on TV, you’ll find a screen cluttered with text and graphics, framing on-screen personalities (overwhelmingly men) who argue and joke with each other.

Shanoff thinks the influence between TV and the web is mutual:

The most “web” product in the history of sports media came from a TV show that launched even before the initial popularization of blogs: Pardon The Interruption, which launched in 2001 with its implicit refutation of windy sportswriting cliches and its marriage of accessible personalities and a user-friendly format. I cannot think of a sports-media product that is more highly regarded by fans and “pros” alike. PTI accurately foreshadowed — down to its on-screen graphics — the “stream” that would become the dominant visual metaphor for both Facebook and Twitter (and thus the dominant visual metaphor for news consumption in the 21st century).

Shows like PTI, and the countless programs it influenced, offer a graphic approach to television news perfectly suited for the sudden ubiquity of big-screen high-definition TVs and an audience increasingly accustomed to processing multiple information streams at once. But we don’t just experience sports in front of the TV, on the radio, or at the event any more. Even when we do, we’re likely to have a mobile device in hand, ready to tweet our thoughts or share video and pictures about what we see.

And we don’t only read online sportswriting in front of our desktop PCs, with multiple browser windows open giving us stats in hand. We also read it in coffee shops or in bed, on tablets. We don’t read it only to win arguments, to boo or cheer, but to relax, reflect, and remember.

Image by Bob Jagendorf used under a Creative Commons license.

This Week in Review: AOL’s purge, aggregation v. original reporting, and a Times pay plan defense


This post is by Mark Coddington from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Arianna’s AOL thins its ranks: Some weeks are just like this: The three biggest stories were the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post vs. the New York Times. I’ll try to tackle them one at a time, starting with HuffPo (and AOL), then covering its battle with the Times, then going to the Times’ paywall. Clear as mud? All right then.

While we might have thought HuffPo would have been absorbed into “the AOL Way” when it was bought last month, but as the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Vascellaro reported, it seems the reverse is happening: Arianna Huffington is doing away with parts of AOL’s content farm-ish strategy and remaking it in her own image. That may seem to be a good thing, but there’s a less happy side, too: Job cuts. By this week, they had hit freelancers in just about every content area at AOL — business and finance (though some will apparently be hired into full-time jobs), TV, and movies. (In the latter case, the executive asked laid-off stringers to continue writing for free, then got fired herself.)

All these cuts weren’t exactly unexpected, but that didn’t make them popular, of course. Laid-off freelancer Carter Maness described his frustration at the way AOL handled the move, and Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici wondered if the laid-off writers might have a case for termination without notice under New York law. Others are chafing under Huffington’s labor conditions, too: In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Walker compared the Newspaper Guild’s boycott of HuffPo with the 1979 Comedy Store strike. Bercovici criticized the comparison, arguing that the work of HuffPo’s unpaid bloggers is of relatively little value to the site.

TechCrunch’s Paul Carr (also part of the AOL empire) couldn’t muster much sympathy. The value of writing for the Huffington Post, he said, is greater than the sacrifice of writing for free. Carr also asserted that most of the laid-off writers weren’t producing much of value anyway. “A mass cull of non-talent is exactly what Arianna Huffington needed to do to assert her editorial authority over Aol’s content,” he wrote. Meanwhile, the American Journalism Review took a look at some of the real talent that’s left — the (paid) reporters who have left prestigious news outlets to write for HuffPo.

The aggregation-original reporting showdown: Ever since this passive-aggressive column by New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, the Times and the Huffington Post have been engaging in an odd little tiff with the general theme of “aggregation vs. original reporting.” Both sides kept up the fight this week, in the form of an April Fool’s paywall announcement by Huffington and a nasty interview of Huffington in the New York Times Magazine. Reuters’ Felix Salmon also documented the Times’ refusal to credit (or link to) HuffPo when writing about a few government documents it leaked.

Several observers attempted to make some sense of this conflict, and the Times didn’t come out well in any of those analyses. Salmon said the Times is lashing out because it’s feeling threatened by HuffPo, and New York’s Chris Rovsar argued that in order to sell its paid-content plan, the Times is “turning Arianna Huffington into a straw man, using a caricature of her standards to better frame their own.” CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis tried to lay out exactly what the Times thinks is wrong with HuffPo: It’s not actually content, but instead conversation and aggregation, which is a) worthless, and b) cheating.

Aaron Bady made a deeper version of Rovsar’s point, drawing on a paper presented last weekend by CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson, who argued that while the lines between “aggregating” and “original reporting” are talked about as if they’re clear, they are pretty blurry and unstable. Bady then concluded that both Keller and Huffington are trying to stake out their status as the center of Real Journalism by painting the other as being less than real. The Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles argued that all reporting is aggregation, though Anderson was skeptical.

Defending the Times’ meter: As Bady noted, the Times has a huge incentive to defend its journalistic turf right now — a newly instituted plan to begin charging for its online content. Times execs addressed some of the conversation (and criticism) swirling around its pay system in a panel at Columbia University (audio here). Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. disputed reports that the paper spent $40 million to develop the plan, and paidContent’s Staci Kramer reported that the number is actually closer to $25 million — including about a third of the company’s 2010 capital investment.

In the discussion, Sulzberger also ridiculed the idea that the Times’ pay system is too complex, sarcastically comparing it to print subscription plans. He also likened getting around the pay plan online to stealing a paper from the newsstand, as he’s described it in the past. (The Columbia Journalism Review also has a couple of notes about Sulzberger’s comments about possible threats from HuffPo and the Wall Street Journal.)

Another news organization entered into the Times meter-beating space late last week: The Atlantic Wire, with a daily summary of what from the Times is most worth reading. The Lab’s Megan Garber explained why she thinks it’s more of a “respectful tribute” to the Times than the stereotypical parasitic aggregation. And media analyst Ken Doctor broke down the Times’ free-subscription partnership with the carmaker Lincoln.

SB Nation’s gain is AOL’s loss: The sports blog network SB Nation made the week’s most intriguing personnel move when it snapped up much of the team behind the popular tech blog Engadget to make its own move into the world of gadget/tech blogging. PaidContent’s Staci Kramer talked to SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff about why the move into tech makes sense (advertisers are looking for “young, tech-savvy, affluent males” — the same demographic targeted by sports blogs).

Of course, this story, too, ties into AOL, as Engadget is an AOL blog, and Bankoff is the guy who brought it into the AOL fold back in 2005. The New York Times’ David Carr, who broke the story, used the defections as a cautionary tale for AOL, concluding that “AOL has found a way to acquire what it cannot build, but it still hasn’t found a way to hang on to what it has.”

Outgoing Engadget editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky hinted at his beef with AOL in his post announcing the move, saying SB Nation believes in new media’s potential as an “antidote to big publishing houses and SEO spam.” And while Arianna Huffington is helping AOL move away from the “AOL Way” that the Engadget folks disliked so much, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram noted that her strategy is new and internal suspicions about it are likely to be high. Meanwhile, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson argued that readers don’t care who’s in charge of Engadget.

Reading roundup: Other stuff happened outside the AOL/Huffington Post/New York Times bubble — honest! Here’s a quick overview:

— The University of Texas held its annual International Symposium on Online Journalism last weekend, and University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida blogged the heck out of it, producing 16 posts on the conference’s panels and speakers. A few posts to check out in particular: Former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller’s reasons for optimism about journalism, poor use of Twitter by mainstream media outlets, and lessons on audience engagement. I also summarized the conference’s main themes.

— Some paid-content notes: British advertising magnate Sir Martin Sorrell argued for the media to charge for news online (alongside government subsidy), but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram thought his idea was terrible. Elsewhere, the San Francisco Chronicle is jumping on the paid-content train, and the AP’s Jonathan Stray proposed an open-API paid syndication system between content creators and aggregators.

— For the sports-media crowd: Dallas Mavericks owner and former Yahoo mogul Mark Cuban tried to parse out what media sources should and shouldn’t be allowed in locker rooms. Dan Shanoff of Quickish broke down Cuban’s points, and Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports’ Hardball talk issued a defense of paid bloggers and reporters in general.

— The local content network Examiner.com is often seen as one of the web’s “content farms,” but it took a couple of steps toward higher quality this week, producing a white paper that analyzed their quality issues and proposed pay incentives based on quality guidelines, and adding several respected media folks to its advisory board.

— If you’re wondering how The Daily is doing, it’s tough to find solid information, since News Corp. is keeping it close to the vest. But the Lab’s Josh Benton find a nifty way to guesstimate its engagement by measuring in-app tweets. Here’s the resulting data, in two fascinating posts.