[UPDATE – In true, tail-between-legs fashion, I have walked back significantly from this post here. I didn’t do my homework, and I overstated my case.]
I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of True/Slant.
Essentially it’s a massive group blog, or blog syndicate, or rather a big site with lots of and lots of bloggers entrepreneurial journalists, where readers can join up and be part of the “community.” Marketers are also part of the “community” which is the real slant to the whole project. According to the about page, “Marketers express their corporate voice through the T/S Ad Slant using the same tools available to contributors. T/S Ad Slants are fully transparent, with marketer-created content clearly labeled to maintain the integrity of the conversation.”
But in many ways, True/Slant combines all the worst ideas in new media into one great big failure. Culture11 was a success insofar as it brought unique voices and open minds together in one publication. It was popular because as a site it welcomed discussion. Its failures, though, were manifold. The social networking “community” it attempted was a flop. I have yet to see a successful attempt at social-networking/professional writing hybrid.
And C11 was too ambitious by far, trying to be too many things before taking care of the fundamentals. It never reached the level of aesthetic quality or usability that a modern site should aspire to, something True/Slant, to its credit, seems to be doing somewhat better at. Other than this, however, True/Slant has taken C11’s failures and run with them.
I realize the site is an attempt to bring together the disparate strands of new and old media – to create “entrepreneurial journalism” and find ways to make internet media profitable. But True/Slant ignores some pretty basic internet wisdom.
- New media is niche-oriented.
People visit lots and lots of sites, and few of those sites – except actual social networking sites like Facebook – become primary homes for many people. So to be successful at new media, you need to have a pretty specific niche to occupy, and then you need to keep things small while maintaining a regular flow of content. So be a political site with some culture or arts thrown in. But don’t try to tackle every single topic out there.
- New media relies on very specific branding.
This goes back to the “small” thing. You can refer to this site as “The League” or whatever, because it has at least somewhat successfully branded itself. And when you refer to this site, the reference contains some meaning to those who are familiar with this site. Referencing True/Slant could mean anything because there’s no unifying quality to the site, no brand, no cohesion. You go to Takimag to get a playful paleocon take on modern politics. You go to Daily Kos because, for all its growth, it’s remained a strong bastion of progressivism on the web. All these successful sites and blogs have become brands in and of themselves. Because….
- New media is all about taking a position.
This applies even if the site in question takes various positions but agrees to do so as a unit. Like this site. We take positions and we take the broader, unifying position that we’re pushing discourse. That’s the factor that ties us together. What is the unifying factor over at True/Slant? What is that publication’s position? And how can they brand without a position?
- You can’t have it all.
It has become very trendy to have every new media start up try to be a social networking hybrid, but beyond a strong comments section, this is really a pipe dream. You go to social networking sites and news/opinion sites for different reasons entirely. The two can function together, work in tandem, but trying to mix them on the same site is a bad idea, doomed to end in clumsy failure.
Culture11 tried to do too much, and obviously paid way too many people to make it happen. True/Slant is trying to do even more. I checked over there earlier, and there were 230 new posts on the site today already. Culture11’s best moments were probably found in the editorial blog, The Confabulum. That was, to me, its strongest feature. It had good branding, occupied a niche, and took a position.
Long gone may be the days of new, successful solo-bloggers, but I don’t see much of a future in really big sites that pull in lots and lots of bloggers either. It’s not about quantity. The strength of a group blog rests somewhere in its continuity, in its mission, in the fact that it is more dynamic (theoretically) than a solo-blog, but also – and this is important – personal. A good group blog is more than its individual contributors, it’s an entity unto itself, whereas True/Slant is in many ways less than its individual contributors. Just lots and lots of blogs under one hood, that all look exactly the same, rudderless and alone.
In essence, True/Slant isn’t emulating the success of the group blog – they’re emulating the failure of the solo-blog. The site is a big, glossy, edgy attempt to merge old and new media, but in the end it relies entirely on a few of its biggest names for whatever successes it’s had so far. Take away Matt Taibbi and what do you have left? Or rather, why not just start a site with Matt Taibbi and a few other big names and do away with the dozens of other “entrepreneurial journalists?”
And hey, I could be wrong. Time will tell.