Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thoughts on the Times partnership with FiveThirtyEight

Why doesn't this happen more often?  Back in January, in a post I did for, I interviewed a blogger about his soccer website and his own reporting on a Minnesota blogger who wrote about the local soccer scene.  My point at the time was that it seem a natural fit: bloggers covering their areas of specialty teaming up with newspapers to the benefit of both. Yet how often does it happen that a newspaper goes out and finds talent in this way? Probably more often than I am aware of, but also probably not often enough.

This site has also written once about a blogger teaming up with publisher, and that was when trade publisher Canon Communications purchased the Pharmalot blog. Purchasing a blog, rather than partnering with one, is a more expensive route to go for a publisher, of course, and mostly occurs when the blog itself is competitive with the commercial media company.
In the case of the Times partnership with Nate Silver, there are positives to the relationship all around. In addition to the fact that Mr. Silver now has a great gig, it is also a positive that the brand will survive, as will most of the relationships that the owner of the blog has built up. For the Times, they not only bring on great talent, but a brand name, as well. This is a move that supports both the content and business sides of the equation.

Strangely, it is the business side of the newspaper that can benefit the most in these partnerships -- though, as always, the only side that gets talked about is the content side. Take that local soccer blogger, for instance: the reasons a newspaper won't hire a soccer writer is they think the costs will vastly outweigh the benefits. Yet partnering with a blogger costs considerably less (yes, they will pay the blogger something, I hope), than a full time reporter -- but that new talent can assist the sports editors far more than just contributing a story occasionally. Adding a new sports blog creates new web ad inventory, opens up a new ad category, brings in a new brand, increases traffic immediately, brings in new uniques -- need I go on?

One of the reasons old media has failed so badly online is that old media is not nimble. It probably took Nate Silver a few weeks to nail down his FiveThirtyEight and post his first story. Getting a new brand up and running at a newspaper can be a daunting task.

But if there is a newspaper company that has a chance to make online work, the Times is certainly that paper (which is why so many early users of the Times iPad app have been so disappointed, it's like they failed to think things through before launching their first effort).

For me, seeing the Times partner with Nate Silver is a cause of celebration (especially if you are Nate Silver).  Now let's start seeing a lot more of this.