Business 2.0 has had another trend defining staff departure, following the departure of blogger Om Malik last year to launch his own media company. Now, the news is that Business 2.0 editor Owen Thomas will be the new editor of Valleywag, the tech gossip blog run by gossip monger Nick Denton.
What I find interesting about this news is how it reflects the evolution of magazine media — particularly the staffing model.
Business 2.0 had a smart response to Om Malik’s departure — turn all of their writers into bloggers and create a blog network. Owen, in fact, wrote the Business 2.0 Beta blog. The challenge for Business 2.0 is that all of these writers also have to put out a print magazine — which means there is a huge imbalance in the overhead for their editorial output online vs. offline. Not only are there no printing and distribution costs online, but Business 2.0 wisely used cost-efficient FeedBurner technologies to manage the feeds and the network.
Business 2.0’s model also results in the writers/bloggers not having time to post multiple times a day, as full-times bloggers do, which is key to driving traffic in the online ecosystem. Business 2.0 has mitigated that problem by creating an edited, combined feed from all of the blogs in the network, called “The Spew,” which does post multiple times a day:
This problem is by no means to unique to any to Business 2.0, which seems to be handling it as well as any magazine publisher, and much better than many that are still far behind the curve online.
Vallewag, in contrast, doesn’t have the breadth that Business 2.0 — it’s much more narrowly focused, as many of the Business 2.0 blogs are. The most striking contrast is that Valleyway is a fully formed publication, albeit niche, which can be run on the back of one talented editor. Hence Valleywag’s hiring of Owen Thomas isn’t just a smart addition of a talented editorial staff member to a larger staff, as it would be if, for example, Wired had hired Owen. In this case, Owen Thomas IS Vallewag — or largely, as Nick Denton, as well as former editor Nick Douglas and others will likely continue to contribute.
That one talented writer/editor can run an entire publication is truly transformative for magazine publishing, and for all publishing. I’d bet Nick Denton would have created Gawker Media as a magazine publishing company if he had done it 20 years ago, but his staffing model would have been VERY different.
The notion of publishing as an expression of individual talent points to what hasn’t changed in the online publishing. As Kara Swisher observes:
It’s an interesting move by Gawker Media, the gossipy blog network that is Valleywag’s parent company, and its publisher Nick Denton, to hire a more experienced and essentially mainstream reporter like Thomas, who has deep sources in the Silicon Valley community and is well respected.
Nick Denton is smart enough to know he can run a publication on the back of one person, but he’s also smart enough to know that he needs that person to be a talented, highly skilled, and highly connected editor and journalist. Valleywag isn’t just a leech on mainstream publications, as many blogs are accused of — it has and will clearly continue to do original reporting.
Here’s a question to ponder: What would happen if Business 2.0 stopped publishing in print and instead allowed each of its writers to become full-time bloggers?
A magazine editorial would likely say that the result would be less in-depth feature reporting, and more short news items. And there would be less compelling layout and design enhancing the content. And you can’t take it with you to the beach or on the plane.
I do agree that there is a real art to magazine layout and design, and that is lost online. But I don’t believe that the opportunity for feature-length reporting has to be lost online. If people don’t want to read long stories online, then why not make those stories easily printable — maybe even a smartly designed layout in a PDF, but one that is optimized for a standard printer?
The point of Business 2.0 vs. Valleywag is not to suggest that one is better than the other — there’s definitely something lost and something gained in the evolution of publishing, although probably not in equal proportion.
But it’s something that every publisher needs to be thinking long and hard about.