ONA 10. TBD Not Focused On Profit?

Been watching the live video stream and Twitter feeds of ONA10, The Online News Association conference in Washington, DC  this week. Totally loving that I can follow from my office in Philly… but I’m bummed at the lack of any coherent sales plan coming from my hyper-local heroes at TBD.com.

The ONA keynote this morning featured top execs of Allbritton’s TBD, the DC based online news effort steered by Jim Brady and Steve Buttry. These guys are some of the smartest in the business….when they’re discussing editorial and online news gathering procedures.

But when it comes to sales and revenue strategy, the discussion disappoints. Badly.

Journos are screaming at me now: ‘so what, it’s all about gaining audience for now’. Well, if the moderator thought it was important to ask questions about revenue, one would assume it’s a key part of keeping TBD, and others like it, sustainable? Or was she just filling time trying to sound ‘entrepreneurial’? I doubt that parent company; Allbritton Communications (Politico, WJLA) is willing to burn through millions to see what might emerge. Maybe they have too much confidence in their mature TV sales force as well?

The New York Times made content and traffic a top priority with THE LOCAL, and we know how that flamed out with little advertising support. Not even the top flight professors at CUNY could save that one. Like the NYT and their hyper-local plan, TBD.com might be committing the same fatal mistake of  NOT adding seasoned sales expertise to the mix, early in the process. Foundation support, angels, tip jars and the HOPE of future profit… is no way to run a  business.

I could sense from watching Mr. Brady answer questions about money, that the topic of sales is not his strong suit. And God bless Steve Buttry for trying to help Jim out with some tired, local-revenue factoids. Still, why are we asking two brilliant journalists about sales? I get the same nauseous feeling when I watch NYU’s Jay Rosen or Jan Schaffer from J-lab talking about those so-called ‘elusive revenue models’.

The folks at Reach Local and Patch are snickering right about now. These new local competitors are hell bent on revenue. They’re likely amazed and thankful that Allbritton put newsroom and old-school TV execs in charge of TBD revenue generation. They also love to hear college professors ask: “is patch evil?”

Some things mentioned from this keynote, that kinda made me cringe…..(para-phrasing)

  • Our ad network is not gonna make the blogger rich, but it’s more than what they’re used to
  • No magic bullet to revenue…only shrapnel
  • Maybe 5 different revenue streams we could tap
  • Quality staff & news coverage is long-term strategy, profit will follow later

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