How do you create a web site that goes from nowhere to leading a category in just 12 months? The answer may be to create the category.
Today, there’s a little site called mediaite.com. How it became what it is in just a year could well be one for the record books. The Managing Editor is a TV guy turned web content curator named Colby Hall. (Full disclosure: My company, Magnify.net, provides video technology to Mediaite).
“Our wildest fantasy was…we hoped that in one year we would have a million customers a month,” said Hall. “We thought that the media news niche was realistically maybe 500,000. And now, a year later, we’re on pace to have 1.4 unique visitors a month on the site.”
Hall began his TV career at an aggregation show of sorts, Pop-Up Video was a post-modern music video deconstruction on VH1.
“Pop-Up Video is like two of the five most influential sort of mainstream institutions that helped sort of think about curating and looking at different things and repurposing content in a more interesting and entertaining way” said Hall.
After a bunch of TV gigs, he was looking for work when Rachel Sklar suggested that he meet Dan Abrams, the Chief Legal Analyst of NBC news. It wasn’t an idea that Hall initially though would lead to anything. “I had grown very sceptical of on-air talent in my days of television, but just sort of to my surprise, Dan and I got along very well. He was sharp, really smart, and we hit it off.”
Abrams’ vision was to create a new category of coverage – to cover the folks who report on the media.
He explained it this way: “Politico, The Washington Post and whole host of others cover what the leaders in Washington say in great detail. We do the same for media leaders. When Diane Sawyer, Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow say something interesting or more likely controversial, we are on it.”
Now that Mediate has the attention of the old media, and the digerati – there’s a day to day pressure to be relevant, fast-moving, and watchful of the fast moving media space.
“We love to sort of act as visual DJs to people who are obsessed with politics and media,” says Hall. “We curate media and points of view for people who are interested in tracking it.”
For Abrams and Hall, covering the media is more than gossip and insider-baseball barbs.
“We are living in a time where the media leaders often define the national debate. They are creating “talking points” for politicians rather than the other way around. So whether you like it or hate it, what they say matters and we are the source for news and analysis of those comments,” says Abrams, who is both the observer and sometimes the subject of media watchers.
Today – Mediaite.com is a frothy mix of original reporting, data driven charts and graphs, and contextual curation from mainstream media souces. Colby is careful –and thoughtful –about how curation works for Mediaite.
“We don’t want to aggregate or curate any content from any other blog in the way they wouldn’t want us to do it from them. So, yes, we have a fairly aggressive, what we think is a totally locked-up legal position, pulling content from video, and we have the support of almost every network in doing that, and in terms of buying, borrowing, or sort of curating ideas and posts, we often will point to things that we think are great, sort of ‘read more of this post here,’ and a hat-tip credit goes a really really long way.”
Colby sees his roll as king of multi-media DJ, mixing together the ‘songs’ that come from various media sources to create a mix that is uniquely Mediaite.com.
“I was at one point in my life a huge fan of the higher end of hip-hop, which I call the late ’80s or early ’90s. And like any other kid who may have been experimenting with marijuana at the time, we have these sort of crazy ideas of wow, this is very…you know, I got enough philosophy in college to know that wow, the idea of sampling, and making references, and adding new meaning by building, it’s like modern mash up today. By adding a sort of Steely Dan beat with a Schoolhouse Rock beat you’re like wow, that is really interesting and cool. It evokes meaning and it creates something brand new that never existed before.”
It’s clear that Mediate.com is out front – both breaking news, and making news with it’s sometimes controvertial “PowerGrid” featured prominently on the front page.
“Some DJs have a really strong point of view. They have an idea of what sort of songs they like. They’re sort of creating a message. They’re telling a story,” says Hall of Mediate’s DJ tendencies.
“It just seems to me that any time you’re making reference, like intellectual reference, and culling together disparate ideas together, it is very post-modern. You can constantly sort of create a new story or new narrative by taking new things apart.”
Today – Hall and Abrams have taken that philosophy – and a clear focus of the value of both creating and curating – and built something that readers clearly want.
Hall says that the goal was to do three things well:
– aggregation and curation of media content
– Solid Reporting
– The shift from traditional print media to social media.
In addition, they wanted to track the shift viability of opinion Journalism, as Hall explained:
“…opinion media was becoming far more commercially viable, to some degree, at the expense of Capital J journalism. And there’s no way that you can sort of effectively tell that narrative without curating on aggregating stories that help become sort of signposts along the way.”
So, is Mediaite journalism, or curation, or both? Abrams says in the new world those distinctions get fuzzy.
“We do a mix of curation and original content. I like to think its mostly original content but that line is increasingly blurred. If we find a really interesting nugget on cable news and then explain why that is so interesting or important, is that curation if no one else would have done so? I don’t think so. Without us “covering” it, there would have been no story. We effectively “uncovered” a story even if it was out there.”
So, as Mediaite grows, does curation fade away, or in the world of media observation, criticism, and critique, is curation always at the centre of the story?
“I don’t believe curation and aggregation is going to go away. It’s like the genie is out of a bottle” says Hall, “The forms by which people curate and aggregate are certain to evolve, whether it be video, text, audio, or what have you.”
Check out these videos of Colby talking about Mediaite.com:
Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web video startup. Magnify.net. Mediaite is a customer of his company. Steve has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV Unfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV.
You can follow him on Twitter @Magnify
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