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Media Web Site Pushes Entrepreneurial Model

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 8, 2009; 9:49 AM

Hours after an Air France jet disappeared over the Atlantic last Monday, Miles O'Brien, dismissing "the often inaccurate reporting on aviation that is so prevalent in the mainstream media," offered some informed analysis.

"It was a dark and stormy night -- in a place that is home to the world's worst thunderstorms," he said. O'Brien noted that the Airbus A330 had a good record and "the crew had 'Sully-esque' seasoning."

But O'Brien wasn't reporting for CNN, which dumped him in December. He was posting on True/Slant, a Web site that is mapping a new relationship between journalists, readers and advertisers. In fact, O'Brien has already contacted such aerospace companies as Boeing and Lockheed Martin to sponsor his work at another site, and plans to do so for True/Slant.

If he had done that at CNN, says O'Brien, "I'd be fired, are you kidding?"

Lewis Dvorkin, founder of the site, which officially launches today after a trial run, makes no apologies for throwing out the old model. "It's tailored for the entrepreneurial journalist," he says. "We're enabling and empowering journalists to develop their own brand."

Dvorkin is a media veteran who has worked for the New York Times, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, AOL and TMZ.com. He is backed by $3 million in funding from Forbes Media and Fuse Capital.

True/Slant has 100 contributors, and unlike, say, the Huffington Post, where most writers blog for free, everyone is compensated in some form. "While it's not a lot of money, it's at least validating the worth of the journalism," says Diane Dimond, a veteran television correspondent who is one of the site's most prolific bloggers.

"I'm a believer," says O'Brien, whose Air France coverage drew 15,000 hits last week. "I haven't made any money off it yet, but I think there's something there." Still, he says, "you could easily get very cozy with your sources. You've got to watch that if you're calling people up asking for money. It is uncharted territory for the likes of me."

While some contributors receive a stipend, others have an equity stake or a share in advertising revenue that they solicit. Dvorkin says such contacts with advertisers would be disclosed and that True/Slant editors would step in if a writer tried to post inappropriate material about an advertiser. "I come from the land of traditional media standards," he says.

In another departure from the usual practice, companies will be offered their own pages on the Web site, but these would be clearly labeled as advertorials.

The online buzz phrase these days is "building community," as news organizations try to replicate the social success of Facebook. True/Slant contributors blog, put up video and "follow" each other, while readers can follow them and post comments of their own. At one point last week Dimond, who specializes in crime and justice issues, had 13 posts in five days.

"I have my little core group of followers who post comments," she says of her 118 fans. "It's not like the millions of people who watch you on TV, but it's certainly more personal. This is like an everyday conversation with a community that's interested in what I'm interested in. That's kind of cool."


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