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November 26, 2014

10 Reasons to Watch Next Week's TBD Launch

For a multimedia site, TBD showed some media savvy, lining up a media briefing today, complete with visuals, numerous staffers and a sampling of local bloggers who’ve joined the TBD Community Network.

You’ll find several good write-ups on TBD today. The actual launch will come next week, in the doggiest days of D.C. summer, creating a regional DC news alternative to the long-impressive WashingtonPost.com.  I’ll offer today 10 reasons why TBD is a launch worth watching by all those in Old and Newer media. It may be the first significant launch of the year, supported by 50 new staffers.

Ten reasons to watch TBD:

1) It’s a for-profit business, owned by Allbritton Communications. Allbritton, a long-time DC name, has found a winning formula in Politico, turning politics into a niche, making cross-promotion a daily fundamental and generally setting a new standard for national start-ups.  Some decry the non-profitization of the New News. Okay, let’s see what a well-thought out, for-profit site — and one with the scale of more than four dozen new staffers can do — can do.

2) It’s multimedia out of the box. Newschannel 8 [cablecast] and WJLA (Channel 7) broadcast, both also owned by Allbritton, will abandon their current websites and all the station-produced content will be found on TBD — one website. “Hard news on TV, hard news on the web,” is the intention.

3) New brand creation: Politico, along with the HuffingtonPost, has been the poster child for how you create a new brand, and find legitimacy (cable cross-partnerships, big media mentions). Now TBD itself is a new brand. In addition, NewsChannel 8 is being re-branded TBD — a big move in the market. (It’ll transition the NewsChannel 8 brand as a subbrand for some time.) Also expect good TBD representation on WJLA. Politico’s a national brand; TBD is a big effort to create a top-of-mind local news brand, to the extent that others haven’t.

4) New model for local broadcasters: Many focus on the text aspects of TBD. In starting with the “clean canvas” of a new site and brand, the site may create a new model for what local broadcasters can do to take full advantage of the web’s immediacy, text links/connections, blogging communities and social context. As Morris Jones, a veteran broadcaster and new anchor of a TBD news program said, “Station websites are for the most part like a second car in the driveway. You don’t use it much.” A few local broadcasters have begun to grab the web; most are behind their newspaper counterparts.

5) It’s an in-your-face challenge to the daily: Yes, the Washington Post’s resources, market clout and reader are huge, but that doesn’t make the paper impregnable. For TBD, as a start-up, it just needs to take a piece of the Post’s (and others’) ad revenue to be successful. And every dollar taken builds TBD and makes the Post’s budgeting more difficult. If it works, to any degree, metro dailies that have been more concerned about survival than competition, will see a second threat looming.

6) It’s seriously Pro-Am out of the box: The TBD Community Network, at launch, amazingly has 127 local/regional blog sites of every description signed up. These sites were selected and invited; so they are vetted for quality and integrity. TBD has learned from the blog aggregation/curation/ad network experiences of other  — “Everyone does a little bit of aggregation and curation,” says Jim Brady, who heads the site — but TBD seems to set a new standard. It’s a relationship that may work well both for “the mothership” and the sites, managing the nuances of brand and traffic. In addition, it offers an ad network (partnered with Growth Spur) out of the box, a key to making this new ecosystem seriously work.

7) It’s got a big established sales force to get it going. Both TV stations salespeople with accounts — and relationships. So TBD is an extension of that sales activity, not a start-up ad sell, which bedevils many other  start-ups.

8) It’s social out of the box. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and more.  And all content is geo-tagged. Social is not an experiment; the site’s assumption of a place in the socialsphere is being orchestrated by Steve Buttry, engagement director, who’s deeply experienced at what works, may work and doesn’t in the social space. Lots of learning to come, of course, but the site’s social activities don’t start from square one.

9) It’s mobile of out of the box: Apps for the iPhone and Android will launch with the site. As Brady says, “You can’t wait to put in a mobile strategy.”

10) Experience, talent and passion. Ah, the intangibles. Jim Brady, Steve Buttry, managing editor Erik Wemple and a host of others among the 50 new staffers (out of 100 contributing, through Politico+), bring lots of journalistic and digital web smarts to the operation. Brady, an alumnus of WashingtonPost.com and Buttry, were both well-trained by their long daily newspaper experience. Ironically, that experience is now being used outside the daily newspaper realm. The passion is clear in talking with the founders, and it’s a quantity too much lacking in the traditional news world. Money and capital matter a lot here, but passion’s the secret sauce.

Make no mistake: this is an uphill battle for TBD, which is being given about three years to prove itself out. Yet it stands out as all these factors come together to make TBD the most watchable new news site of the year.

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