Today Pierre Omidyar announced a key hire: recently Bill was editor of Entertainment Weekly, before that boss of the Yahoo home page.
This is from the official press release:
I’m pleased to announce that Bill Gannon joins us as a member of our editorial leadership team from Time Inc.’s EntertainmentWeekly.com. Drawing on his extensive experience in digital media as well as his diverse background in developing new editorial strategies and creating great user experiences, Bill will leverage all of his talents to help us build a next-generation media platform for a broad audience.
…Bill’s expertise at pinpointing and presenting the Web’s most reliable and relevant content will provide readers with a fresh, “First Look” at the day’s rapidly shifting news and events…
As the editor of EntertainmentWeekly.com for the last three years, Bill owned editorial strategy and day-to-day operations for all content and digital platforms, including an overhaul of desktop and responsive mobile design…. Previously, Bill was Director of Digital Media at Lucasfilm Ltd., where he spent four years driving global digital strategies and operations across multiple business units and in support of a wide range of e-commerce, theatrical, television, and video game releases.
At Yahoo! Inc., Bill oversaw news and editorial strategy and content operations for the front page of Yahoo.com, drawing hundreds of millions of unique visitors monthly. His time in Silicon Valley also included development of digital media products for Financial Engines Inc., a financial services technology company when it was in its startup phase.
So far we have said First Look will be built around three things:
* Original reporting and investigative work, especially by “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” (in Pierre Omidyar’s words.)
* A continuous news operation serving broad audiences with up-to-date news on politics, business, technology, culture, entertainment, sports. This will be Bill Gannon’s primary responsibility. Intelligent aggregation will be a part of it.
* A technology company that can develop new media tools and better infrastructure for the news industry.
In between meetings and phone calls I caught up with Bill for a short interview about news aggregation. We stayed away from “what will First Look be doing that’s so new and different?” because a.) he just started so how would he know? and b.) it’s smarter to figure out a path to try first, then try it, and then talk about it when people have something in built form to react to. “Demos, not memos,” as newsroom developer Matt Waite said in a now-famous post.
JR: I wrote Out of the press box and onto to the Field about my reasons for joining up with Pierre Omidyar’s new venture in news. For me it involved crossing the street, so to speak, from an observer and academic to participant in a news start-up as an adviser. What did it involve for you? And what will be your primary duties?
Bill Gannon: I was initially attracted to the idea because it seemed to be a unique opportunity where my background in creating new editorial strategies and new user experiences could add value. I’ll be focusing on continuous news coverage and aggregation across a wide range of sections: world news, politics, business, entertainment, sports and more.
JR: When I teach graduate students about news aggregation they are often familiar with the controversies about it: complaints about over-aggregation and sucking up the traffic. Those things do happen, of course. Students are not as familiar with the arguments for it, like the maxim developed by Jeff Jarvis: Do what you do best and link to the rest. That’s where I start. Where do you start?
Bill Gannon: Aggregation done well — providing multiple brand “takes” or reporting on a story — can create tremendous value for end users who are desperate to find the best journalism on a specific topic.
JR: Offer the user of news multiple brands, not just one: good way of putting the argument for aggregation.
Bill Gannon: Exactly…
JR: Jarvis described it this way:
Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” [and] “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better.
There is brand proposition there: the brand that is happy to bring you multiple brands. As Dave Winer puts it: “People come back to places that send them away.”
Bill Gannon: When I was Editorial Director at Yahoo! we routinely “beat” great journalism digital brands with breaking news to the home page simply because our focus was to get the story up fast and service our users, regardless of if the source was a Yahoo News partner or a non-partner. But in the last five or so years we’ve seen some web sites “harvesting” nearly complete stories, even exclusive reporting, in the name of aggregation without providing real attribution or making a real effort to drive traffic back to those news sites.
JR: One of my big impressions as a consumer of the product, a user of aggregation, trying to inform myself by efficient use of many brands, is that too frequently the the concept of a “topic” seems left over from newspaper verticals and sections. The topics betray their origins as producer categories from an earlier era of distribution. “Topics” tend to be story bins that are efficient for the producers, not natural containers for our interest in news. The intelligence that we’ve put into “what’s a topic?” has not impressed me, as a user. Is my impression I wrong? Did I simply not know where to look?
Bill Gannon: I agree and I hope this is an opportunity where I hope we can do better at First Look by better understanding how users engage with news on digital platforms. It’s something great technology companies like eBay, Amazon and Netflix have already done at scale but journalism brands have not yet invested in or embraced.
JR: You’re saying recommendation systems in news have not kept place, correct?
Bill Gannon: Correct.
JR: When you were at Yahoo or EW, did you ever want to have a technology company in the same family making tools for news producers?
Bill Gannon: We had that exact team in place at Yahoo when I was there and that’s one reason why Yahoo News became a top news destination on the web and frequently out-performed major news brands on election nights or during the Olympics. And there are a number of great journalism brands complimented by top-notch tech teams out there right now.
JR: One of the questions I have been asked the most since my first post on First Look is this. People seem to get easily the idea of a news organization built around independent journalists with subject matter expertise and an online following, operating within their own orbit but with support from the center. But then they see Pierre’s statements that First Look will be a full service news provider, as well, and they say: huh? Where do those things “snap” together in your mind? What connects them?
Bill Gannon: The audience becomes aware of our our investigative journalism en route to their other news needs.
JR: Or the reverse: they become aware of the daily news product after being drawn in by the investigative work and a more personal kind of journalism.
Bill Gannon: Precisely.
A final observation of my own: Another key starting point for me in understanding online news is Robin Sloan’s great essay on stock and flow, which he called a “master metaphor for media today.”
Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons— but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.
But I’m not saying you should ignore flow!
You need both. Not just for First Look but for any news organization setting up shop today, Robin Sloan nails it.