(Originally posted on Feb. 25, 2011)
Allbritton Communications unceremoniously demoted TBD.com to the status of glorified E! channel this week. If you remember all the way back to last year, when some people (like me) had high hopes for TBD as a model for local news online, read CJR’s interview with Jim Brady, who stepped down from leading TBD late last year when it must have become obvious that Allbritton intended to decapitate TBD. One thing that is true is that TBD’s model — aggregating news throughout the community, whether from partners or from competitors — was a success, as far as measured by traffic: In January, just five months after its debut, it attracted 1.5 million unique visitors, nearly double its December total of 838,000 and far surpassing November’s total, 715,000, the internal figures show; over the past three months, TBD’s traffic was substantially higher than Web sites operated by local TV stations WRC (Channel 4), WUSA (Channel 9) and WTTG (Channel 5), according to Compete.com.
“I’d even go so far to say that that model is, for a local news site, sort of indisputable. The debate over whether you work with people in your community, or whether you just say, ‘Here’s our website, and here’s all the stuff we produced today and that’s it,’ I think that has to be over. Newspapers had that power because they had the power of distribution. But on the web, people are going to go to all different sites, and so if you can be that place that connects people to good content that they’re interested in regardless of source, then you’re going to be the place they start their day. And on the web, that’s how you win: you have to be in somebody’s short list of sites they always go to. People would say, ‘Why are you linking off-site? You’re driving people away from your site!’ But what’s the counter-argument to that, that if you never link off-site, then people will never leave your website?
“I mean, they’re going to leave your website anyway, whether it’s to go check their e-mail or go to TMZ.com or whatever. So the concept that you’re losing people by doing that, is actually the opposite of what’s actually happening — which is that you’re building loyalty by performing the role you’re supposed to perform, which is to be a conduit for useful information.”