For my legacy media, I interviewed someone who used to be in the leadership team of a web site called Times 24.7. This was a spin-off of The Washington Times, a newspaper I worked with for 14 years as an editor and a reporter. In mid-2011, the Times, hereto referred to as TWT (which is how all the staff refer to it), decided to get serious about digital and create a separate digital edition that would have three shifts of workers and be updated all day and night, hence the 24/7 title. The Times folks, he told me, were noticing that newspapers all over the country – with a web site and print edition – were failing. However, the Drudge report, which has no reporters, was making a fortune by aggregating articles from people around the world. Moreover, Drudge has mega-traffic and he wasn’t paying any of the writers. The question was how they could change the business model of the newspaper to provide a better service to their readers to get more traffic and revenue. 24/7 was an additional service to TWT readers – they’d get TWT content and this new service that would provide them with all articles and opinion from around the world. They soft launched around Thanksgiving 2011 and officially launched in January 2012.
And so they featured TWT material in 2 columns. In the middle column, they had other material their digital editors would look for in other publications. They’d write a few paragraphs and a headline and put it out there. The site was changing constantly around the clock – they staffed all 3 shifts and it was updated 7 days a week. The regular TWT site was updated once a day.
24/7 was staffed all by young people; graduates from places like Hillsdale College and other places that understand conservatives. When they applied for the job, they were told to imagine they were working for Drudge. Thus, in a half hour, they’d have to troll the Internet and see how many stories they came up with; write a few paragraphs, write a headline and post it. Then they were given some Drudge stories and told to pick out 2-3 paragraphs for 24/7 and write a headline for it. The idea was not to simply repeat the story but to find a nugget in the story and captitalize on that. “We wanted to see how skilled they were as to going into a dull story and pulling something out of it,” he told me. “Some of these young kids who had some experience and web savvy and understood the TWT audience were the ones who did the best. We groomed them. It was a lot of fun: Fast-paced and competitive.”
Another part of the 24/7 biz model was email; the “secret sauce” for the really big aggregating sites like Newsmax (more on them later). TWT should have accumulated its own email list over the years, but it had not. So 24/7 found a partner with a large email list of 4 million names who were likeminded to TWT readers. 24/7 began sending 3 million emails a day to that list. These are alerts to the best material on the site. Folks reading their email would click on the links, which was driving traffic to 2/47. The emails were the biggest driver of traffic to that site. I get alerts to stories in the New York Times and Washington Post and yes, I often click on the links to read these stories. Those emails are great advertisements!
The site grew as TWT’s answer to the Drudge Report although oddly, TWT itself was not linking to 24/7. “At our peak,” he told me, “we were more than 3 million page views a month. We were getting up there and when TWT finally started linking to us, that also helped.” In November 2012, the site was named ‘best home page’ by Editor & Publisher; pretty good for only being in business a few months. There were some original stories but not many.
Unfortunately, the project was opposed by some within TWT and when a new digital officer was appointed by the paper, he laid off all the staff in January 2013. “We were not a runaway financial success because we were opposed institutionally by the company hosting us,” my contact said. Staff scattered, most of them taking refuge at Newsmax, which sends out 5 million emails a day. The stories chosen there are ones the staff know that people will open. And then they see links to other Newsmax products, ie some 8-10 premium insider newsletters mostly on health and finance. They are low-tech print publications but they are insider newsletters. And people are spending the money to subscribe. They even have a ‘progressive’ list for liberals who want to hear about health news.