Not Interested in Putting a Correspondent in the White House

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NEW YORK ( -- Yahoo is not building its own independent news service, the general manager of Yahoo News told a group of media professionals this morning.
Neil Budde
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“We’re not interested in setting up a full news service with a correspondent in the White House,” said Neil Budde at the Software & Information Industry Association meeting held at New York’s Cipriani restaurant on 42nd Street. Perhaps to calm the jittery nerves of some of the traditional-media pros in the audience, he added, “We want to be your partners.”

Top-ranked for news
Yahoo News, which is consistently rated No. 1 or No. 2 among top 10 news sites by Nielsen/NetRatings, with about 25 million unique visitors a month, posts stories on the Yahoo home page that are aggregated from a number of news sources like Reuters and the Associated Press. In recent months, though, Yahoo has touted its move into original news content, under the leadership of Lloyd Braun, a network-TV veteran who heads the media and entertainment group at the portal.

The new content includes dispatches from a foreign-correspondent-cum-blogger; an adventure-travel subsite; content feeds from the snarky Gawker blog group and the political; and well-known financial columnists writing original content on Yahoo Finance. The new direction has been viewed warily by partners who wonder if their deals could cease, and by advertisers worried that war-zone dispatches and edgy blog content might not be a suitable backdrop for their ads.

Mr. Budde said Yahoo’s news strategy going forward is two-pronged. First, to continue to break news into “bits and bytes”; second, to continue presenting the content in a way that makes it easy to personalize.

Different audiences
Specifically, this strategy involves presenting enough diverse content that it interests a number of different, targeted audiences. Some content is multimedia offerings, like the war correspondent Kevin Sites’ postings from war zones around the world, which feature blogs, audio-video, photo montages and straight print reporting from the point of view of individuals in war-torn areas. Other content is the home-page headlines that reap millions of views a day, video stories, blogs, columns, opinion pieces and a weekly advice column, similar to Dear Abby’s, by Margo Howard.

People already divvy up their news -- even if it’s in a traditional form like a newspaper. Mr. Budde mentioned a friend who commutes by train and tucks pieces of his favorite dailies into his briefcase, namely, the front section of The New York Times, the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal and the sports pages of The Daily News.

The difference in divvying up news online is each particular story can be measured by who is reading it. If only 20% of the population is interested in international news, “that’s a problem for traditional media companies,” he said. “But 20% of the Yahoo News audience is still 6 million people. That may look small to mass media, but Yahoo can give them as much as they can read on this,” he said.

Remixing the news
Mr. Budde, who is a former news reporter and the founding editor and publisher of The Wall Street Journal Online, equated personalizing news to how consumers react to Yahoo Music. Just as users of the Yahoo music section often set up their own playlists and share them with friends, people are beginning to “remix” their news, he said. They do this through Yahoo RSS feeds and MyYahoo profiles. In the future, for instance, there will be more locally aggregated news targeted to user’s specific location.

Just as consumers can also check the most e-mailed news stories of the day, “what if you could see the most popular stories among your circle of friends or even the most popular among information professionals?” he said, adding that plans to do this are on the drawing board.

“I don’t know exactly what the future of news looks like -- we will only know by watching where users take us,” he said.

As Yahoo builds out its news content, all of it is not monetized. Kevin Sites’ section for example, “doesn’t have a regular advertiser,” he said, but Yahoo measures it on “different fronts,” including traffic and by how it builds Yahoo’s news brand. Kevin Sites Hot Zones has about 1 million unique users a month.

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