True/Slant and The Big Money will both close their doors this weekend, though one has a decidedly brighter future than the other. T/S will continue in some form under its new owner, Forbes Media, though details of what the new project will look like remain scant. The Big Money, however, will fold back into Slate.com, from which it originally came. The events provide a moment to draw some lessons from a media landscape that continues to evolve at a rapid pace.
True/Slant’s founder, Lewis Dvorkin, wrote about the lessons he had taken from the project one year in (last April):
1) Hiring people steeped in both old media and digital media, with the battle scars to prove it, produces clear thinking and efficiency.
2) Keep your full-time staff brutally small; leave room to add a single wild card player mid-stream to re-invigorate the team and break idea log jams; when you think just one more person with a particular skill set will make all the difference, think again because you’ll be wrong and waste money.
3) Newer digital conventions, not long-standing traditional media ways, are the hardest, most costly and riskiest to break.
4) In all negotiations — staff, partners or otherwise — walk away once the terms detract from the excitement.
5) Most of all, sweat the smallest of details early on; pick only one rule you want to break (for us, it was to treat contributors and advertisers equally); set the overall strategy, then get out of the way.
6) And always remember: Editorial command and control is a relic of the past and has no place in a Web world. It will slow you down, cost you and stifle the upheaval you want to unleash.
The Big Money, on the other hand, offered explanations for its failure. The main one, not surprisingly, was that the site wasn’t becoming profitable fast enough. A site designed to focus on business news, TBM launched in September 2008 just as Lehman Brothers collapsed. At the time, available advertising revenue sunk as well. Other Slate products like Foreign Policy and The Roots are doing well according to the same memo that announced TBM’s closure. The group remains undeterred and is already drying its eyes for what comes next, indeed a lesson in itself:
Part of being a quasi start-up means being unsentimental about sites we like that aren't working as businesses and quickly evolving our model in response to a fast-moving marketplace. We are experimenters. This was a great experiment, but not every experiment results in a breakthrough.