Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Forbes Gets a Facelift. Next Up: A New Body

Here’s the new, the product of four months of work by new editorial boss Lewis D’Vorkin. The redesign hasn’t rolled out sitewide yet, but you can get a good sense of it by heading to the new Forbes 400 list, out tonight (spoiler: Bill Gates is still really rich).

The two big takeaways here are that Forbes’s famously cluttered pages have been cleaned up (the print magazine has a new look, too) and that the whole thing looks, and acts, a whole lot like Facebook. That’s very much intentional, says D’Vorkin: “We are putting news, and the journalists, at the center of social media.”

And it’s the restructuring behind the scenes that’s much more important to Forbes than the new look. The business-news publisher (where I worked for a decade) has been faltering online and off, and it has brought in D’Vorkin to fundamentally overhaul the place.

D’Vorkin’s big idea is to import the model he used at True/Slant, his last company. That site employed a small army of freelance bloggers/contributors, each of whom had their own pieces of turf, were encouraged to comment on/link to each other, and were paid based on performance.

If you’re a traditionalist, that approach is worrisome because it undermines the carefully cultivated voice of authority that titles like Forbes banked on. If you like the idea, you can argue that many voices are better than one–and that this is a good way to make a lot of Web traffic/inventory without spending much for it.

I couldn’t understand why that notion appealed to Forbes’s owners, since the site always had lots of page views to sell, but the penny has finally dropped for me: Forbes wants to find a way to lessen its dependence on portals, particularly Yahoo (YHOO), for traffic.

In many ways, the Web site has effectively functioned as a subcontractor for Yahoo, generating stories and slide shows it hoped would land on the site’s front page, in return for a fire hose of traffic via referrals. A cadre of contributors can’t replace that traffic flow, but it’s much better to have page views and unique visitors that Forbes owns instead of rents.

D’Vorkin won’t talk about traffic directly, or about specifics of other internal overhauls he is planning. But broadly speaking, he’s talking up the idea of journalists as “product managers”–tellingly, D’Vorkin has given himself the title of “chief product officer”–who would be responsible for generating their own traffic, recruiting contributors, keeping tabs on their own analytics via Chartbeat accounts, etc.

And if you read between the lines, it’s easy to imagine that all of the Forbes editorial staff will eventually be compensated based on Web traffic, at least in part.

“The journalists are not just creating content, but they are developing brands among themselves, and people who are good at it should be rewarded for it,” D’Vorkin says.

Clean new Web site, brave new world.