Is TBD Building a Trojan Horse?


This month, the Washingtonians should brace themselves for the launch of another online media site called TBD headed by the ex-WashingtonPost.com executive editor. Jim Brady . Their content will be edited by former City Paper editor, Erik Wemple.

Curious about the company name? According to their site:

“In a mixture of humor and frustration, Editor Erik Wemple began signing his emails, “Editor, TBD.com. Before long, we realized Erik had stumbled upon the perfect name for our site. The traditional news culture is that you don’t publish or broadcast a story until all the questions are answered, all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.”

I met Brady back in 2006 when I was heading my 2nd internet social search company, Searchles. Thanks to his effort, a few months after our meeting, we landed our first strategic partnership with the Washingtonpost.com which was a very big deal for us, given we were so tiny and the Post, of course was the Post.

TBD will have a staff of 50 people, including 20 reporters with a strong reliability on community engagement – Washingtonian Bloggers.

I am no expert in the online media world and this is purely speculative on my part. However, from the limited information I have learned about TBD, it seems to me that the Washingtonian bloggers will be the Trojan Horse for  TBD to accomplish one of the following missions:

a) TBD to go after the big boys in the space

b) TBD to be quickly acquired by them

c) TBD to become the local AOL or Yahoo of Washington, D.C.

The one thing TBD has in common with the big boys like AOL and Yahoo, is their aggressive plan to add as much as original content as possible to their site. Both AOL and Yahoo are betting on niche content and have gone on writers/journalist hiring Ramp page past few month or so.

Listen to Jimmy Pitaro, Vice President of Yahoo media at the All Things Digital conference last week:

TBD is also hiring their staff of writers and journalists that will generate a significant amount of original content every day. PLUS they will be getting original content on their site from the local Washingtonian bloggers. And, No! they are not trying to get them to write for them for free, nor are they trying to build their traffic off your blog.

Their intention is to drive traffic to the blogger’s sites.  They will help the bloggers sell advertising and share that revenue with them. They will promote the work of local bloggers.

TBD realizes in this age, building a local news site without embracing the tremendous work already being done by others is a short-sighted strategy. So they hope to get the local bloggers to work with them in creating a unique new local news site.

Still have question about TBD business model, here is an FAQ from their site:

Who can be a network member?
Blogs and sites devoted primarily to news, issues and community life in the Washington metro area may join the network. Because TBD is focused on the Washington region, we do not plan to include blogs about national or international affairs, or personal blogs lacking a local angle.

How does a blog or site join the network?
TBD will extend invitations to blogs and sites we want as network members. Blogs or sites also may request membership, in which case TBD will review the site and decide whether to include in the network. The relationship is by mutual agreement and either party can withdraw at any time for any reason.

What does TBD do for network members?
TBD will direct traffic to fresh content on network sites with headlines and links on the home page, zoned pages, topic pages, site search and a blogger network directory. Links will designate blogs as members of the network. TBD sales staff will sell advertising on network sites, with revenue to be shared. TBD social media such as Facebook fan page(s) and Twitter feeds also will highlight content from network members. Network members will be invited to workshops and social events sponsored by TBD. The extent of TBD promotion for a blog’s content will depend on the frequency of posts and on judgment by TBD staff about where and how to promote each post.

What do network members do for TBD?
Network members will provide TBD with fresh community content (though full posts will reside on the members’ sites). Network members will provide TBD advertising inventory to sell. Network members will display TBD widget/badge on their sites, linking to TBD. Network members will provide RSS feeds, giving TBD automated access to fresh content.

How might TBD collaborate with blog network members?
On some events or issues of interest throughout the metro area, TBD will offer members opportunities to participate in coordinated coverage plans.

Will network members’ content reside on the TBD site or on members’ sites?
TBD will primarily drive traffic to member sites through links. In most cases, the presence on TBD will be the blog/site’s name, a logo designating the blog or site as a network member, the headline (from the post or article), a link and a time stamp. In other instances, a TBD staff member might include an expanded reference, including a quote or excerpt, in a roundup of curated content on a particular topic or community in a TBD blog post, news story or email newsletter. These will link to the member’s blog or site and will be written to encourage further reading.

How will the TBD network’s advertising relationship work?
Working through GrowthSpur, TBD will provide members with advertising support, including tools, training and technical support. Network members will have opportunities to receive revenue from their own sales efforts, sales by TBD ad staff and sales by other network members. Advertising participation will be voluntary, but members participating in network advertising will need to provide inventory to sell in standard ad sizes.

Will TBD provide technical support to member bloggers and sites?
Network members will be responsible for technical issues of their own sites. TBD will provide advertising technical support through our relationship with GrowthSpur. TBD will provide technical support relating to members’ direct interactions with our site (such as fine-tuning of any problems with our widgets).

Is the TBD network an exclusive relationship?
TBD network members may affiliate with other blogger networks or advertising services. However, network members who participate in advertising will need to assure availability of the ad placements required by the network.

Will TBD have any requirements about the content or conduct of network members?
TBD will seek to be informative and transparent with the community about our network members. We will discuss with prospective members the best way to achieve this transparency, such as self-describing their blogs or sites in various ways (primarily news or opinion, for instance) in our network directory or disclosing personal involvements with issues covered.

Where can network members read full details of their relationship with TBD?
We plan to host several meetings for bloggers and sites interested in affiliating. In those meetings, we will gladly discuss the issues raised in this FAQ and work out other details in collaboration with prospective network members.

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About Elias Shams
I have been a serial entrepreneur in telecom and social media space for past 12 years or so. I hold a M.S. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from the George Washington University and a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. I’ve lived and worked in many countries and cities including London England, Tehran Iran, Bonn Germany, Paris France, Alicante Spain, Delhi India, and my favorite of all Washington, DC of great US of A. Two of the greatest Washington, DC based companies I worked for and very proud of are Yurie Systems which was sold to Lucent in 1998 for $1.23 B and telezoo.com that I founded in 1999. I am currently the founder and awesomizer @ awesomize.me

3 Responses to Is TBD Building a Trojan Horse?

  1. kamran Abdi says:

    If that’s what it takes to build the right content and the bloggers are ok with that, why not. It sounds like a win win case for both TBD and bloggers

    • jeff R says:

      I don’t think TBD is really going after the Yahoo nor the AOL of the world. They are just trying to create a new model to cover DC metro. I can see how they have the potential to go after the big boys (if they play their cards right of course)

  2. Thanks for your interest in TBD as we prepare for our launch this summer. I’m the social media editor for the site.

    Right now, our goal is to build a new kind of news website with a lot of attention to community engagement and conversation at the neighborhood level. We don’t think there needs to be an Us vs. Them in regards to other local media or our friends in the blogging sphere. There’s a lot of news to cover here around Washington, D.C. and we want to help readers find all of the available information that matters to their day-to-day lives.

    Stay tuned – and if you have any questions about our operation, please let us know on Facebook at http://facebook.com/tbddc or on Twitter @tbddc (or you can email me).

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