Just be yourself. Good advice for people, but maybe good advice for news organizations too?
Kerry Lauerman, editor in chief of Salon.com recently published a blog post, revealing that at the end of 2011 Salon had a record of over 7 million unique visitors, a figure that increased to 7.23 million by the end of last month. This number is up from 5.5 million uniques last August - a significant jump.
The secret? Focusing on original content rather than aggregation. "We've tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere," writes Lauerman. As a result, Salon is actually publishing about one third fewer posts than it was one year ago, but generating about 40% more traffic.
Lauerman partly credits the return of Salon founder David Talbot for the publication's new direction, saying that his leadership was "enormously liberating". In an interview with Nieman Lab, Lauerman notes that Talbot fully backed the publication's turn away from aggregation. He "wanted us to be ambitious and aggressive and break stories that really matter to our readers", states Lauerman.
Without abandoning aggregation altogether, Salon is also expanding its freelance budget. This might seem like a more expensive alternative to aggregation, but it fits into the same logic that has fuelled Salon's growth: instead of re-processing stories, buy the good ones for yourself.
Adrienne LaFrance writes in Nieman Lab that the change "isn't just heartening from a business perspective, it reaffirms a principle that many journalists still hold dear." Lauerman sums up that principle himself: "Good work matters, and can be rewarded"
Salon's story isn't the only vindication of good, old-fashioned journalism this week. Poynter reported yesterday that the Associated Press had beaten Google to report the Nevada Caucus results. Although Google collaborated with the state party to count and share results, the AP was able to come up with some data a couple hours ahead of Google thanks to the AP's "years of experience covering elections" and the ability of its journalists to pick up the phone and contact party officials.
AP spokesman Paul Colford told Poynter via email "AP drew on long-developed relationships that our elections team staffers have, contacting officials with first-hand knowledge of the results in certain areas to speed what we reported to our members and customers."
So is old-fashioned journalism the answer to the industries woes? Not necessarily. Although Salon has increased its unique visitors, Lucas Shaw at The Wrap notes that, "poor finances have plagued the San Francisco-based e-zine for years" and that these problems still haven't necessarily been solved. Lauerman writes in his blog post that, when it comes to working out Salon's business model "we're still, like most of our peers, trying to figure that out, especially post-recession". Shaw notes that at the end of September 2011, Salon was still losing money and suffering from a decline in ad revenue.
Still, having original stories could be a good starting point towards making money in the future. Media analyist Ken Doctor suggested in a blog post for Nieman Lab last month that "signature content" can be a good way (or perhaps the only way) to persuade users to pay for your content rather than that of a competitor.
Although Doctor points out that star journalists producing original material are often funded by cutting back costs on other content through aggregation (exactly the opposite of the model that Salon is promoting) Doctor implies that originality in the news room will be key to ensuring profitability in the future. "Consumers and advertisers will increasingly ask: What's your signature content?" he concludes. In a different way, Salon is setting itself up to have a good answer to that question.