Lewis D’vorkin back at Forbes

As you probably know by now, Forbes has bought and decided to shutter blogging portal True/Slant, and to bring its erstwhile chief Lew Dvorkin in as its new chief. What you may not know is that Dvorkin–whom I wrote about last year–was an ex-Forbesian, who left the magazine for a start-up, and then for AOL, specifically because he wanted to get deep into the web and digital marketing, and left AOL, he told me, because it didn’t have “the DNA for content-creation.” At the time, he was trying to explain True/Slant to me as pure content informed by branding savvy, but the combination will be just as relevant at Forbes. Former co-workers there tell me the change is all about helping Forbes play digital catch-up, and the test is maintaining its reporting DNA in the process.

Personally, I think it’s a shame T/S was shuttered so soon. There were a number of writers there who could have been assets to Forbes, and its Real Clear Politics subsidiary had they not been fired first.

The thing that makes me saddest to be sure is that Bill Baldwin is (as of today) out of the top slot. In my time as a staffer there (1 year), I interacted with Bill on professional matters, sure, but what I remember most is that I saw him at the office gym almost daily, usually very late in the evening. That is a testament to how long and hard he worked. He is a meticulous editor, tough but fair-minded. His hand on Forbes stories–and he read and commented on EVERY one–will be sorely missed. He is staying on as a contributor, though, and I’m thrilled about that, because his editors column for the magazine is usually hilarious, and we can always use more hilarity.

As for Dvorkin’s new mission enjoyed T/S, and you can see some of its better elements already reflected in the blogs Dvorkin has set up for Forbes writers. But staffers I’ve talked to still expect him to need a trained editor, rather than a businessperson, to handle the mechanics of the magazine. No word yet on who that could be. So, overall, too soon to tell.

UPDATED, August 30th: Some interesting questions raised in the comments about whether the data-driven and individualist model at T/S will lead to popularity being prized over news. Steve McNally [one of the new Forbesians from the T/S merger] responds: “Regarding the home page and what’s popular, it’s important to note the the focus of the home page is driven by editors. Everything in “In The News” and “Picks,” e.g., is selected by people. People making editorial decisions also run several other sections of the blogs network. Our plans are to expand this. Being data-driven is no longer optional, IMO. Being *purely* data driven doesn’t allow for quality editors making editorial decisions, and that doesn’t best serve our writers or other participants. Getting information into the hands of Editors and creators means they can decide if and how to use that info. Measuring what works and doesn’t from those decisions can help inform the next set of decisions. Finding good ways to balance the community’s want for dynamic streams of info and the belief that our editorial guidance and curation adds value is an ongoing process. Optimally, we’ll provide plenty of opportunities for both. And we’ll have the intel to back up which is working better, for whom, and how.”

UPDATED, September 1st: Steve McNally explains ‘working better’: ‘”Better” is relative and contextual. For a reader / a “formerly known as audience” member, it can mean being presented with stories interesting and relevant to them. We’ll know if this is true via click through rates, time-on-site, comments left, etc. For an author or editor, “better” can mean pingbacks, shares, pageviews, repeat vistors. For a publisher, “better” can mean ads served and clicked through, registrations driven, inbound links from high-ranking sources. Data regarding all these things are available to us as publishers. Making it available – and easily-digestible, synthesizable, usable – by authors, editors and community members allows them to make decisions based on it, too.’

Personally, I still have questions about how this will work, and in particular what kind of content this attention to data supports. But I agree that there’s no way to go backwards and abandon data now.

This article is cross-posted from Instant Cappuccino.