Copycat news site set to feed in chat and reaction

Thu, Sep 2, 2010, 01:00

MEDIA & MARKETING:TheJournal.ie, modelled on the Huffington Post and brought to us by Daft.ie brothers, is on its way

THE HUFFINGTON POST is one of the most popular news websites in the United States. Now Ireland is to get a sort of copycat website in the form of TheJournal.ie, which is due to launch in early October.

TheJournal.ie is the brainchild of Eamonn and Brian Fallon, the brothers behind the successful property website Daft.ie. Brian Fallon describes TheJournal.ie as a “community site based around news”.

He adds: “It will be about enabling people to share stories, participate in stories, and shape the news agenda somewhat. Our target audience is people who like to self-publish. It’s a cross between the Huffington Post and a site in France called La Poste.”

The Huffington Post is a mix of original content and links to other websites. As this internet newspaper has developed, the proportion of original content has increased, and the Post now has 180 staff, including 88 editorial employees. The resources going into TheJournal.ie will be much more modest, with a newsroom of five journalists, including editor Jennifer O’Connell, and a further five people deployed in technology roles.

TheJournal.ie’s plan is to load up about 60 stories a day, with content spanning Irish and international news, business, sport and entertainment. According to O’Connell: “I am in from 6am each day. At 8am the other journalists start their shifts, working in rotation until 11pm. Some stories might be just a couple of lines, but the average word count for each story will be 400 words.

“You’ll get all the news stories of the day on TheJournal, but we also want to bring people unexpected stories and put a different angle on stories on other sites. For example, when we were doing the story this week about Miriam O’Callaghan and the presidency, as the day progressed we included lots of Twitter and Boards.ie reaction to the story. We’ll cover stories that we feel will appeal to our audience and get a bit of a debate going.”

Brian Fallon has been working on his new media project for the past year, and he’ll be hoping that it’s more successful than Daft’s investment in Boards. Daft Media invested €1 million in this community sounding board in 2008, but by April 2009 that investment had been written down in the Daft Media accounts to €250,000.

One of the ideas behind TheJournal.ie seems to be to make use of all that Boards chatter on a more advertiser-friendly internet platform. TheJournal.ie content will be dictated by the volume of response from readers. Hacks will receive regular updates to their PCs about which stories they have written are proving popular – and which are not.

Fallon says: “We have technology in place which keeps an eye on what people are reading and what’s trending. Visitors to TheJournal.ie will also be able to feed in their comments on a story through our free iPhone app.”

One of the strong pulls HuffPo has for its fans is that everyone has the chance to sound off. A recent story about Jeb Bush possibly running for president in 2012 generated more than 8,000 comments.

It’s probable that the only reader for most of these comments was the author, but this citizen “journalism” is what gives HuffPo its stickiness.

Selling ads on Daft.ie is a treat because advertisers pay upfront for their property listing. Daft’s niche appeal is also very profitable: operating profit of €2.5 million on turnover of €5.8 million in 2008. The advertising model with TheJournal.ie will be more challenging, but Fallon is convinced that if the site can garner a large audience then advertisers will follow.

“Online advertising can pay for online journalism. Ten per cent of ad spend in Ireland is now online. In the UK that figure is 22 per cent. Ireland is going to catch up in the next few years.”

The issue for any general website that relies on brand advertising is that the rates advertisers are prepared to pay online are dropping all the time. In the US the cheapest ad rates are on sites such as Facebook, the ultimate platform for user-generated content.