At the International Newsroom Summit in Berlin, Grig Davidovitz, chief executive of RGB Media, talked through how the blogger network was created and why it works, from the point of view of both the blogger and the news site.
The site, launched in February, has 25 editorial staff and reports 7 million page views a month, 1.5 million uniques browsers and is "quickly closing on Haaretz and Jerusalem Post", two other Israeli titles, Davidovitz explained.
He used one particular blog post as an illustration. Last summer there were several cases of babies "forgotten" in cars, he said. And then one blogger posted a piece explaining how she had left her baby in a car for about 10 minutes. The post notched up more than more than 27,000 Facebook shares and likes and 150,000 page views.
How it works
When thinking about what value the site could offer readers that they could not get on other platforms, such as Facebook, the team decided to build a blogging community.
Readers can filter posts by the most popular, as well as by an editor's choice. Editors can also put strong pieces in the "talk box" within the main news pages of the site.
"It's a marketplace of ideas," Davidovitz said, and one with two gatekeepers: the professional editor selecting the strong posts, and the crowd.
Why it works for the bloggers
Davidovitz outlines six reasons the model has proven popular with bloggers:
- Bloggers become "part of a journalistic platform", Davidovitz said, which makes The Times of Israel stand out from other platforms.
- They can get picked by the editors. Bloggers can get posts highlighted and put in prominent positions by editors.
- Bloggers have a much better chance of succeeding with the crowd on a major news site, as the site can provide traffic from its readers.
- Their activity is visible throughout the site. Davidovitz said he would strongly recommend this to other publishers considering such a blogging platform, giving the posts prominence and not merely hived off into a silo.
- The platform lets people see comments come in. A key factor in its success is letting commenters see the reaction to posts, he said.
- It is "a game". This is perhaps the most important factor, in Davidovitz's view. The site displays a list of the most popular bloggers, for example, which he said creates the idea of a "game between bloggers".
Davidovitz also shared six reasons the model is working for the site itself:
- The news site gets a "journalistic long tail", Davidovitz said. There are "hundreds of writers with small communities around them".
- 'Schlager' – or hit – bloggers bring in substantial traffic, he explained.
- Each blogger is a marketing agent. Bloggers market their post, he said. One key piece of advice Davidovitz offered is that "every article page is a homepage". You need to consider the masses of people who come direct to the article, he said, explaining that it is important that sites offer branding, marketing messages and key advertising on each article page.
- Some of it is excellent commentary, Davidovitz said, adding quality to the site.
- It provides a thriving community. The enthusiastic bloggers are an asset.
- From letters to op-eds, there is a spectrum of comment. Readers have always contributed, and blog posts offer opinion within that spectrum.
The blog posts account for 10 per cent of the traffic to the site, and the platform is an important marketing factor for the outlet.
Asked whether or not bloggers are or would be paid, Davidovitz expalined that they are not – but said there was "rightful outrage" from Huffington Post bloggers when they demanded payment after the site was bought by AOL, although a related legal claim by 9,000 bloggers failed early last year.
Davidovitz said that in his view once a site is profitable it might make sense to create a revenue share program with the bloggers. "It's like an affiliate program for content", he said.
Journalism.co.uk is at the World Publishing Expo in Berlin. Follow@SarahMarshall3 / @johncthompson / #wpe13 for updates. The 'live notes' from the session are at this link.
Update: This article was amended to make it clear Davidovitz's reference to a revenue stream was a general observation and should not be taken as an indication of plans by the Times of Israel.