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The Forbes website, or "platform", as Lewis D'Vorkin, chief product officer for the media outlet, prefers to call it, publishes hundreds of articles a day, powered by not just its own journalists but a community of 1,300 contributors and a dozen brands producing "thought-leadership content".

Speaking at an event on Wednesday (30 October), held at the Telegraph, D'Vorkin discussed in detail the site's content strategy, which is based on the editorial pillars of "context, relevance and analysis".

Strikingly, it is seeing much success in resurfacing past content, with 50 per cent of its monthly traffic said to be to articles that are at least 30 days old.

The "more quality content we produce, the more variety we produce, the more long-tail of content we have," he added.

But the approach taken by Forbes demonstrates that it is not just a newsroom's own reporters who can achieve this.

Writers on the site vary from Forbes's 45 journalists, its 1,300 contributors and those from the 12 or 13 BrandVoice clients, companies who pay to publish stories promoting a brand, with that work displayed in a way which is "fully transparent", D'Vorkin added.

Around 15 per cent of the contributors are journalists, D'Vorkin confirmed, later explaining by email that these are defined as those "who have worked for leading international and national newspapers, magazines, broadcast and cable outlets and trade publications."

The remaining 85 per cent of contributors features "authors, academics, topic experts, business leaders and entrepreneurs", he said.

The new site design, launched last year, means Forbes's own journalists, its vetted contributors and paying BrandVoice companies all publish to the same platform.

The site, which sets out content on its homepage based on certain sections, starting with top stories, followed by most popular, and an area where readers can follow specific writers.

Readers then reach the BrandVoice section, where companies can pay to write and publish articles to the site. However this content can also make its way up to the higher sections, alongside content and contributor articles, if it proves as popular.

And 15 more BrandVoice clients will be added before the end of the year, D'Vorkin added.
  • The contributors
The contributors work as freelancers, D'Vorkin explained, meaning that once the story has appeared on Forbes the contributors are allowed "to do what they want" with the article.

And there is the potential for Forbes contributors to get paid, with 60 to 70 per cent of them said to have earned $45,000 in the past year, according to D'Vorkin, who added that this is the "average pay for a reporter inside the United States".

The payments, or "compensation" arrangements, are based on the volume and readership of their writing and outlined further in this previous Journalism.co.uk report.

Asked if there is any risk of sensationalism with this model, D'Vorkin said contributors know to "stay in [their] swim lane", and stick to their niche.

Contributors sign contracts and a "code of ethics", he added, the latter of which they have to regularly re-agree throughout the year.

There is also a strict vetting procedure for becoming a contributor, which D'Vorkin outlined after a series of questions about how quality is ensured.

The process sees the wannabe-contributor send in "clips, resumes, references", he said, adding that nine out of 10 applicants are turned down.

But "once we hire them we let them hit the publish button all by themselves".

Giving contributors the power to publish

Speaking about the risks associated with letting people publish directly, he described the internet as "a self-correcting mechanism", where mistakes are often quickly picked up by a "vocal" audience. Mistakes such as typos tend not to be too much of an issue as long as they are quickly rectified, he said.

He later added that the "definition of quality in print is different than in digital".

"In the digital world," he said, "what people want is timeliness, relevance, interesting information and accuracy. But they are also very willing to deal with updates."

Accountability must be moved to the producer of the contentLewis D'Vorkin, Forbes
The ongoing challenges facing the industry means that the current "economics don't permit big newsrooms of editors", D'Vorkin added.

"Accountability must be moved to the producer of the content."

Contributors are also supported by access to new data on engagement with their work every 15 minutes.

"The whole newsroom is built around data." D'Vorkin said. "Data informs what types of contributors we hire in what topic areas, it informs the content we're going to be doing, the types of sponsorships. It informs everything."

But, he added, "it doesn't rule you".

He added that Forbes statistics show that "at any given moment there are 10,000 Forbes posts being actively read at that second".

He also predicted traffic to the site is now beyond the 52 million mark for monthly unique visitors, a figure recorded by Omniture and reported by Forbes last month, along with the news that digital advertising revenue had overtaken print advertising revenues "for the first time".

"Digital advertising revenues now make up approximately 53 percent of total advertising revenues versus 47 percent from print," according to the press release.

It adds that "through September this year, advertising revenues for Forbes.com are up about 27 per cent compared to the same period last year."
  • The brands
Under the BrandVoice banner, companies can publish "thought-leadership content".

They are different to advertorials, D'Vorkin said, in that it is "not content telling you I have a product/service". Instead it is a platform where brands can pay to have knowledgeable people within their organisation "talk about what they know about industry", and effectively link that knowledge back to their brand.

Asked if there is any possibility that the Forbes approach could be "blurring the lines between journalism and advertising content", D'Vorkin stressed that this content is "fully labelled" and "fully transparent".

The addition of contributors and brands does not impact on the editorial approach of its own writers, D'Vorkin explained, saying the company has also "not laid off any of our reporters in three years".

And it seems that brands are increasingly taking matters into their own hands when it comes to editorial exposure.

"Intel has its own newsroom, Virgin America has a newsroom, advertising agencies have their own newsrooms – and they're hiring journalists," he said.

However, the BrandVoice platform is just one part of the advertising model for Forbes. Currently it accounts for a fifth of advertising revenue, and for D'Vorkin, the banner advert is far from dead.

"The banner rectangle box is not going away any time soon," he said.

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