Forbes looks to harness ‘entrepreneurial’ journalism with a redesigned magazine and website

By Andrew Vanacore, AP
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Forbes undergoes radical overhaul

NEW YORK — Forbes is having a “money where your mouth is” moment.

The magazine has been one of the loudest cheerleaders of entrepreneurial capitalism, a force that, through the Web, is draining profits from Forbes and the magazine industry as a whole.

Now Forbes is hoping “entrepreneurial journalism” can save it.

Along with a redesigned magazine that arrives on newsstands Friday, Forbes is constructing a vast network of bloggers, each expected to build their own personal audience and brand around a steady stream of Web postings and links to social sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The hope is bring more traffic to and provide extra fodder for the print edition, which has been forced to cut staff because of a dramatic decline in advertising.

In doing so, Forbes is throwing out some of the old norms of journalism.

Many of these bloggers won’t have any background in reporting. Instead, Forbes is recruiting specialists to write on specific topics. And they won’t have a lot of immediate oversight. has gradually shifted to a blogging system in which contributors publish straight to the Web, rather than going through copy editing.

All this will boost the amount of material Forbes is able to pump out every day. But slapping the Forbes label on so many untested contributors also risks diluting a brand built up over more than 90 years of publishing.

Some staffers said they were nervous about the quality of the product, not to mention their job security, now that Forbes is bringing in so many outside contributors that aren’t paid much. The staffers spoke on condition of anonymity, since they weren’t authorized to talk to reporters.

The new approach is modeled on a site called True/Slant, which was founded last year by former Forbes editor Lewis D’Vorkin. Forbes Media was an early investor in the site and decided to buy it out and bring D’Vorkin on board to redesign Forbes in May.

True/Slant drew blog posts from more than 300 writers, starting with a few big names from traditional outlets including CNN, Rolling Stone and Newsweek. Writers were expected to spread their stories to sites like Facebook and actively curate their blogs, highlighting interesting comments, and responding to readers to bring in more traffic. The site also elevated the role of advertisers, giving them their own blog pages instead of simply selling space for banner ads.

As a privately held company, True/Slant never said how much ad revenue it was able to draw or whether it turned a profit. According to figures from comScore, the site’s traffic grew from about 90,000 unique visitors per month to 335,000 last April.

D’Vorkin is now Forbes’ chief product officer while former top managers have stepped aside. Paul Maidment, who headed, stepped down in June, and Bill Baldwin, the magazine’s editor since 1999, left in July.

As a veteran of Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, D’Vorkin understands that these changes might sit uncomfortably. But he asserts that Forbes doesn’t have a choice but to adjust to the way news and information are consumed online.

“Quality in the magazine is about craftsmanship,” he said. “On the Web, quality is different. Quality is about timeliness, relevance, engagement. There’s no beginning middle and end on the Web.”

A story might begin with a Forbes staffer’s blog post but continue as a debate on Twitter, he said.

After dozens of meetings with advertisers around the country, D’Vorkin says, “They are all very focused on how they can get their message across in the stream of social media.”

For, drawing more people directly to its site is a critical goal. It gets much of its traffic from the major Web portals. About 42 percent of visits to in August came through Yahoo, Google, Microsoft sites or AOL, according to comScore.

But those portals aren’t a reliable source of traffic. AOL, for instance, has been building its own staff of reporters so that it relies less on outside material. It accounted for 4 percent of traffic to in August, down from 15 percent in the same month of 2008.

None of this means Forbes is giving up on the print edition. The company doesn’t break out financial information publicly, but the print edition still likely provides the bulk of the magazine’s revenue, even after a 30 percent drop in advertising pages last year. Ad rates online are generally a small fraction of what they are in print.

And Forbes has been expanding in print internationally, now licensing 14 different editions, from Ukraine to Korea.

The redesigned U.S. edition, which has an average circulation of about 920,000 copies, is launching with the Forbes 400 edition, the listing of the world’s richest people. It will include synopses of feature articles, comments from readers and what the magazine is calling “Fast Facts” sprinkled through longer articles.

Steve Forbes, who inherited the magazine along with his brother Tim when their father Malcolm died in 1990, said he’s been a “close observer” of the magazine’s transformation under D’Vorkin.

“What we felt he brought was an understanding of journalism and an understanding of print and a profound understanding of the Web and how the Web is turning traditional ways of doing things upside down,” Forbes said.

Ever true to the capitalist ethos — he ran two presidential campaigns arguing for a flat income tax — Forbes said the magazine has to embrace a new way of doing things on the Web instead of simply putting magazine articles online.

“You can’t see a car as a new kind of horse,” he said. “You have to see it as a means of transportation.”

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