Sunday, September 15, 2013

From Poder Magazine, August/September 2013
Labyrinth of Solicitude
The emperor of a blog empire graces Miami and gives me an idea for how to save the Miami Herald (but not print magazines) 

By Kirk Nielsen

During a visit to Miami in June, Nick Denton, the founder and CEO of Gawker Media, told me about “an experiment” he was planning for his efforts to colonize the geeks of Spanish America. We met in a fine but empty restaurant overlooking Biscayne Bay on the 15th floor of the gleaming indigo high rise on Brickell Avenue known as the Viceroy Hotel, which is sleek and shiny enough to be a Gawker Media property, were it a blog. His plan involved a bilingual tweak of Gizmodo en Español, one of Gawker Media’s gaggle of eight blogs with high-end advertising.

Like the original all-English Gizmodo, the Spanish version has posts about new gadgets, video games, engineering, design — anything that might interest people who like technology, is the mantra. And both Gizes count on attracting a plethora of giddy reader comments — a form of free content that bolsters page visits, the lifeblood of the capitalist blogosphere. With only two full-time and two part-time writers, Giz en Español’s modus operandi since launching in January has largely been one of aggregation, condensation, and translation of someone else’s articles and press releases. That’s essentially how the American blogosphere works in general, except usually the translation is to Snark, not Spanish.
Denton’s bilingual experiment performs a kind of reverse aggregation back to the profusion of material hammered out daily by Gizmodo’s team of about ten full-time English-language bloggers. In other words, a couple of devoted journeymen at Giz en Español are spending their days whipping up Spanish heds and clever introductions, punctuated with “Leer” links, to the English originals. Sharing is caring!

Thus, Denton hopes to attract unprecedented numbers of the ideal Giz en Español visitor: the tech-crazed millennial (meaning born between 1980 and 2000 or so) whose native tongue is Spanish but who’s also got a fairly decent English one. “The 28-year-old sophisticated geek in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Mexico City understands, reads, quite a lot of English,” Denton told me. “They don’t read English maybe as easily as Spanish, but they read English, and they don’t want the second-rate version of technology to use. They want the real thing.” Similarly, they don’t want to read “some dumbed down, badly garbled translation” of a Gizmodo article, Denton says. They want “the real, authentic thing.”
Just think of all the untapped geeks from Weston to Viña del Mar who may be uneasy ranting and raving in English but will do so in Spanish, faster than you can say, Que volá, guey! So now, a Giz en Español reader who clicks through to an original Gizmodo article in English can immediately pontificate in Spanish to his heart’s content right underneath it, in multiple Spanish-only discussion threads. Meanwhile, on the flip side of the gawking glass, more page viewers are expounding in multiple English discussion threads stemming from that same Gizmodo article. Times hundreds of little articles per month. The endgame being the placement of high-end banner ads in English and Spanish before a prime slice of the coveted Hispanic market.

To enable all this cross-blog post sharing, manifold discussion threads, and the resulting page views required the creation of a complicated new software platform. Denton told me it cost about $10 million to develop it. It’s called Kinja. It also allows Gawker Media editors and writers to participate in the discussions, decide which comments to allow, and eschew the total nut cases. Readers who comment via user accounts -- in their real names or pseudonyms -- can also choose whom to respond to and whom to ignore.

The Miami Herald is a much different kind of media beast than a Gawker-style blog, but it could sure use a Kinja and the freewheeling yet quasi-curated discussion forums it allows for. But last February, the Herald simply chucked anonymous commenting along with its antedeluvian “discussion” platform consisting of a single vertical thread. Since then the Herald has expected readers to post comments under their real names via their Facebook accounts. That resulted in a slight rise in civility, perhaps, but a sharp decline in comments, and thus page visitors, which were already down about a million.
I prefer chatter-free publications, like great print magazines. But the advertising industrial complex currently gripping the Web seems to dictate that major newspapers ever maximize online clamor from readers, especially millennials. I think Miami needs a Herald that can figure out how do to that. Discuss?

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