Yahoo's Insurgent Media Strategy

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Is the search engine building a news company from the outside in?

Yahoo launched a news blog on Tuesday, dubbed "The Upshot." In his introductory post, editor Andrew Golis declared the mission of The Upshot "to cut through the noise and misinformation and get to the heart of what's important and why." Yahoo is billing the site as part breaking news, part aggregation: the website's content will be guided by whatever the popular search topics of the day are distilled from raw search data, balanced with the editorial experience of seasoned writers and rounded out by news and analysis "in the best tradition of blogging."


The Upshot's launch is the latest in a string of moves with the apparent goal of shifting the company's strategy away from strictly search and analytics -- a function often overshadowed by Google, anyway -- and toward publishing and aggregation. Yahoo News has held the enviable title of most-trafficked news site on the Web for some time, but the company now seems focused on becoming the most-authoritative, rather than simply most-visited, voice in Internet news.

Last Monday, the company ambitiously announced that it would publish a Yahoo! Style Guide, designed for all types of professionals, from journalists, bloggers, and editors to developers and advertisers. Yahoo hope, it seems, is to establish a digital alternative to the Associated Press Stylebook or The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, both of which have long-defined the grammatical and stylistic practices of editors nationwide. The Yahoo guide will cover purely digital subjects like search engine optimization and content development for mobile devices. It's not just about properly constructing content, but energizing it for the Web as well.

This shift toward becoming an authoritative news source began, in part, in March with the hiring of several veteran journalists, including Politico media writer Michael Calderone (now media writer for The Upshot), former BusinessWeek Washington Bureau Chief Jane Sassen and others from publications such as The Washington Post and the New York Observer. The influx of original content gave Yahoo a strong foundation as a news producer. The search engine continued to beef up its lower-cost content foundations, as well. In May, Yahoo paid $100 million for Associated Content, a repository of low-cost, freelanced, search engine-optimized content.

Nearly a month later, Yahoo deeply integrated Facebook into its site, allowing users to view and share Facebook photos, article comments, and links within Yahoo's digital ecosystem. Tech writers said the decision represented a push to make Yahoo, among other things, more attractive for sharing content.

And last Wednesday, the company hired Erin McPherson as the head of original programming and video, ramping up its efforts to offer more original multimedia content. Yahoo has a slate of approximately 20 original short-form series that delivered 15.3 million unique visitors in May for Yahoo TV.

The Upshot is the most recent, and perhaps more tangible, manifestation of Yahoo's gradual transformation into a dynamic media company. The hiring of respected journalists, deep integration with social media, and further expansion into video content all highlight Yahoo's apparent strategy, and the new style guide is symbolic of Yahoo's brand aspirations. Overshadowed by Google in search and threatened by a resurgent AOL in content, Yahoo is striving to be as intertwined with the idea of online news as the AP or New York Times is with the very building blocks of legacy news outlets. A few months back, Google seemed poised to save the news, but Yahoo wants to be the one providing it.
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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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