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Secrets of the City swaps editorial leaders, plans more content

Secrets of the City, which has waxed and waned since its pioneering MnSpeak days, is beefing up, according to co-publisher Matt Bartel.

The site, which became the go-to blabfest under Rex Sorgatz, was eventually bought by the Bartel family, who eventually folded in their Rake magazine content, renamed the site, then ejected much of the original content after The Rake folded. Now, SOTC hopes to become a bit of a blogger mall, if I’m boiling this all down accurately. The site, which still features culture picks, will also add back the “7 Quick Questions” feature Sorgatz began.

Overseeing it all will be Cristina Cordova, an ex-Rake and SOTC editor who replaces Daily Glean‘s own Max Sparber. Bartel says in addition to posting and discussion-monitoring duties, Cordova will wrangle “guest posters” on topics such as sports and music. 

This caught me by surprise, since SOTC stopped paying top-notch sportsbloggers such as Britt Robson this spring. (Robson, by the way, currently covers the Timberwolves for Canis Hoopus.) Bartel says the new guests won’t be paid; the lure is that their participation will bring more attention to their site, and perhaps some advertiser trade.

“We hope there are more contributors than the editor and me,” he says.

As I’ve written before, SOTC lost some of its cultural relevance when discussion tools like Twitter moved to the fore. Bartel says the site remains profitable — “though it’s not a big cash cow” — racking up 60,000 unique visitors and about 200,000 page views in the past 30 days. Traffic spiked after an early October redesign, he adds.

“Traffic, if you compared it to what it was when RakeMag and MnSpeak were separate, is down slightly, but not as much as you’d expect, having lost all of the magazine content,” Bartel says. “Twitter definitely has drawn people away from the discussion exclusively at MnSpeak, as has Facebook and you guys [MinnPost]. But I still think there’s value in a place where people knowledgeable about the local Internet-media scene come, and picking out most interesting links. Not everyone wants to use Google Reader or a giant blogroll.”

Fans want to know if Sparber jumped or was pushed, and after talking to him and Bartel, I’ll go with nudged. Sparber says Wednesday’s announcement was “a little bit unexpected.”

Says Bartel, “It wasn’t so much that Max was replaced by Cristina as it was that we changed the job description of the editor and decided that Cristina was a better fit for the new job. We want it to be less about submitting a bunch of posts, which Max did well, and more about encouraging outside contributors to submit more diverse content.”

For his part, Sparber says he was apprised of the direction switch well in advance, if not its timing. “They’ve been wanting to change up site for quite awhile, add a lot more voices, which requires a lot of editorial oversight,” he notes. “I’m not really looking for more work, and I’m not sure they had more money for more work.”

Some of Sparber’s freed-up time will be devoted to a new band, Courtney McClean and the Dirty Curls, for whom he plays “washboard, jug, Jew’s Harp and a bass made out of a cardboard box.” If you know Max, it fits, as does his note that the band is “decidedly X-rated.”

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Comments (8)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/04/2009 - 10:00 pm.

    In other words, Tom got smart and realized there’s no future or revenue in aggregation. That’s what many of us figured a few years ago; money follows original content.

  2. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/05/2009 - 12:30 pm.

    Tom who? Bartel? And since when does snark with links equal aggregation?

    Rick Kupchella’s brand new and already profitable Bring Me The News is an aggregator site with original content, and Bob Ingrassia’s Newsbobber just landed him a job with MPR helping to remake their news.

    In a world filled with corporate-owned news media that can’t be trusted to tell you the news in a straightforward or meaningful manner, aggregation lets news consumers cherrypick the best of what’s out there.

    Blogs are creating more and more original news stories. Try searching the news for stories about Honduras, for example. Good luck finding a corporate news source that will tell you Obama just sent Sec. of Labor Hilda Solis to Honduras. Try a blog search and you’ll find lots of people talking about Solis.

    Corporate media is failing, and others are filling the gap. Aggregators help you find actual news content, something you can’t count on old media to deliver anymore.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 01:15 pm.

    Call it aggregating, call it curating…it’s a dead end in terms of a business model. Money follows original content upstream. That’s an honest assessment of where serious money is being spent in the online marketplace. Using MPR as an example is not an illustration of where money is being spent. Not familiar enough with Kupchella’s radio/online venture to know how and where it’s making money, but I’m guessing the radio gig is subsidizing the online gig. Kinda like Politico the newspaper subsidizing the Politico website — and the pair is still unprofitable.

    It too me about three seconds to find the AP story about Solis being sent to Honduras:

  4. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/05/2009 - 02:27 pm.

    You’re a very patient man to scroll down 15 paragraphs to find that brief mention. If you hadn’t been searching for Solis, would you have known about this? Had you heard about this story before I mentioned it?

    Try Al Giordano’s “blog” story by comparison:

    Let me know if you can find a corporate-owned media source with a story that detailed. Then let me know if you can find a corporate-owned media source that’s presented anything like a balanced account of what’s been happening in Honduras.

    Politico is not profitable because it is yet another rightwing propaganda site feebly masquerading as an objective news site. Politico is also not an aggregator in any sense of the word I’m familiar with.

    Aggregators do what newspapers should do: they make it easy to find the news you’re looking for, and they expedite finding more of what you’re looking for [see Memeorandum]. The Daily Glean is more wordy than most, but the bottom line is that each morning MinnPost gives you a roundup of local news stories with enough context to spark your curiosity.

    Aggregators do not replace content, they simply make content more accessible.

    “Money follows original content upstream”

    Please cite your sources for that as I’m very interested in this topic and would like to learn more about how the suits make their online advertising decisions.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 03:13 pm.

    “”Money follows original content upstream”

    Please cite your sources for that ”

    Heh. You realize you’re making this comment on a story about someone dumping aggregating in favor of original content presumably in order to make more money, right? Sources? Read the previous thousand or so works.

    As for needing to make content more accessible: remember, the first economic rule of the Internet is that it kills middlemen. And aggregators are middlemen.

  6. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/05/2009 - 04:24 pm.

    You’re both right.

    Aggregators don’t have a well proven business model, but we have a few that seem to be doing OK. It’s clearly a work in progress.

    The question comes down to how much value they add and how much labor goes into it. Where those cost/demand curves intersect is still very much up in the air – but we have a few small examples where it seems to work.

    What we can say is that the traditional media model of ads around a “news hole” is pretty much dead, and that’s based on a combination of original (local) content and feeds from AP or other papers. There’s clearly a big question of useability and organization at the center of this whole issue.

    So I don’t think it’s worth getting hot about it in broad terms at this point. The model is far from perfected, but there are signs that it might work. Can we leave it at that?

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 05:26 pm.

    Erik, I’ve been working on internet business models for aggregators since 1998. I guess I’m willing to admit that after a decade of work there’s no business model emerging. The big aggregators all lose money on operations — Digg, Slashdot — and there’s no indication the little boys will ever make money on a consistent basis.

    The tech publishing industry is usually a pretty good harbinger of what will happen in the consumer space when it comes to Internet business models. We all decry the loss of magazines in the last year or two, but in the tech world print publishing died five or so years ago, if not earlier.

    There, when the big boys — IBM, Microsoft — issue an RFP for a campaign, they won’t consider an aggregator. Indeed, the biggest trend in the tech publishing world — performance-based results — tends to be the antithesis of what an aggregator can offer.

    Aggregating as a business model pretty much died four or five years ago in the tech world.

  8. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/05/2009 - 05:44 pm.

    “You realize you’re making this comment on a story about someone dumping aggregating in favor of original content presumably in order to make more money, right?”

    I think you have an extraordinarily broad definition of the term “aggregator.” An aggregator is not simply someone throwing a lot of links out there. You could call Daily Glean an aggregator, but it would be a bit more accurate to call it an aggregator-based blog. There is ample original content and analysis on top of the links.

    As someone who’s been aggregating online since 1999, I think I have a fairly good handle on what aggregating is and isn’t. You’re trying to force everybody to accept a label but you’re not showing your sources.

    SERIOUSLY, please point me to some content that shows money following original content. I’m not arguing with your point, I just do not know of any data to ratify your conclusion. Salon produced nothing but original content for years and it’s a miracle they’re still online. Buzzflash, Memeorandum and other pure aggregators are doing just fine last time I looked.

    What the Bartels choose to do with SOTC/The Rake/whatever is their concern, but I would be hard pressed to take away any lessons from what they’ve been doing.

    As for the internet killing middlemen, I can’t begin to guess where you got that from. I realize your personal business model (you have a baseball site, right?) is very much geared towards original content, but in my limited reading of sports blogs I see a growing recognition that you can’t cover a team well unless you provide links to other people’s coverage, especially the media from the other team’s hometown.

    The longer I follow the Internet, the less clear it is to me where the money is, or if anyone is really delivering what readers want. I am impressed by your certainty, and would appreciate you providing some of those “thousands or so works” because I read well over 100 blogs and newspapers every day and I’m not seeing what you’re seeing.

    Or are you just stating your personal opinion?

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