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What’s In A Name? For New Media Companies, It’s Everything

opendictionaryThis week, First Look Media launched their inaugural “digital magazine” The Intercept. As Matthew Ingram points out here, it’s a term that doesn’t quite fit what they’re aiming to do. It’s not a targeted vertical on a larger site, it’s not a niche blog, it’s something else, something new

Jay Rosen, an advisor to First Look, has classified The Intercept, along with Re/Code or Grantland, under “the personal franchise model.” He writes:

By “personal franchise” I mean something more: a central figure or personality has given birth to a newsroom, a larger operation. But the larger operation still feels like an individual’s site.

In practice, this means that First Look’s design, according to Rosen’s post on the company:

…accepts and incorporates the personal franchise style, treating it as no threat to the editorial ambitions that First Look has for itself. In fact, the hope is to attract others who can launch sites like The Intercept, and to offer a common core of services — data skills, design help, good publishing tools, strong legal advice, marketing muscle — that the founders will need to succeed…Under this model, the diverse paths that such sites may take are not a “distraction” from the core business or a subtraction from the editorial brand but a vital part of both.

What I find exciting is not just that there are so many examples of this personal franchise model, but that so many founders are completely rethinking how we produce, distribute, and consume journalism. Think about Ezra Klein under Vox Media with Project X: they’re thinking about doing something so differently, it doesn’t even have a name yet.

I think the culture demands that we describe our ventures in an ‘elevator pitch,’ or worse, 140 characters or less. But maybe that doesn’t have to be the case. Whether you call it a magazine or a blog, it doesn’t change the editorial mission behind The Intercept, or saying that Project X is a “news site/encyclopedia” doesn’t make it less of an undertaking.

What’s more important — defining the shift in business models or focusing on the shift? What do you think about the term ‘digital magazine?’

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