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The Defector model
CJR profiled Defector earlier this week, and it’s hard not to admire what they’ve built.
The site was founded in 2020 by a group of ex-Deadspin staffers who left their former employer after famously being told to “stick to sports” by new ownership. Out of Deadspin’s ashes, the team has fashioned the rare media startup that appears both successful and highly principled.
Today, the site:
Is owned by its staff; all big decisions require a two-thirds vote
Employs 26 people, and the base salary is $70K
Has 40K paying subscribers and expects to generate more than $4 million in revenue this year
Prioritizes reader engagement, not pageviews
Lets writers own their IP
Though it’s not a textbook case, their model rhymes with the “lean & niche” playbook we outlined earlier this month. The site launched with a relatively small staff and little outside capital. Their unique editorial POV and focus on sports commentary attracted a loyal group of readers. And they’ve monetized through subscriptions and brand-aligned sponsorships.
But there are elements of Defector’s approach that are more difficult to replicate. In the CJR piece, I was struck by a quote from Old Town Media’s Josh Benson: “[Defector] started out with an accomplished team and an extraordinarily large and loyal following, in a really big category, in comic-book-hero circumstances, and then proceeded to execute perfectly.”
In Benson’s view, Defector is an outlier, not a model to be copied. On its face, this is difficult to argue with – Defector certainly benefited from a unique mix of advantages at launch, notably a powerful anti-establishment narrative it harnessed to build initial readership.
But other startups can still draw inspiration from the site’s unique editorial, differentiated positioning, and egalitarian approach. Even if Defector doesn’t provide a full playbook, it’s a powerful influence.
The Philadelphia Inquirer built an iPhone lock screen widget for the recent Philly mayoral election. The feature was designed as a “second-screen experience” to engage users who were following the election live on TV.
In terms of its functionality, the widget:
Was triggered after users opened the app after 8pm on election night.
Highlighted the two frontrunners while closed; when pressed, a bar graph appeared visualizing reported votes.
Redirected users to The Inquirer’s election countdown page when clicked.
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Several publishers announced leadership changes. Quartz’s co-founder and EIC Zach Seward is stepping down after more than eleven years at the publication. Wired’s EIC Gideon Lichfield is moving on after two years at the helm. And Baltimore Banner CEO Imtiaz Patel is leaving the local outlet to join Gannett.
Search Engine Land launched a generative AI chatbot. The bot, which was trained on Search Engine Land content and built on top of ChatGPT, is designed to respond to user prompts on search marketing, e.g. “create a content marketing and SEO plan for a local bakery.”
Poynter tested ChatGPT’s fact-checking abilities. They asked the tool about 40 different claims across a range of topics. The AI was correct about half the time, but for the other half it “made a mistake, wouldn’t answer, or came to a different conclusion than the fact-checkers.”
More on publishers:
The News/Media Alliance promoted Danielle Coffey to President & CEO.
The FT, ITV, Channel 4, BBC, and Reuters are the most trusted publishers in the UK, according to new research from YouGov.
More on platforms:
Meta threatened to remove news from Facebook and Instagram in California ahead of a vote in the state assembly on the Journalism Preservation Act.
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