Last week the inevitable happened. NewsLabs, the company behind NewsTilt, shut their doors. That’s right, the service which was meant to bring personal branding to journalists worldwide will no longer be a brand themselves.
The companies founder Paul Biggar made tall promises of NewsTilt being “the future of news, and the saviour of journalists everywhere.” But this statement was never going to be an easy one to fulfil. NewsLabs really had no other choice but to close its doors when Biggar, who held the initial vision, left the company a few weeks ago. After a re-assesment of the service, the company decided to cut their losses and run.
While it is a sad day for journalists who had hopes in the start-up, the fact that they folded is not such a big surprise. I predicted that NewsLabs would struggle to make serious money from the service before they even went live. This is what I had to say:
“…I am concerned that NewsTilt may be placing too much reliance on building these personal brands and not enough reliance on building the networks brand. Sure journalist’s can build their credibility but part of gaining that credibility has traditionally been partly due to the masthead they work under. I’m not sure if they will really be able to make enough money from their advertising to keep the service funded and most importantly to pay the journalists for the work they do.”
So while NewsLabs folding is not a big surprise, what is a big shock for me though is that NewsLabs folded less than 3 months after launch. I had expected that they might be able to last at least 6-12 months, but alas their fate was already written before they even got underway.
There is still no detailed account from the founders as to what went wrong, but in simple terms they figured out NewsTilt was never going to make enough money. All of the dreams and promises made simply could not be fulfilled.
As I said in April, the big problem is that NewsTilt was not structured well enough to build itself as a brand. There was no clear cut model for how they would make enough money to fulfil their promises. Added to that, their website was dull and boring, and they did little to really promote their contributors personal brands.
However, what I believe really caused issues for the service is that they were building their ‘new’ journalism model to be nothing more than a mismatched collection of newspaper columns in a digital format. It was not really anything new or exciting.
What journalists had jumped upon initially was the idea that you could be paid money for writing articles which you felt were important. You didn’t need to worry about the technology or the marketing, NewsTilt would handle that. They just offered you as a journalist an outlet for content which you wanted to write about. To me that sounds incredibly similar to a medium which already existed…. it’s called blogging.
NewsTilt was never going to be a solid idea. Sure, the idea of journalists being the brand is a serious one; that may be how news could develop in a social media world. The problem is that you can’t build any new service and expect it to be successful immediately unless it really revolutionises an industry. Success on the web will never be sustainable unless companies are serious about differentiating their products.
To be successful and to change journalism, you must offer something different. NewsTilt held nothing different, they only took the current industry, current ideas, and current technologies and tilted it slightly more in favour of the journalists.
The question in the end was not whether NewsTilt would be successful, but rather when it would shut the doors.