Allbritton Communications has had some big success with Politico, but has its latest Web experiment already fallen on its face?
In a major turnabout for TBD.com, the site Allbritton launched just last summer, staffers were told on Wednesday that most of their jobs would be eliminated, the Washington Business Journal reports.
The Washington, D.C.–centric site was launched as a high-profile experiment in local news coverage on the Web. TBD.com essentially became the de facto Web presence for the Allbritton-owned D.C. stations Newschannel 8 and WJLA as of last August. The site was also designed to channel the power of community contributors. Big-name talent was brought in, including Erik Wemple, the veteran editor at Washington City Paper, the alt-weekly; and Jim Brady, formerly executive editor of Washingtonpost.com. (In sort of an ironic statement on how little time the site was given before being cut to the bone, the Washington Business Journal’s article on Wednesday’s layoffs ran a year to the day after its story on Wemple’s jump from WCP.)
But recently there have been signs that the venture was flailing. Last November, Jim Brady, who was brought over from The Washington Post to run TBD, exited after apparently clashing with publisher Robert Allbritton. Then a few weeks ago, WJLA Channel 7 assumed TBD.com’s operations while simultaneously reviving its own Web site.
Still, staffers thought they would have more time to make the site a success and are said to be in shock. WCP reports that some staffers seemed to be in tears after the announcement. On Twitter, Mandy Jenkins, who’d headed TBD’s social media efforts, said, “I quit my job and moved 500+ miles for an experiment I was pretty excited about. Now I'm looking for work again. Oh journalism, you slay me.”
In an interview with Adweek, WJLA Channel 7 station manager Bill Lord tried to put a happier face on the news. “In the end it will have more resources now than it has today. We're talking to folks on TBD. Some will be reassigned. There will be increases in some areas, reductions in others. We're trying to get out of the model where people work on just one platform; we're integrating the newsrooms. TBD will still be a separate brand.” Lord said Allbritton is bringing back WJLA.com, while TBD will focus on arts and entertainment.
TBD’s audience grew at a rapid pace in its short life but remained small in Web terms, with monthly uniques just shy of 700,000 as of January, per Compete.com.
—additional reporting by Katy Bachman