Four Questions With Newser.com’s Caroline Miller

newswer10.24.08.pngA year ago, the news aggregation Web site Newser.com</strong — a collaboration between Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff, former New York editor-in-chief Caroline Miller and Highbeam CEO Patrick Spain — launched. The site culls news from around the net and attempts to tailor it to the preferences of individuals. In the crowded news aggregation space, its graphic format is an ambitious attempt to provide a different product. Over a series of emails, we asked Miller about the switch from print to the Web, Wolff’s role in the site (he’ll start writing a column soon) and where it’s going in the future.

1) How is Newser doing, and are there any changes in the works?
Newser will be a year old next week, and we reached a million unique visitors 11 months in, so we’re happy with our growth.

In the first year we’ve really wrestled with the monster — the glut of news on the Web — and have built the technology and the staff to capture and digest the best news stories and opinion pieces from all over, 24/7. We’ve honed mix of stories that we think is both useful and provocative, and a voice that I think is distinctive, sharp and fun to read. We’ve invented a graphic format that’s very unusual for a news site, that takes advantage of the amazing wealth of visual material online.

We have the core of a site that’s a really different news experience, and users are responding positively, but of course we’re still evolving. We’re building functionality that will improve our search capabilities and make the site very easy to customize to a user’s own interests and news proclivities. As we grow, the site will become deeper in various subject areas, and our writers and editors will become more and more specialized. This isn’t a “blow a huge amount of money on the front end” strategy. It’s a “listen to users and feel your way to what they really want in a next-generation news site” strategy. Great fun to be on board.


2) Why would a magazine type like you want to do a news Web site?
Newser was a perfect adventure for me: a chance to spend hours every day chasing down the best journalism and opinion pieces, and the most seductive storytelling — things I’m pretty much obsessed with — and to invent a format to present them in a smart and original way.

Besides, the squares in the Newser grid are like mini-magazine pages — you get to design them, literally — choose the art, crop it, move the headlines around where you want them. It’s a much more visual play than most news Web sites.

3) What’s Michael Wolff’s involvement with Newser?
Michael is Newser’s founder and chief provocateur; he doesn’t have a hands-on role in the news operation. But he’s just finished his book on Rupert Murdoch, and will be starting to offer short-form commentary on the news on a Newser blog called “Off the Grid” next week, just to the side of the Newser grid.

Our writers and editors will be adding their voices soon as well, in the same space. After a year of obsessing over the news and honing our voice, we’re ready to start sharing our observations.

4) What is the ultimate goal of Newser?
We think smarter and more effective aggregation is the next big thing in news consumption on the Web. Everyone knows there is too much news and commentary out there. It’s out of control. It’s impossible to keep up with all the interesting sources — or even the issue-specific sites.

What we’ve tried to do is invent a new way to curate and deliver news online — not just a set of links (Drudge), or an online magazine that also has a few links to other sources (Salon, Slate, Huffington Post, Daily Beast), but a seriously different news experience that gives a user easy access to many more stories and ideas than one individual could find.

It’s too early to say where exactly we want to end up, but the core value is a site that is focused not on adding its own voice or slant to the news — there’s a endless amount of that — but on presenting the wealth of good journalism and opinion on the Web efficiently, clearly, smartly, and in an entertaining form.