Q&A With True/Slant Founder Lewis Dvorkin: Debunking That Sponsorship Thing, Sorta

Back in April, the media world was a-tizzy about True/Slant, a site launched by Lewis Dvorkin that promised to change the online media world. Basically, Dvorkin, a former AOL exec, former Forbes executive editor and former editor at the WSJ and more, proposes two radical things:
1. Contributors will actually get paid money and
2. The site will actually make money.

The reason the mediasphere was in a frenzy was this graf from an April 8 Wall Street Journal piece:

The journalists are paid a small amount, but the plan is to turn them into minipublishers under the True/Slant umbrella. They will be offered a share of the advertising and sponsorship revenues their individual pages generate and, in some cases, equity in True/Slant, which is backed by venture capital…They also are allowed to arrange for their own advertising or sponsorships, in addition to what True/Slant can sell…”

Cries of bias abounded. How can anyone who’s paid by, say, Boeing, write objectively about the airline industry?

Well, two months after the initial alpha launch, True/Slant is now, as of yesterday, officially in beta. We spoke to Dvorkin about his baby.

Q&A, especially the part where he debunks the sponsorship thing, sorta, after the jump.

1. What makes True/Slant different?

True/Slant is different in five very important ways. We have a different approach to content creation. We give each contributor the tools and platforms to publish text, video , audio in real time. They do it, they have the tools to curate their community. and they have the tools to create their own home page.
True/Slant is different in our approach to copyright. We don’t just excerpt a piece of content from elsewhere. Our contributors link to such content. They always give their perspective on that content, and they also build community around that post.

We are different in our approach to the relationship between the contributor and the audience. our contributors engage with the audience, they are contractually obligated to elevate and highlight comments. we have taken down the wall that exists elsewhere between contributor and news consumer.

We’re different in the business model for paying contributors. Depending on the level of risk the contributor wants to take, we have stipend payments, revenue payment, and we have incentive based payment, and we have contributors with equity in True/Slant.

True slant is different in the advertising model. We have the T/S Ad Slant, which enables a marketer to have a voice on True/Slant in a fully labeled transparent way that gives them the same tools writers have.

Will it work?
It’s already working.

Why is user-generated content like comments important?
It’s very clear to me that the audience wants to directly connect with credible and knowledgeable sources. We enable our audience to do that in a much more rewarding way. The commenting system out there typically results in a very, very unfiltered, noisy conversation. It tends to go to places that are…not productive. We have what we call a managed commenting system that enables our contributors to select the comments they respect…They’re comments the contributor feels further the conversation. Those are the comments that appear on the inital load of the page. If users decide they would like to see the entire free flow of the conversation, they hit a button that says “all comments” and all the comments unfold right before your eyes. We are moving the noise one level below.

You told the Post yesterday that you won’t allow inappropriate material about an advertiser to be posted if the writer is being sponsored. How are you going to enforce that with a staff of 6?

First of all, we have 110 contributors. Only two…maybe three of those 110 have an agreement that they can bring sponsors to the network.
They asked for the opportunity, because of who they are and what they do, they often have contacts with different advertisers and could they introduce us to potential advertisers? And in return, was there something in it for them? We said ‘That sounds OK, but we’re going to maintain the integrity of the traditions and standards that I’m used to in the world I come from.’ We have not asked our contributors to [line up their own sponsorships].