New Dawn for AlterNet, a Redesign and Rethinking of Content

By: Jennifer Saba

It has been six years since the news site Alternet.org, which once served as a syndication service for alt weeklies, has had a fresh look. Last week it revealed a newly redesigned site with extra content and features.

The update isn’t the only thing AlterNet — founded 13 years ago as a standalone Web site — wanted to emphasize. As newspapers struggle to find ways to tap additional revenue, executives with AlterNet think they have found the sweet spot of business models, one that could well serve newspapers too.

“We have pioneered the non profit model for a long time,” said Don Hazen, AlterNet’s executive editor.

AlterNet doesn’t just depend on grants to sustain its business. Rather it takes a blended approach getting revenue from advertisers and reader donations. Many news start-ups, like MinnPost as one example, are basing their businesses on a similar model.

“You can’t make it just on grants and you can’t make it just on advertising,” Hazen said.

In 2009 AlterNet’s revenue split was $525,000 from advertising, $300,000 from reader donations and $600,000 from foundation grants/large donors. In 2010, AlterNet budgeted advertising revenue at $600,000 while expecting reader donations and large grants to be flat.

Hazen admits that it was time for AlterNet to rethink what it was doing on the Web site because the changes are more than cosmetic. The organization reached out to Vancouver-based Biro Creative to help with the redesign and some soul searching. AlterNet, which was founded in the 1980s as a syndication service for alt-weeklies, needed to change the way it produced and aggregated content to get people to stay at the site longer.

“We are making ourselves more newsy,” Hazen said. “We are going to be much more oriented around brining people back.” That means fewer long pieces – the stock and trade of alt-weeklies — and more breaking news. AlterNet averages about 1.5 million uniques a month according to Google Analytics.

AlterNet employs 13 staffers and commissions content paying $250 to $300 for an article though it’s relying on other content from around the Web, not unlike its competitor the Huffington Post. AlterNet added a user-generated blog, Soapbox, and Speakeasy which features top bloggers.

AlterNet is also collecting content from other sites with its Progressive News Wire, which will compile news and analysis from more than 25 sources such as The Daily Kos and Mother Jones.

Hazen said that HuffPost is expert at attracting people to its site. But don’t look for Hollywood and cheesecake content on AlterNet — he quickly added. “We would never do that.”

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