Yahoo! Puts Sites in Hot Zone

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By: Mike Shields, Mediaweek

(Mediaweek) Yahoo! has hired veteran war correspondent Kevin Sites to launch an online news journal, Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone, which the company claims will provide users “an unprecedented view of armed conflict throughout the world.”

Hot Zone, which will cover Sites’ travels throughout war-torn areas of the globe for a one-year period, will be aimed at a worldwide audience. Thus far, 31 conflict sites have been identified, as defined by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Sites is expected to spend roughly one week in each locale.

The program is designed as a multimedia experience, including text, photos, audio, and both live and archived video footage. Since Yahoo! does not have news bureaus across the world, Sites will mostly operate as a one-man news team, carrying just a backpack with various cameras, phones, and a laptop as he covers stories.

The hiring of Sites, a veteran of CNN and NBC who is perhaps best known for filming controversial footage of a U.S. Marine shooting an insurgent in Fallujah, Iraq, is a noteworthy departure for the Web giant’s news strategy. Long a source-agnostic news property, Hot Zone is Yahoo!’s first foray into the original news reporting business.

With the high profile hiring of former ABC executive Lloyd Braun to head Yahoo’s media group last year, most have expected more original content to turn up on the portal; however, many believed it would be of the entertainment variety.

According to Neil Budde, director of News, Yahoo!, Hot Zone does not represent a dramatic shift for the company toward becoming a news organization, and its launch will not compromise Yahoo’s partnerships with news organizations such as The New York Times. However, he confirmed that a second original news property in the same vein as Hot Zone is in the works.

From the sound of it, Hot Zone will combine some elements of news and entertainment and will somewhat reflect Sites’ personality. “Yahoo! News is proud to provide Kevin Sites with the platform to tell these very important stories,” said Braun. “By marrying video, audio, text stories and photos into a unique and interactive news experience, Yahoo! will allow the user to become personally invested in Kevin’s journey.”

Added Sites: “This project is the most important thing I will do in my life. It’s an incredible opportunity to help develop the next step in the evolution of journalism, and to tell a different set of stories more completely.”

Advertising-wise, officials at Yahoo! said that several yet-to-be-announced blue-chip brands have signed on to sponsor Hot Zone, running both banner and video ads. While admitting that Hot Zone content “will not be for the faint of heart,” the company’s recently hired vp of content operations Scott Moore said that the program will be attractive to advertisers hoping to associate their brands with edgier content that will appeal to a younger demographic than most news content.

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