You would think that as far as timing goes, no other business news site could have been lucky enough to launch than four weeks ago, when Slate’s spin-off site Big Money hit the web during the collapse of Lehman. However, Big Money editor James Ledbetter feels that the timing has actually been more harmful than helpful for a site that attempts to use Slate-style wittiness and humor to make sense of Wall Street.
“Completely by accident, we launched into what turned out to be one of the most volatile periods in the history of the United States,” said Ledbetter in a phone interview. “That’s been a great thrill, but it’s also been a big challenge where we’re unable to plan coverage a few hours in advance. There is only one story for the day, and you can post the most brilliant story on the site, but if it’s not about the bailout or the crash, nobody will read it.”
The company spent months preparing for the first articles it would produce, and the style of the web layout, only to have to throw out their work or postpone it in favor of minute-by-minute reporting of the Lehman and AIG crises. Meanwhile, carving out a space in the crowded online business news genre is already difficult. The arena, though lucrative in terms of ad revenue, has many challenging players, from TheStreet.com to Silicon Alley Insider and Conde Nast Portfolio.
Standing out from the competition will require innovation from Big Money, whether in terms of fresh techniques like crowd sourcing or providing clever business tools to their audience. Before its launch, Big Money focused on both strategies, creating a stock screening tool that allows reader to screen the 500 largest public companies for criteria such as labor rights and environmental standards, as well as another application called We Build Your Presentation. The site also features blogs whose topics range from the business of food to one solely looking at Google, called Feeling Lucky.
“I am very hopeful that our approach, our way of differentiating ourselves will have to do with our particular use of the web medium,” said Ledbetter. “No one is really looking at it [the web tools] because there is only one story right now.”