Things are looking brighter for Salon.com. Mired in failed merger negotiations during the first half of 2011, the return of David Talbot as CEO, a recent site redesign and new editorial mission are offering the online publication a breath of fresh air.

In January, Salon attracted a record 7.23 million visits: a feat that arrived "without any giant, viral hits that could be outliers," said editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman in a Feb. 7 letter to readers. The letter, described in a tweet by New York Times media reporter David Carr as a comment on "the post-traffic whoring version of Salon," has implications that extend well beyond Salon itself.

Publications and journalists have gone through a crisis of confidence in recent years. Pressured by contracting ad revenue, many writers have forced to redefine their role in the social space. "We've been trained to rethink everything," said Lauerman of the predicament, "even if it leads to producing useless information at the behest of people whose only contribution to the marketplace of ideas has been to sneer at it, shrink it, and dumb it down."

Lauerman's frustration is not unique. In Page One: Inside the New York Times, a documentary film out last summer, Carr lobbies a similar -- if not more direct -- accusation at Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice magazine.


 

Salon, like the Times, has taken a tack opposite of lowest-common denominator journalism: "We've also -- completely against the trend -- slowed down our process. We've tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere."

According to Lauerman's letter, investing in quality journalism is paying off. In the last few months, Salon reduced the number of posts it published by one-third (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). During that same time, traffic rose by 40 percent. "It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We've gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality. And it's working."

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