The Upshot

Yahoo! News blogs celebrate one year of fairness, bluntness and 1 billion hits

Chris Lehmann
The Upshot

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Still from 'His Girl Friday' (Columbia Pictures)

A year ago this week, the Yahoo! News blog network was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The idea behind our launch was simple: We would bring fast-paced, analytical coverage of breaking news, media controversies, campaigns, and policy debates to the vast Yahoo readership—packaging the day's big stories in the format of, you know, a blog.

But we also realized, back in 2010, that the world wasn't exactly crying out for another blog-for-blogging's-sake—and that the Yahoo audience needed something beyond a standard blogger's account of the news. In the run-up to our official launch, I had many conversations and email exchanges with Andrew Golis—the project leader who hired me on as his deputy—seeking to work out the intangible yet crucial questions of what sort of voice, tone, and feel would work best for our readers and our contributors. We also had endless back and forths, both between ourselves and among the blog team we eventually hired, about what to name the thing. The gamut ran from the unbearably pompous (I think someone actually proposed "The Panoramic Post" at some point) to the borderline childish ("The Feedbag," anyone?)

Eventually, we settled on "The Upshot." We agreed that the sense and sound of it alike conveyed the central idea we were reaching for--a brisk account of the news cycle, aimed at delivering the most essential information and context. And as important as what "The Upshot" conveyed to us was what it did not communicate to Yahoo readers: It was not to be driven by any partisan outlook, issues agenda, or look-at-me attitudinizing—all common enough currency in the wider blogosphere, but, again, not features that would sit well with either the Yahoo readership, or the editors and writers on the blog.

There would be humor, of course--no one can cover, say, the progress of a presidential campaign cycle without noting the absurdities of the whole media-and-money-driven spectacle. But there would be no snark--the off-putting, fake world-weary voice that many bloggers can end up adopting to sound like a cool kid to their peers. There would be breaking news--but also analysis, to help readers take note of how a given controversy or debate took shape, and where they might have heard similar arguments before. There would be a straightforward accounting of self-interested spin--when media figures, candidates or government operatives would try to put one over on us, we would remind readers, firmly but gently, of the actual facts of the matter. The idea, we agreed, was to be fair and blunt--a journalistic goal that The Upshot's name summed up in a direct, unfussy and unpretentious way.

But of course, naming and conceptualizing a blog is the easy part. The trick is feeding the beast, which our team of bloggers promptly set about doing a year ago with characteristic speed, efficiency and fearlessness. And before long, we were not merely breaking down well-traveled stories, but breaking plenty of news of our own. Our then-national affairs reporter John Cook not only dug out FOIA releases from the Pentagon that indicated Defense Department officials had failed to fully disclose and punish pedophiles in their ranks; he later got the Pentagon to concede it had revised its policy on the issue in response to his reporting. Our then-media correspondent Michael Calderone got the inside story on how NBC engineered an exclusive behind-the-scenes report on the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq. National affairs writer Liz Goodwin was among the first reporters to chronicle the full scale of anti-Muslim activism in the United States as the furor over the "Ground Zero mosque" raged over the summer of 2010. Our foreign affairs blogger, Laura Rozen, had the scoop on David Petraeus going to the CIA and Leon Panetta headed over to the Pentagon well before any other reporter.

Nor have all of our scoops involved high-stakes intrigue in the corridors of power: One of my favorite posts is senior political reporter Holly Bailey's amazing account of how one lawmaker in the Oregon state legislature induced the body to Rick-roll itself. You really have to read the whole thing to believe it.

As the pace and intensity of our reporting picked up, we also decided to break out the central Upshot blog into a network of four sub-blogs: The Lookout, for current affairs and key national policy debates; The Ticket, for politics, campaigns and lawmaking; The Cutline, which covers the media world; and The Envoy, our foreign affairs blog. The Upshot, as a blog designation, now mainly aggregates the big stories from the four sub-blogs. In the eventful year since our launch, we have covered all manner of major stories, from the fallout from Osama bin Laden's killing to the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear crisis. We've also found time to highlight the oddball and absurd stories that bubble up through the news cycle, be it the dog with prosthetic paws or the Darth Vader bank robber.

We have also been extremely fortunate to have you, the Yahoo readership, take notice of our work on an amazing scale. In May 2011, we had our largest month of traffic on the blog network, logging more than 174 million page views--and over the year we've been in business, we've had 1.1 billion page views.  We've brought on a talented new group of journalists to work on the blog. Dylan Stableford, our senior media reporter, is chronicling the comings and goings of the media industry, as well as how the press interacts with the political process. Chris Moody, who concentrates on conservative politics, has joined The Ticket to expand our coverage of the 2012 campaign. Our newest hire, Chris Suellentrop, comes over from the New York Times Sunday magazine, to take over my old job as deputy editor, and will specialize, as he did at the Times, in building out creative approaches to political coverage.

There are important innovations afoot in the blog's platform as well. Yahoo has gone over to a new content management system, known as Lego, which has improved the visual interface while expanding search and tagging capabilities on the blog. And like everyone else in the media world, we're migrating more content onto social media platforms. (You can sign up for the blogs' Twitter and Facebook accounts at each blog's homepage. What are you waiting for?)

In editorial terms, we also have big plans ahead, for both expanding our readership and the topical range of our coverage. We continue to look forward to hearing from you about what the News blogs do that you like, don't like, or would like to see done differently. And most of all, we thank you for reading.

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