News Corp’s Heat Street looks for libertarian digital niche

Last Monday, News Corp launched Heat Street, another entrant in the U.S. political commentary landscape, a center-right publication that aims to champion free speech.

At the helm is Louise Mensch, former U.K. Conservative member of parliament and journalist, now living in New York. While Mensch conceived the idea in late 2013, the site launched officially just six months after being given the official go-ahead by Robert Thomson, chief executive at News Corp.

“When I looked at the American political media landscape, I thought there was room for something different,” Mensch told Digiday. “There were either liberal titles like ‘The Huffington Post,’ or very conservative white-male coverage. There was nothing for the socially relaxed, economically ambitious reader, who also watches ‘Silicon Valley.’” Digiday spoke to editor and founder Louise Mensch about Donald Trump, being a startup within News Corp and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Readability and credibility
Mensch wants Heat Street’s brand of conservatism to be distinguished by humor and a more libertarian stance. As such, some of the site’s articles have skewed lightweight, like this quiz asking readers who said a quote, Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian?

Aside from this, Heat Street has also broken more hard-hitting news, three stories of which have been picked up by news aggregator the Drudge Report. An article exposing that a third of models working for Donald Trump’s model agency are immigrants was picked up in the Wall Street Journal (although under the same News Corp umbrella, the titles do not share editorial obligations).

“I want Heat Street to combine readability and credibility,” said Mensch. “We can’t be CNN, and we don’t want to be. I was very clear I want this to be an opinion-based website where the reporter’s point of view is argued.”

AS LM work out
Pumping iron: Louise and Arnold sweat it out

News Corps’ internal startup
Joining Mensch as publisher is Noah Kotch, a former ABC producer who played a role in launching data-mining news site Vocativ. Heat Street’s smaller U.K. section is headed up by editor Miles Goslett, credited with exposing the Jimmy Saville scandal at the BBC. While Mensch couldn’t be specific, she noted that the entire team is lean, with a “handful” of others, including political reporters and video producers. “You don’t need to be bloated to get high-quality traffic.”

Being an internal startup within a global media company has its benefits. Heat Street’s team is relieved of having to chase traffic to justify VC dollars, for example. It does, however, have to keep a close eye on ratings to make sure content delivery matches up with what readers want.

“We are being examined every day; we’re having to justify spend and make solid revenue projections,” said Mensch.

The site is core, platforms are ancillary
While the site is the main priority, Mensch concedes that publishing to Facebook drives a lot traffic back to HeatSt.com. Video in particular is performing well offsite. The five short-form videos that it has so far produced, all under one minute long, live on Facebook. By far, the most popular, with 300,000 views, is a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a bike. Longer videos fetching up to six minutes live on the site, including original videos, which Heat Street hopes to publish several a week soon.

Disagreement is encouraged
The comments section for Heat Street will launch at the end of this week, she said, and will be instrumental in the site’s growth. Part of the site’s mantra is that there are “no safe spaces” and disagreement will be encouraged, and Mensch isn’t going to shy away from it. “Commenters build a real community,” she said. “I want people to feel like they have a place to go to make a valid argument. I may not agree with their argument, but we’re certainly not going to be afraid of it.”

Image via Heat Street.

https://digiday.com/?p=174659

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