TakePart.com, the digital arm of tech billionaire-turned philanthropist Jeff Skoll’s social action-focused Participant Media, is taking part in some action of its own.
Eric Noe, TakePart’s senior vice president and editor-in-chief, said the company is aiming to produce more video and deeper investigative content as part of Participant’s overall mission to advocate for certain causes.
“We think of ourselves as a digital magazine,” he said. “Features have always been a part of what we do, but we’re repositioning ourselves. We want to create content in sync with what the rest of Participant does. At the same time, we’re a standalone news organization.”
TakePart is aiming to differentiate itself from Participant, producer of critically acclaimed hits such as “Spotlight,” which won the best picture Oscar this year, and the forthcoming “Deepwater Horizon,” based on the BP oil spill, in certain ways. For instance, Noe is helping steer the site toward more independent editorial content.
That’s because what was once an innovative concept – using a digital platform to not only promote films but get audiences to engage with content afterward – is a strategy that has been adopted by media companies across the board.
The goal is to launch 10 big-issue or tentpole investigative series this year after launching five in 2015. The newest series, “16 in ’16,” launched earlier this month and profiles 16 women around the world as they turn 16 years old, an effort to shine a light on women’s rights. From questions about gender identification and growing up in modern families, to love, sex, and education, the video-only series looks to examine real teenage experiences today.
TakePart’s strategic shift came about a little more than a year ago when Participant’s leadership team took a bird’s eye view of the company and decided to refocus.
As part of that evolution, Skoll brought in former Focus Features President and Universal Pictures Chairman David Linde as Participant’s chief executive, tasking him with helping the company’s film, digital, and TV divisions function more efficiently and cohesively. Skoll acknowledged to several outlets last year that the company hasn’t been profitable since it launched more than a decade earlier. Skoll, ranked No. 24 on Business Journal’s list of Wealthiest Angelenos with an estimated net worth of $2.93 billion in May, and Linde were unavailable for comment.
Noe said that while Skoll isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, he does give feedback on the site’s coverage and alignment with the company’s overall mission.
“Jeff is very clear with us about his interests and the stories and subjects he’d like us to follow,” said Noe.
Noe joined Participant in 2014 after 10 years with ABC News’ digital team, where he most recently served as managing editor. He led digital coverage of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections as well as coverage of Hurricane Sandy, for which ABC News earned a Peabody Award.
When he took over, TakePart was publishing more than 500 stories each month. It was also integrated with Participant’s television arm, Pivot, which is winding down operations this fall after an underwhelming response. Noe has doubled the editorial staff to 20 across the company’s Beverly Hills and New York bureaus, the latter launched under Noe’s watch with reporters focused on social justice, human rights, the environment, and conservation. TakePart also taps a pool of freelance journalists, photographers, and filmmakers to provide content.
While Participant doesn’t disclose its financial figures or details about funding sources, the organization has grown its strategic partnerships as an alternative to traditional ad-based revenue models. A recent example was a collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for which TakePart created original content through its “TakePart World” campaign last year. The company has also partnered with the Reuters Foundation for its upcoming “Hidden Connections” series, with other deals yet to be announced.
While TakePart’s website traffic grew as high as 7.9 million monthly unique visitors in February of last year, it has fallen to half of that in recent months, according to comScore, and consistently ranks below others in the same category. TakePart tallied 3.8 million monthly unique visitors in July, while Upworthy had nearly 16 million, and L.A.-based Attn and Good had 7.5 million and 6 million, respectively.
Though Web traffic for a company such as TakePart can have high volatility due to changes in how social media sites such as Facebook display content, according to comScore.
Noe said those raw numbers aren’t of much interest to the company.
“It’s more important to us that our readers spend longer on our site and engage with our content,” he said. “We’re not interested in … click-bait content.”
While that might be true, a glance at TakePart’s homepage, with headlines such as “10 of the Worst Frozen Items You Can Buy at Trader Joe’s,” shows the difficulty in avoiding the tactic entirely.
One way Noe is hoping to reinvigorate the site is by producing more videos and many of TakePart’s new editorial hires are focused solely on that medium.
In addition to its tentpole “16 in ’16” series, TakePart launched a video component for its “Just Vote” campaign this month in partnership with Rock the Vote and ProCon.org.
The focus comes as traffic at video-sharing sites such as YouTube has more than doubled since 2006, according to the Pew Research Center. Additionally, video and multimedia features have also been key areas of growth over the past two years for news media organizations of all sizes, a trend that comes as 62 percent of U.S. adults overall now get news on social media sites, Pew found.
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