NY Times: Consumers Union to Buy a Blog From Gawker. It will become part of a new division of Consumers Union, and the current editors will remain. No plans are under way to change the coverage or to begin charging for the site. “We don’t want to acquire the Consumerist and then squelch it in some way,” said Kevin McKean, vice president and editorial director of Consumers Union.
This is a smart move by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, the online arm of which is one of Web publishing’s earliest and most important success stories. It broadens the brand, and it helps bring an organization that needed some updating into the 21st Century in other ways.
Gawker Media decided to get rid of Consumerist, part of a restructuring that the company’s founder and chief, Nick Denton, said was necessary to focus on what will be profitable in the face of what he predicted will be an advertising meltdown. There was an obvious fit with Consumers Union, an organization that has made its mistakes over the years but has stood up to enormous pressure from corporations that hated the organization’s independent ways.
Some critics of Consumer Reports have suggested that the wisdom of the consuming crowd is sufficient for learning about the kinds of products CR covers. It will be, someday, but I don’t think it’s there yet. CR’s relentless testing and usually sound editorial judgement are worth the price many of us (including me) pay for our subscriptions, online or offline. CR isn’t where I generally stop, but it’s often where I start looking for information on certain kinds of products.
Consumers Union hasn’t gone nearly far enough, however, in understanding the value of the crowd online. I hope the Consumerist purchase is a major step in that direction, but CU needs to recognize that the people who read its magazine and subscribe to the website are precisely the kinds of folks who could be much more helpful in creating the journalism that already stands apart from the competition. Reader surveys don’t even begin to do enough.
By the way, I don’t believe CU’s editorial director when he suggests that there will be no interference with the Consumerist’s edgy and sometimes over-the-top content. I’m guessing there will be subtle changes within a few months; note the wiggle room he left in that quote.
PS: I was amused, but shouldn’t have been, to see that Nick Denton gave the New York Times the scoop on this story. He’s is more old-media than people generally recognize.