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Yahoo mixes old and new in Internet-age news service

by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Aug 21, 2008
Yahoo is building an Internet-age news service, leveraging its global audience of a half-billion people to win exclusive interviews with world leaders.

Unlike websites that just aggregate news stories plucked from the Internet, Yahoo is cutting content deals with wire services and other "traditional" outlets as well as investing in a bullpen of its own reporters.

"Yahoo News is a news organization," director of editorial programming Jessica Barron told AFP in an interview this week.

"We have been doing a lot of original reporting and we are going to be doing a lot more."

Reporting coups claimed by Yahoo News include a recent interview with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak in which he maintains that his country could re-unify with North Korea in his lifetime.

During his first Internet-only interview US president George W. Bush played along with Yahoo News request to impersonate a "Dr. Evil" character from a hit "Austin Powers" film and the snippet became an online sensation.

Yahoo News also got US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to confide she had "a crush" on handsome actor Denzel Washington.

"We get these interviews because we have this global audience of 500 million viewers," Barron said.

"Our aim is to reach these bigger names and use our reporting talent to break news. We are really going for the kinds of questions that will make news."

Yahoo Sports has a dozen reporters on the ground at the Olympics in Beijing to cover events and interview athletes.

Yahoo's news judgment is constantly shaped by how many people "click" on news stories and the instant comments by readers, according to Barron.

"We really are paying a lot of attention to what our audience wants," Barron said. "We see tremendous traffic on politics, what is going on around the world, and the names that get their interest."

Online readers have made it clear that along with the hard facts they enjoy seeing the human sides of people in the news, inspiring queries leading to Rice's secret crush and the Dr. Evil imitation by Bush.

While Yahoo News had Politico's Mike Allen handle the Rice and Bush interviews, it sent Aaron Task of its Tech Ticker online finance program to speak on camera with South Korea's president.

"We like to pick people with expertise in the subject matter," Barron said. "Aaron's father fought in the Korean War and he has tons of experience in reporting."

Yahoo is teaming with Politico reporters for coverage of the coming Democratic and Republican party conventions in the United States. It will relay questions from readers to its team at the conventions.

"Our users do want to understand the conventions," said Barron, who noted that questions already received from Yahoo News readers include 'Why do people wear those funny hats?'

Yahoo's journey to becoming an Internet-age news agency dates back to 2005 when it sent Kevin Sites "In The Hot Zone" in a one-year mission to report single-handedly from each of the world's conflict zones.

Yahoo News breaks exclusive video interviews into snippets so comments made regarding individual topics can be served up in small bites that is a part of today's Internet culture.

"We are really going for places we feel we can have an impact and cover them in ways that are slightly different," Barron said.

"We want to be the number one independent news source on the Internet."

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