MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson noticed during the presidential campaigns and election of President Obama last year that a new generation of media consumers had emerged. The “Change Generation,” Watson calls it (wonder where he got that name from), is educated, edgy and curious about the world and news, and in contrast to the yuppies from 20 years ago, doesn’t find news solely in the New York Times or on CNN. This generation cares about pop culture, social activism, fresh opinions and of course, change. So Watson has created a news and opinion site, called The Stimulist, which launched last week, that caters to the this generation, and found a high-profile lead investor to boot, Elevation Partner’s Roger McNamee. Yup, the same McNamee who recently stepped down from Forbes Media’s board.
The Stimulist breaks slightly from the format of most news sites and blogs by limiting its content to only six features per day. Taking inspiration from the news briefing that President Obama gets each morning from his staff, Watson’s site features “The Daily Six: Six Things You Should Know Today.”
These include: News We Like, a roundup of hot topics in the news; Kind of a Big Deal, a daily profile of a rising star (for instance, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was profiled); Idea To Consider; a thought-provoking piece intended to start conversations (Yesterday’s was “Resolved: Marijuana Will Be Legalized”); Good Sh*t, a recommendation of a fresh, “cool” place to go or something to do; Flashback, a historical anecdote that will shine extra light on a current event (“The Five Most Shocking Justice Appointments” was featured earlier this week); and The C Note, Watson’s place to share his original opinions and thoughts.
Watson says all content is original but the stories link to other news sources. He maintains that though there are a limited amount of daily articles on the site, the Stimulist will be alluring to readers because it is simple, easy to read and people won’t get lost on the site. The Stimulist is being positioned as an ideal read for a coffee or lunch break from work. A tremendous amount of thought went into the design and aesthetics of the site, Watson says, with the idea that the “change” generation would appreciate a streamlined site that isn’t overwhelming.
The Stimulist’s competitors are the Huffington Post and Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, which is a daily mashup of cultural and general news. Both, however, are aggregators of news from elsewhere and thus have much more daily content than The Stimulist. But Watson says sometimes less is more. The site itself is lean, but the startup already has six staff members (which seems like a lot to produce only six posts a day).
Watson is careful to make the distinction that this site is geared towards the change generation, which he estimates in the twenty-something to forty-something age demographic. But last week, an 80-year-old gentlemen wrote Watson, saying that he’s as much a part of this generation as a 25-year-old. So maybe it is more of a state of mind. But do you have to be an Obama supporter to qualify?
Although Watson hopes to become the “first and favorite” source of news for this generation (regardless of age), I think that The Stimulist is more similar to a daily digital magazine catered to a web audience with short-attention spans. It’s a great place for readers to stop off and take a quick read of current perspectives and leave feeling a little bit more educated for the day. But can it become a daily habit for enough readers to make it last? The rule of thumb in online news is that traffic rises with the number of stories posted per day because not everyone is interested in each story. The more stories there are to choose from, the more readers who show up. Watson thinks he can buck this trend.