The Upshot: Search Powers The News At Yahoo

Yahoo is getting serious about the news. Today, it launched a new political news blog called The Upshot, written by a staff of six writers and two editors. The Upshot is a mix of original reporting, commentary, links, and licensed news photos. Rather than simply republishing stories from the news wires or other news outlets like rest of Yahoo News, the Upshot is trying to cultivate a Yahoo-branded point of view and set of voices around political, national and media news.

Yahoo is in the midst of expanding its original news footprint in an attempt to compete with AOL and Demand Media. Last May, it purchased Associated Content for its crowdsourced content platform. At the same time, it’s been hiring its own journalists and blowing out coverage in sports, finance, and news. Yahoo Media VP James Pitaro describes it as “trying to strike a balance.” The Upshot falls on the higher-quality end of the scale, and is part of Yahoo’s efforts to expand this kind of coverage from 10 percent to 20 percent of the news on its properties.

Yahoo needs to churn out a lot of news stories to satisfy the estimated 52.7 million U.S. unique visitors who go to the site every month (comScore). So it will continue to provide a mix of both original and licensed articles. The Upshot blog and others like it is a way to give Yahoo News a little more personality without having to rely completely on expensive and time-consuming original reporting. The editors and writers a can link to other news and add their own commentary. Most professional blogs do that, and it is a good way to ramp up production.

But the Upshot will go one step further. The editors and writers will use search data to pick which stories to pursue. So what kinds of stories are people searching for today? The Upshot hopes they are looking for a video of Israeli soldiers doing a dance to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” the London clubbing habits of alleged Russian spy Anna Chapman, and a handy list of RNC chairman Michael Steele’s five biggest blunders. There are some serious stories in there too such as one on ballooning state and local budget deficits (“Will regional governments go the way of Greece?”). I’d love to see a scoreboard showing the pageviews of how the algorithmically-chosen stories do versus the ones assigned by the human editors. God help us all.