In Depth

Web Site Builds Identity

Network’s CBSNews.com Gives Reporters Space to Tell Stories the Way They Want to

In the short life of the TV station Web site, CBSNews.com has excelled in representing the network in the virtual world.

Originally launched in January 1998 as CBS.com, CBSNews.com got its own identity in 2000. “It really helped,” said CBSNews.com VP and executive producer Michael Sims. “We rebuilt and hit the election campaign 2000 very strongly. We ramped up for political coverage and that really started us down the road.”

CBSNews.com today makes powerful use of the technology and rich media available online. “We were one of the first mainstream sites to make all of our video embeddable, so bloggers or anyone else could grab the code and place it on their blog or MySpace page,” said Mr. Sims, who credits Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, with making the case for distributing CBS programming to wherever people are consuming video. “Quincy was an evangelist for that, and we felt it was important to do so. The way news is distributed, we can’t expect everyone to come to our site, but we want to make our content available in as many little communities as possible. There’s no reason to be afraid of it.”

The turning point for building the site came in 2005, said Mr. Sims, when a big sit-down with all the bureaus and correspondents encouraged everyone to file stories for the Web site. “Stories they don’t have time to cover on TV or stories they want to cover more,” said Mr. Sims. “Once they saw how we’d package and present their stories, they understood it. They realized they had an international audience, and that was eye-opening.”

What works well to push CBS News.com up to its current level of excellence are the exclusive enterprise pieces, said Mr. Sims. “Whether it’s news, analysis, perspective, a reporter’s notebook, those are the things that time and time again get picked up virally because they’re unique, timely, thought-provoking,” he said. “These people are experts and having something to say, and people read it and watch it.”

He pointed to a recent piece written by Mark Knowler, White House correspondent for CBS News Radio, about the current economic crisis. “It was a great piece, got picked up by a number of Web sites and got hundreds of thousands of views,” said Mr. Sims.

Community is another important feature on the site, where every story comes with a robust comment area related to that story. “We get thousands of comments on individual stories, and this is something we’re looking to expand as we go along,” he said.

Mr. Sims also noted the wins at CBS News highlighted the synergies between CBS News and the Web site. “We work so well together and we’re able to extend online the kinds of stories they’re producing,” he said. “That kind of partnership has really benefited us.

“Among the public, there’s a hunger for content that’s meaningful and deeper than the top-level news of the day. It’s context, perspective, analysis, with experts in the fields they cover. We want to do more and more of that,” he said.