At a lunch today at New York City's Bryant Park Grill, Yahoo! introduced its latest hire--journalist and roving war correspondent Kevin Sites. On hand for the announcement were a number of the company's Santa Monica honchos--former ABC Entertainment Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun, Wall Street Journal veteran Neil Budde, and Microsoft ex-pat Scott Moore, the former publisher of online magazine Slate.com.
Sites, a veteran of CNN and NBC, plans to leave for Africa on Wednesday. He will spend the next year traveling to 36 war-torn corners of the world, and reporting on how current events affect people's lives.
"We're at the nexus of a new wave of journalism," Sites told the two dozen journalists over entrees of grilled chicken and artichoke ravioli. He said that digital technology, combined with a "delivery system that transcends national boundaries and reaches a global audience," will give him a platform to spread his narrative non-fiction--the concept which appears very similar to P.J. O'Rourke's 1989 travelogue "Holidays in Hell."
Sites intends to post daily stories starting Sept. 26 on a blog-like site ("We're avoiding the word 'blog'," Budde told the crowd), and will be able to include video footage, photos, live video and audio feeds, and written text. The idea is to package news in a way that's palatable to those in the 18- to-34-year-old range, Moore said.
Sites showed off his equipment for lunch guests--displaying the "pro-sumer" Sony 3 megapixel high-definition digital camcorder, a Hughes R-BGAN satellite modem, and the like. The press materials also spelled out the electronics brands he'll travel with, including an Apple 12-inch PowerBook, touted by Yahoo! as "A light, powerful unit that's the choice of journalists and photographers all over the world."
These same descriptions also will be available on the Web site hosting Sites' reports, in the "About us" section, in the name of "transparency," Sites said.
Budde at lunch said that the product plugs aren't in any way meant as product placement. Moore added there was no quid pro quo for posting information about the manufacturers of Sites' equipment--although, he said, Yahoo! wouldn't rule out partnering with any of those companies.
In fact, while it's notoriously hard to find news sponsors ("Clearly, it's not for the faint of heart," Moore said), it's not at all difficult to imagine that a "click here for more information" or "click to purchase" link ultimately will appear alongside the equipment descriptions.
Certainly, it's difficult to believe that Yahoo! doesn't hope for Sony, Apple, and the rest to show some appreciation for the product plugs. Meantime, Moore said Yahoo! would soon announce advertisers.
As for the company's own plans, many have speculated that Yahoo! intends to leverage Hollywood connections to develop TV-like programming. While Yahoo! might indeed hope to do so, you'd never know it from Monday's lunch. Braun, hailed for his ability to tap Tinseltown executives, flew across the country to dine in Bryant Park, but sat in attentive silence while his colleagues spoke at lunch.