The Next Web, a leading tech blog, has fired or farewelled five of its top editorial staff in recent weeks as it shifts its editorial strategy to one that depends less on breaking news and more on reviews and analysis.
In the last month, deputy managing editor Alex Wilhelm left to join TechCrunch, European editor and former TechCrunch writer Robin Wauters was laid off, and both features editor Harrison Weber and managing editor Matthew Panzarino have left the company. Brad McCarty, who variously held positions as managing editor, director of business development, and head of TNW Academy, has also parted ways with the company. (Update: McCarty has since been in touch via Twitter to clarify that his departure was not related to the other personnel changes; the timing was coincidental.)
The changes come as the company has decided to shift to a more contributor-led content model rather than rely heavily on stories produced by its own editorial team. Accordingly, the company is looking to hire a commissioning editor, according to a post it published on Monday.
TNW’s CEO Zee Kane declined to comment for this story, but he did forward an email statement he had previously sent to the Sam Whitmore Media Survey:
We’re making changes to our editorial focus – definitely keeping within tech and tech news – which you should notice in the coming weeks. This means making changes to some of our editorial team, albeit tough ones.
Kane also told the publication that TNW’s new editorial direction could be described by the word “evergreen.” He didn’t elaborate, but we’ve heard from sources close to the company that that means more app reviews, product-based news, and analysis.
Wauters, who had been at TNW for 18 months since leaving TechCrunch, said he believes the personnel changes must be a result of financial challenges at the company. (Prior to joining TechCrunch in 2008, Wauters had also worked at TNW when it was, in Kane’s words, essentially “a one person blog.”) He thinks he was fired because he was one of the highest-paid writers and therefore a financial burden on the company.
“I can’t think of any other reason writers would quit or would be asked to leave,” Wauters said.
Wauters, who stressed that he has no ill feelings towards TNW and that he was planning to leave anyway, also expressed reservations about the site’s new strategy. When he rejoined the company at the beginning of 2012, its goal was to be a dominant global tech news site, he said. It also had a side goal of supplanting TechCrunch at the top of the TechMeme leaderboard, something it has not been able to achieve.
“It could have been the number one tech news site in the world, if they played their cards right,” Wauters said. “But I don’t think the direction they’re going in is the right one.”
Various metrics show that TNW is, in terms of traffic and authority, in reasonably good shape – but its numbers are exhibiting a decline. It holds fourth place on the TechMeme leaderboard, which measures the performance of tech publications according to how many scoops they deliver, behind TechCrunch, The Verge, and AllThingsD.
Media analytics site Quantcast estimates its unique monthly visitors at about 870,000, down steeply from the 2.6 million monthly uniques it saw in the month before the personnel changes. Traffic to the site has generally been declining since a peak of 2.9 million uniques in January this year, according to Quantcast.
About 10 writers and editors remain on TNW’s editorial team, which is spread between North America, the UK, and Asia.