5 years in, Al-Monitor is relaunching its website and expanding its coverage

August 22, 2017
Category: Tech & Tools

Al-Monitor, an international news and opinion website founded in 2012, announced this evening a redesigned website in a bid to attract a larger global audience.

The site, which is based in D.C. with 16 regional editions, is making several major changes:

  • Expanded coverage of Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on the relationship between Congress and the Middle East.
  • A new design that includes refined navigation, prominent multi-lingual offerings and a short list of trending topics.
  • The addition of a culture section that aims to provide a counterweight to the crisis-fueled coverage of the Middle East that often grabs headlines. The new section will be full of coverage of art, theater and architecture, with an emphasis on daily life.
  • A new slate of video programming and podcasts, including “Off the Hookah with Phil and Cooper,” which examines the issues that Al-Monitor’s writers cover on a daily basis.

“We wanted to make sure that we built something that would satisfy folks’ interests as they were searching around the web, but also driving them to things that would be interesting to them with a really clear interface,” said Valerie Voci, head of digital at Al-Monitor.

Al-Monitor, which has a full-time staff of about 15, was founded five years ago by investment manager and entrepreneur Jamal Daniel. Daniel, the president and chairman of Houston-based Crest Investment Company, started the website after watching coverage of the Arab Spring in the U.S. and coming to the conclusion that Western media “was missing true expertise about the region,” he said.

“The goal of Al-Monitor is to make sure that we deliver a diverse set of experts’ voices and opinions and widen the dialogue that is often missing from analysis of the Middle East,” Daniel said in an email to Poynter. “With the relaunch of Al-Monitor, we also hope to have a positive impact and introduce and attract a global audience who seek to have a deep understanding of the people, politics, and culture of the Middle East.”

According to internal analytics shared with Poynter, Al-Monitor’s attracts about 2 million pageviews per month. Many of those pageviews come from opinion and analysis pieces written by Al-Monitor’s network of about 160 freelancers scattered across the globe. They write in their native languages — Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian or Russian — and then Al-Monitor’s team translates their work.

Those translated stories distinguish Al-Monitor from other news organizations that dispatch foreign correspondents from Western countries, said Tyler Huffman, the editor of Al-Monitor.

“The diversity of voices we offer is unmatched,” Huffman said. “Many news outlets will send reporters to the Middle East, and we really prioritize voices from the region. We allow them to write in their native languages, so it offers a unique perspective and authenticity that you don’t see from many media outlets.”

Al-Monitor also publishes six newsletters, which have close to a 30 percent open rate with a 15 percent clickthrough rate, according to a spokesperson from the company.

Al-Monitor’s audience growth over the last five years was in large part what spurred the redesign, said Michelle Upton, the vice president of Al-Monitor.

“We just kept growing, and we wanted to give a new feel to the site and make space on the page for all of these great features,” Upton said.

A spokesperson for Al-Monitor declined to provide specific financial details for the company, but Voci told Poynter that Al-Monitor has had financial “runway” to build its audience. At previous jobs, including at The Washington Post and The Economist, Voci developed parallel paid and free products, and she noted that Al-Monitor may explore a paid offering in the future.

“It’s absolutely a viable business model,” Voci said. “We have interest from marketers and brands. We’re interested in other revenue models, too.”