February 13, 2017

Quick, name five tech websites. Give up? There’s Recode, The Verge, Tech Crunch, Select All and Ars Technica. A glance at Techmeme, the aggregator for Silicon Valley obsessives, shows at least 100 more.

With all the competition for attention on the internet, building new brands around well-loved can be a tough slog. But NBC News is foraging ahead anyway, putting new verticals on technology, wellness and ideas at the center of a big digital remaking.

Beginning today, NBC News is launching Better, a wellness vertical devoted to helping readers improve their lives. It’s the second debut in an overhauled strategy that emphasizes a specific, topic-based approach over cultivating a monolithic general-interest audience.

This helps NBC News differentiate itself to audiences that might not otherwise know NBC News has expertise in a particular subject area, said Nick Ascheim, senior vice president of digital at NBC News.

“NBC News has been in the hard news and the breaking news business for a very, very long time — bordering on a century now,” Ascheim said. “And what we wanted to do was create an environment where our readers and our viewers could come to us to continue to get the breaking news but also stick around for something (else).”

NBC News could have done that under it’s bigger brand, but creating the verticals helps “get people to think slightly differently” about the content, he said.

The verticals — Better and Mach (a tech site for futurists) both have distinct branding and their own accounts on social media. They will be joined later this year by Think, a vertical for big ideas. All will be sections of NBC News’ main website, resulting in a hybrid strategy that looks something like a cross between Vox Media (which has completely standalone sites for its various verticals) and general-interest sites like Mashable, where different types of content are more adjacent to one another.

“Vox has gone to the extreme end of vertical strategy, which is launching or acquiring a new site for each vertical,” Ascheim said. “And Mashable is going general-interest and rolling everything out under one brand. We’ve kind of gone in-between. These verticals are going to have their own destination on the mothership website. We are going to roll out newsletters for each one. We’ll develop social channels for each one.”

Although building a brand is tough amid the competition, there have been encouraging early signs, Ascheim said. Mach, which launched in November, already has nearly 100,000 subscribers for its primary newsletter. Mach’s Twitter account and Facebook page have 77,000 subscribers and 213,028 likes, respectively.

Ascheim ascribes the early success of Mach to its slightly off-beat approach to tech coverage. Rather than covering the transactional nature of the beat (new features, new deals, new hires) Mach is adopting a less granular focus on the future. Although Better will have plenty of competition among wellness publications, the publication’s broad approach distinguishes it from other sites, he said.

“We wanted to take it a step further and say: If you wanted to live a better you, what are all the things that you have to do better at? So certainly your physical well-being is where it starts,” he said. “But also things like how can you be a better partner? How can you be a better parent? How can you be a better employee? How can you be a better boss? And if you add up all those things, you wind up with a better self.”

Advertiser interest thus far has included Bayer (the launch sponsor for Better) and Boeing (the launch sponsor for Mach). Think was originally conceived without an advertising category in mind, but Ascheim says interest from advertisers has been abundant.

New hires for the websites will be limited to editors with deep freelance Rolodexes for now, Ascheim said. Mach is being led by David Freeman, formerly a managing editor at The Huffington Post, and Matthew Kitchen.

Ultimately, the new verticals will give NBC News a more finely honed vehicle for its coverage of areas that resonate with readers, Ascheim said.

“It helps to be able to say, ‘Mach. Better. Think.’ than to try and say, ‘NBC News is doing a new thing with technology,'” he said.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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