Yahoo taking pulse of online news

Site to launch new program 'Trending Now'

Yahoo is launching a new program this week that combines a warm-blooded editor’s hand with cold, hard algorithmic data that the site is hoping will redefine online news.

Trending Now” will appear as a video spot each weekday on Yahoo News and be featured on Yahoo’s front page, offering a review of the top news stories of the day along with buzz-catching trends culled from multiple sources, including social-media sites and the portal’s own proprietary search data.

Hosted by Adriana Diaz, who comes from educational outlet Channel One, “Trending Now” runs between two and three minutes and already has sponsorships from Dodge and cabler TNT.

Starting at 6 every morning in New York, a producer begins to scan nearly 90 RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo’s own data to parse what is emerging as the day’s big trends. This past Monday, for example, wii 2, Mike Huckabee, planking, actor Joseph Gordon-Leavitt from the movie “Hesher” and allergies were hot topics considered for the show taped several hours later.

“Trending Now” is the latest video offering from Yahoo, which is quickly moving to bill itself as the premier digital media company. Rivals AOL, Hulu, Netflix and You Tube are all vying for that title as well.

“We are trying to push a new kind of news that you are not going to see in traditional media,” said Anna Robertson, a former producer for Diane Sawyer at ABC News who is now head of Yahoo Studios. “This is the most exciting place to be right now. Everything is up for grabs.”

Michael Manas, who oversees Yahoo’s new state-of-the-art production studio on the fringes of Gotham’s garment district, where “Trending Now” and other shows are taped, likens the launch of new online programs to the birth of cable outlets some 30 years ago. “The difference now is that people just don’t realize the audiences these shows attract,” Manas said. “It’s larger than TV in some cases.”

Collectively, Yahoo original online programs drew 23 million unique visitors in March, led by “Primetime in No Time,” its 3-year-old show that is to primetime TV shows what “Trending Now” is to news.

Execs are treating “Trending Now” very much as an experiment, in that it is appointment viewing that has had trouble getting traction online. It appears every day on the site at noon ET.Yahoo! brass are quick to point out that it is not a “content farm,” in which coverage is driven purely by algorithms. Liz Lufkin, a former newspaper editor who is in charge of Yahoo’s front page, said the data is used as a tool but that producers ultimately decide coverage and often override what the algorithms tell them. “Score one for the humans on this,” she said.

Yahoo has not disclosed what it is spending on original video programming, but it appears committed to launching more shows despite continuing distractions at the upper tiers of the company. CEO Carole Bartz continues to face down questions about whether she will keep her job. Yahoo is feuding with its e-commerce partner in China, Alibaba, and just last week Yahoo had to deny what turned out to be an erroneous report that its new exec veep of the Americas, Ross Levinsohn, was bolting to become the head of HBO Sports.

Yet, inside the 7th floor Manhattan studio, Diaz and her team seemed oblivious to tumult back at HQ in Sunnyvale.

“The heart of our show is giving people bit-sized information about what they need to know that day,” said Diaz, who also blogs about those trends. “We give you what you can talk about at the water cooler. … You won’t find that in the New York Times or other traditional media. This kind of news is the future.”