The Era of The RFE Publication


Last year, Tyler the Creator changes the way I looked at my job.

It was then, by all accounts, his group Odd Future spent the day running around the Buzzfeed offices “terrorizing” the group of writers and editors plugging away on everyone’s favorite content machine. He ran around in a Batman mask and fired a nerf gun goading the workers to have some fun. He elaborated later on Huffington Post Live:

“I guess some of the people who work in the office [were like], ‘I’m above this, oh my god, we’re working, we have strong opinions,’”

Tyler said. “We just came in there trying to bring in so much yellow freaking filling to their gray, boring [lives].”

[Earl Sweatshirt chimed in, quoting the Buzzfeed workers,] “I’m above this, I make lists!”

While Mr. The Creator was was making fun of Buzzfeed, he was really mocking anyone who spends their days writing things on the computer all day. Everyday, hundreds of people at Buzzfeed and elsewhere sit down to write compelling content on something current, attempting to build readership.

We write write write and then the next day we wake up and start from scratch, scratching and clawing for that day’s social media attention.

To anyone observing this behavior…it looks boring.
To those practicing this behavior…it often is boring.

There are tens of thousands of people doing this, and their paths cross often. This is how we end up with a John Oliver sweepstakes each Monday. Or how we can all guess with unsettling accuracy the hot takes any given issue will create.

As Odd Future deftly pointed out, this is pretty damn boring. But more importantly, it’s not strategically sound. All of our content providers are starting to blend together.

As a result, smarter publications are running away from the scrum. Instead, I predict we are doing to see a rise in what I’ve been calling “Resource-Focused Editorial.” That’s a mouthful so lets just settle on RFE.

WTF is Resource-Focused Editorial?

Sites that practice RFE seek to build something enduring, where each day’s work builds on the previous. This, of course, has benefits concerning traffic (as RFE slowly builds traffic rather than normal timely content that spikes and withers away).

This, of course, has benefits concerning traffic (as RFE slowly builds traffic rather than normal timely content that spikes and withers away).

Sites that practice RFE follow four rules:

  1. Unapologetically serve a specific community. If your community is specific, so is your content. This decreases the risk you start to “blend together” with other publications.
  2. Content must be useful and must improve the life of the reader. Typically this is through providing actionable next steps.
  3. Content is “evergreen” and lasts longer than a news cycle.

RFE sites operate like they are writing chapters of a never ending book. The gold standard for this way of operating is The Wirecutter (and its sister site The Sweethome).

Let’s apply the four RFE rules here for the Wirecutter:

  1. Unapologetically serve a specific community.
    Browse around the site for a few moments and the Wirecutter’s audience is clear: tech heads, those that care about their wares and want the best stuff for their budget.
  2. Content must be useful.
    The Wirecutter provides readers with the best gear providing often exhaustive reasoning and explanation as to why it chose its specific recommendations. Now, whenever their readers need a new electronic, they can check The Wirecutter and make an educated choice.
  3. Content lasts longer than a news cycle.
    The Wirecutter limits its covered product verticals. New products aren’t released everyday, thus allowing its reviews to stay “current” for months or years.
  4. Content is continually updated, not replaced.
    When a new product comes out the Wirecutter will hastily update its review (check its headphones article for an example).

Rafat Ali, founder of paidContent and Skift, wrote on his personal blog what he thought was the “ultimate metric” for media.

“What would happen day two and beyond, if you suddenly go away tomorrow?

All of this hides an ugly unspoken truth about media in general: that it is disposable, in so many ways. The key is to move towards making yourself non-disposable, by adding enough value.”

All of this hides an ugly unspoken truth about media in general: that it is disposable, in so many ways. The key is to move towards making yourself non-disposable, by adding enough value.

RFE sites aren’t just more fun for the site’s creators, they are much more useful for their audiences. They add long-lasting value rather than being disposable also-rans. Like any good business, RFEs solve a problem. No reader will remember the site where they watched the latest John Oliver video, but they will remember the site that helped them solve problems.