MSNBC to acquire a chattier news site

Newsvine, which encourages users to write articles and comment on other articles, shows the increasing importance of community features on news Web sites.

Newsvine looks nothing like the usual news Web site.

On a given day, the site can hold dozens of user comments about a British newspaper analysis of trans-Atlantic relations; a first-person essay by an American soldier titled "What My Life in Iraq Is Like" and a link to a new music video by Avril Lavigne.

As a social news source, Newsvine directly reflects the interests of its audience by encouraging users to write articles, comment on other articles and post links to relevant sites. And now it is getting a corporate parent: MSNBC Interactive News is expected to announce its acquisition of the company Monday, in a move that accentuates the increasing importance of community features on news Web sites.

The deal represents the first acquisition in the 11-year history of MSNBC.com and one of the first times that a leading news Web site has purchased a social news source. The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Newsvine, which is based in Seattle, has received financial backing from Second Avenue Partners.

Charles Tillinghast, the president of MSNBC Interactive News, a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft, said the company intended to keep the Newsvine brand and Web site separate, though some features will be incorporated into MSNBC.com.

"It brings a great community component to our business," Tillinghast said.

Newsvine attracts about 1 million unique users a month while MSNBC.com averages 29 million in the same time frame. But Newsvine does something MSNBC.com does not: it emphasizes user-generated content and creates an annotated version of the news.

Building on the success of social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, many news Web sites are trying to add community features. Last April, Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy bought a controlling stake in the citizen journalism site Topix.

The acquisition of Newsvine will improve MSNBC.com?s positioning among its chief rivals, Yahoo News, AOL News and CNN. Of the three, AOL allows comments on every article, and CNN actively promotes its citizen journalism initiative.

Mike Davidson, the chief executive of Newsvine, who co-founded the site in March 2006, calls the site a social ecosystem built around the news.

"We set out to create an environment where big and little media could live in one place and make each other better," Davidson said.

Now, in being purchased by big media, the six employees of Newsvine will have access to MSNBC.com's technology expertise, data servers and sales teams. They will also have ties to the news division of NBC--which potentially raises some journalistic questions for Newsvine?s new corporate siblings. When shots were fired at Virginia Tech in April, a Newsvine user whose wife works on the campus posted a news report 22 minutes before The Associated Press, Davidson said.

Would MSNBC.com publish the user's report? Tillinghast said it would have to be verified first.

"But we would never say, 'We're not going to put that up because it came through Newsvine.' In fact, just the opposite," Tillinghast said. "We see Newsvine as an excellent source of stories for MSNBC.com."

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