In November, two leading green news websites, Mother Nature Network (MNN) and TreeHugger, announced their intention to merge. Now that the work has begun, TriplePundit caught up with TreeHugger Editor-in-Chief, Meaghan O’Neill and MNN CEO Joel Babbit to find out how things are going and what the future holds.
At first glance, TreeHugger (founded in 2004) and MNN (launched in 2009) seem like an odd couple, with Treehugger’s dark green environmental focus and MNN’s lifestyle slant, but both O’Neill and Babbit say that the two sites complement each other well. Babbit said, “Both sites have very loyal and engaged audiences and very high standards in terms of their editorial content and design. And both have significant fans and followers through social media.”
How did the idea to merge come about? Babbit explained that Discovery Digital president JB Perrette initiated the discussion and both sides warmed to the idea. “Both MNN and TreeHugger are designed for a mainstream audience, as opposed to the technical, academic, and political orientation of most others. In addition, the voice and personality of both sites is upbeat, positive and accessible.”
O’Neill agreed. “There are only so many of us left in this [green] space now. Coming together will really build a strong brand, voice and point of view. Editorially, we have a lot of overlap, and this is a really good opportunity for TreeHugger to be aligned with another native digital media company. Where MNN has more of a lifestyle focus, TreeHugger brings a darker green perspective.”
What is does the future look like? For now, O’Neill says, the sites will remain separate as she works with Emily Murphy, Managing Editor of MNN, on the best way to move forward. Babbit said, “[They] have been working together to develop a plan that maximizes the assets of both sites. We are still working through the process of determining how best to utilize the different pieces.”
As for the new management structure, O’Neill is optimistic about the joint venture that will ultimately be governed by MNN leadership. “The MNN people are smart and savvy. I think we can learn a lot from each other, and this is still a nascent industry, so we are all still figuring things out. I am looking forward to having more development resources and the opportunity to stay nimble and change direction, if needed. As part of a large company, sometimes change could be slow. At TreeHugger, we like to change, and when you are light and fast, as I think we will be, that will happen.”
So it still remains to be seen if the two websites will become one, or continue to move forward as two sites indefinitely. Even now, there is no mention of TreeHugger on MNN’s homepage, and only a small link and copyright notice at the bottom of TreeHugger. How much do the audiences of the two sites overlap? Is there a way to merge that will satisfy both reader personalities? MNN brings with it a unique, but very successful, monetization model of selling year-long sponsorships for each of its categories (its latest sponsor is Walmart), while TreeHugger has deep green news credibility behind it. It will be interesting to see what happens, but it sounds like this odd couple could be a good match.
“At the end of the day,” O’Neill said, “it’s a merging of the minds.”