Yahoo!'s Tour of Duty

The company will publish original content from a war correspondent.
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In the decade since

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

began organizing content in the most heavily trafficked Internet portal, the internal rule was to offer no original content. Why pay someone to create something for you when you can partner with another company that has already done it for you?

As a result, the financial data, news, sports, music and videos on the site have been generated outside Yahoo!'s payroll.

Until now.

Yahoo! says it has hired a seasoned war correspondent to file daily news reports to cover "every armed conflict in the world" on a macabre world tour called "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone."

In one way, the move brings Yahoo! closer to resembling the television networks it is increasingly taking on. It's not just distributing content to the masses anymore, but taking an active hand in managing its creation and, in the process, becoming a more direct competitor with many of the content providers with which it has long partnered.

Sites, a journalist who has worked for NBC and CNN, has been running a compelling Web site of his independent reporting, including one of the first blogs, if not the first, to be dispatched directly from a battlefield. Sites' footage of a U.S. Marine fatally shooting an apparently unarmed Iraqi inside a Fallujah mosque created a controversial stir last November.

Carrying a satellite phone, digital cameras and a laptop, Sites will cover under-reported conflicts through audio, video and text dispatches to Yahoo!'s new media headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. The venture is being overseen by Lloyd Braun, a former ABC network executive who has been laying plans for Yahoo!'s expansion into original content, starting with Sites' reporting.

Depending on how Yahoo!'s audience receives new initiatives like the Hot Zone site, the company's content could eventually influence the way mainstream news covers international conflicts as much as, if not more than, blogs are reshaping reporting on politics and technology.

But Yahoo!'s new venture isn't without risk -- not just to reporters entering dangerous areas but to Yahoo! itself. Independent reporting on conflicts has a way of angering governments, the same governments that Yahoo! must work with in becoming a global company.

Last week, a controversy erupted over Yahoo's apparent cooperation in the

indictment of a Chinese journalist now languishing in prison. If Yahoo! is faced with the choice of censoring its reporters or losing out on international opportunities, reporters like Sites may find themselves in conflict with their own employer.