First, lemme just say it. The name may not last through the launch period since half the people who hear ‘TPM Singles’ think we’re starting a TPM dating service. That might be awesome or tragic, depending on your view of these things. But that’s not it. So I wanted to explain what we’re doing with this new and TPM’s first experiment in longform journalism.
If you’re a TPM Reader you know that our core product is iterative journalism, rapid-fire pieces covering stories as they develop in real time. We do our share of more structured set-pieces. But the core of what we do is cover a story in all its dimensions, in real time, letting the format suit whatever individual fact or bundle of facts we need to put in front of readers. That’s great. It’s the core of what we do. But we have an immense amount of knowledge and perspective built up in the organization and with our reporters that doesn’t get put together into the big picture. Some things you can still do only in long form. Telling the story in narrative form or issuing the definitive report.
So for instance (and I want to emphasize these topics are all hypothetical), TPM has been working the voter suppression story for a decade. We first got seriously engaged in it in the 2002 Senate election in South Dakota. And it’s been a core story for us ever since. After the 2010 election, states across the country, with Republican governments passed various kinds of voter ID and voter restriction laws. That story has been playing out across the country over the last two years — in legal fights now coming to fruition in court rulings as recently as today, with spending on both sides, advocacy campaigns, efforts to stop people from voting and spirited efforts to protect the right to vote. And of course the endless litany of bogus voter fraud allegations.
In a few weeks, we’ll have all the information together. Just how did it come out? What did the courts do? Who were the most important players on each side? What can we figure out about how many people were actually barred from voting? Did it affect particular races? I’d like to read that report. More to the point, I’d like TPM to publish it. I don’t know precisely how long it would be. Somewhere between 5k and 15k words. (We plan to do about a half-dozen a year.) With good narrative description, charts, data, links to court rulings. You’d download it to your Kindle or other eReader. Had we been doing this during the Health Care Reform fight, there are a few different singles that I would have been interested in TPM putting together. And of course, there’s our historical bread and butter here at TPM: old-fashioned investigative journalism.
This is one of the big reasons we’re doing Prime. We’d love to publish those pieces. And we know there are a lot of our core readers who’d love to read them. But the economics of our company is based on reports that get lots of readers. If we spend a month or two producing a 10k or 15k word mini-book and we put it up on TPM and a few thousand people read it, that’s a big problem for us. So Prime is about setting up a business model within our larger business model that allows us to do something like TPM Singles. We don’t want to not do those pieces just because they probably can’t generate the mass audience that will pay for them with display advertising.
If you’d like to be part of this experiment, please join us today with a membership in TPMPrime. Click here to find out what else you get with a TPMPrime membership. And please email me with your ideas, thoughts, criticisms and (I’m particularly interested to hear this) what topics you think we should take on with our first TPM Singles.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.