Fascinating. Andrew Sullivan takes his blog in-house at Time.com. I wish him luck. Despite our frequent -- though it seems diminishing -- disagreements, Andrew's has always been one of the few blogs I've read consistently, every day, for years.
When I read this just now over at Andrew's site, I couldn't help thinking about it at least a bit in the context of the changes we're now planning for this site and where we've already been.
As you can see by the flashy little ribbon on the top marquee, Sunday was the fifth anniversary of this website. I started TPM during the Florida recount on November 13th, 2000. At the time, to the best of my knowledge, there were only two political blogs. Actually, only two blogs at all, though I'm pretty sure I'd still never heard the word 'blog' and wouldn't for a good year or so more.
Now, before you reach for the keyboard to send me an email correcting me on my blog history, let me be clear: Blogs had already been around for some time at the end of 2000. There were quite a few of them. And most were about topics other than politics.
My point is simply that I didn't know anything about that at the time. I knew of two blogs: Mickey Kaus's Kausfiles.com and Andrew Sullivan's site. If memory serves, Kaus started around September 1999, give or take. And Andrew started a bit less than a year later. Mickey's site especially -- because I'd been reading it for a year and I knew Mickey personally -- was my model when I started TPM.
Now both of those sites are, or are soon to be, under the wing of a major media corporation. Kaus is part of Slate, which is owned by the Washington Post. Andrew will be part of Time, which is owned by Time-Warner. And tomorrow we're starting a fundraiser to help launch our third blog and fairly ambitious plans for expanded coverage of politics during the election year.
Now, given all the anxieties about media consolidation these days, it may sound like I'm warming to a paean to TPM's continuing independence. But I'm not, at least not in the editorial sense. Knowing both the people and at least one of the media companies, I don't think there's even the slightest chance that either would ever get leaned on by editors at Slate or Time. Or rather, I'm pretty confident that that would never happen, and that if it did, they'd just up and leave and go independent again.
Over the years I've had a handful of these offers to bring TPM under the embrella of another publication. Actually, a while back, Andrew and I had a sort of joint offer, to bring both sites under the umbrella of another operation. Obviously, each time I declined. But in none of those cases was a fear of editorial interference my main reason for saying no.
As you can see, I plan to keep TPM an independent operation. Why? I think some of that is probably a life- or career-cycle thing. Mickey and Andrew were both well-established and highly-respected journalists before they ever got involved with blogging. And though I'd been a working journalist for about three years before I started TPM, that was very far from the case for me. They both had thick stacks of accomplishments already piled up. Another reason is some unquantifiable matter of 'ownership', which is probably a reflection of ambition or ego, perhaps not altogether in flattering ways.
For me, though, I think the big reason is that remaining independent allows me to continue experimenting with the medium itself. The hybrid journalism-activism projects the site did with Social Security or the DeLay Rule or Sinclair are some examples of that -- or, perhaps, three examples of one experiment. Then there's our on-going efforts with TPMCafe (which will be relaunched with myriad improvements in the near future). And now we're launching into a new effort -- part of which will be a new site -- to use the blog medium as a vehicle for sustained and focused reporting and synthesis on what we think is one of the great issues of our day.
In any case, as Andrew says in his message for the evening, let a thousand flowers bloom -- independents, ones housed in big media operations, group blogs, blog syndicates and a lot else. I've been a critic of 'blog triumphalism'. And in a lot of ways I still am. But these are exciting times to be in this field, simply because so many different things are being tried, so many avenues are being explored. Genuinely new things are being created.