And We’re Back

As a small organization we go to a skeleton staff over the two end of year-long weekends. But here we are. It’s the second day of the year. And we are back. I am going to share some thoughts later today on the state of the Russia investigation, which seems to me to be at the end of the beginning. More on that later this morning. What I want to share with you is that this will be a special and transformative year in the life of this organization.

I already mentioned yesterday that I am optimistic about 2018 on the public front. I want to share with you what we plan to do on the TPM front.

Today we’re joined by two new employees.

Zachary Roth, a TPM alum, rejoins TPM as Senior Editor in our New York City office. Zach replaces Catherine Thompson who left late last year for Bustle. We are also joined today by John Light, our first Prime Editor. These are both hires we’re very excited about. But they are more than individual hires. They’re part of a broader plan for this year.

As I’ve noted, Prime – both the membership program and the editorial offerings that come with it – have moved to the center of our operation. We ended last year with just under 24,000 subscribers. We plan to grow that number substantially in 2018. Our chief goal this year on this front is a dramatic expansion of Prime’s editorial offerings, which we’ve been experimenting with through the fall. What we will be publishing isn’t something new and distinct, something in addition to TPM – not more longform articles or writing about new topics. It’s going to be a deeper, more explanatory and ‘break down the fourth wall’ layer of the TPM you already read. I discussed at greater length last month what this will entail. If you’re interested in what the new Prime will offer – and I hope you are – please give it a read.

As I’ve explained in other posts over the course of 2017, the entire digital media business is – like the country at large – in the midst of a crisis. That affects us as much as any publication. Our critical advantage is that we started moving toward a subscription model much earlier than most. That has allowed us not only to be on a solid footing financially but to begin thinking about and exploring how this intensified reader focus – both in editorial and business terms – can allow us to become a better, more distinct, enriching and edifying publication.

To do this we are looking at the entirety of TPM differently. We are not departing in any way from the themes, focuses, practices and obsessions which have long characterized this publication. Our aim is to zero in on what we do best and break new ground and improve on how we do those things. Part of the focus on a subscription model is that we are not slaves to scale. We don’t need to be growing our audience by leaps and bounds every year. Don’t get me wrong. We love new readers. Tell everyone about TPM! But our business model and financial viability don’t depend on having x million uniques or having stories explode all over Facebook.

The first commitment is simply to break more news, a pretty basic aim but a critical one. We have been and are in the process of shaping the structure of our editorial staff – with the benefit of your subscription revenues – to accomplish this aim.

Second, narration – detailed, explanatory elaboration of the scope and progress of the key stories we’re covering, stitching together our own reporting with critical reporting from other outlets to give you a view of the larger picture, its significance, and direction beyond the individual islands of stories and scoops and exclusives.

Third is speed. One of our key attributes as an organization has always been speed, particularly in our early years our ability to cut free from the cumbersome supply lines of conventional journalism allowed us to gain a mobility and speed to bring you key information more quickly. But speed isn’t a goal in itself. Like Grant and Sherman discovered in the Civil War, speed can catalyze upon itself in a way that is transformative in tackling the constant rush of new information coming at us at every moment.

What is critical for us though is that we must recognize that the world hasn’t stood still around us. Our once sclerotic competitors have transformed their methods, sometimes borrowing insights from what we were doing a decade ago (appreciate the congrats). Many of you now use Twitter as their filter for the news of the moment. No shame in that. I do that a lot too. But these changes all leave us needing to rethink how we can accomplish the same goal in a different environment.

For someone trying to chart the future course of a publication, one clarifying tool is to think what you’d want a reader to say about your efforts if you’re successful. If we’re successful in what we’re trying to do this year, sometime this fall I’d like you to be telling a friend something like this: “TPM breaks a lot of news for a small organization. It’s the best place for understanding the big stories in their totality, their progress, what’s coming around the bend. And it’s fast. They live the news and they’re always up to date, not just with the newest stuff but with the clarifying insight. If you’re really into political news, it’s a must-read.”

I hope that will ring true for you this year.

All of the stuff I’ve written above is about process, the kinds of things that we who report the news and run news organizations have to think about. They may be a source of curiosity for you. But really you judge things by how well we inform, what productive role we play in the grander ecosystem of news and especially political news coverage. In that sense, our goal is much simpler, clearer. We remain in the midst of a national crisis, the crisis of the Trump presidency. Surrounding Trump himself are all the national ills and challenges which made his rise possible. But he is the catalyst and actor who drove the country into this moment. We have an indispensable role in covering this moment of country’s history, this moment of crisis and we are rethinking and reshaping everything to ensure we do not fall short.

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