There Are No More Indispensable Political News or Opinion Sources
“The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” — Elbert Hubbard
The American Prospect may be about to go belly-up.
Media stories have started to appear saying that The American Prospect is facing a major financial challenge and may be forced to fold. The stories are true. The next four weeks will determine whether the Prospect will be able to build on its 22-year legacy of influence or whether it must retrench or even close. Between now and May 31, the Prospect must raise $500,000 and have $700,000 of additional support pledged for the new fiscal year that starts in July. If we do not find those commitments, the Prospect as we’ve known it will cease. This is real. And the stakes are high.
…As we entered the current fiscal year, The American Prospect and its sister organization, Demos, took a calculated risk. We increased the Prospect’s budget to expand our reporting, improve the web site, build our reach through social media, and better exploit new digital channels. Though the Prospect has never had an “angel” backer or a funding board to backstop financial shortfalls, we took that risk because the times were demanding it, because the staff of the Prospect needed the tools to really make it shine, and because we believed that we could find new support to pay for those improvements.
In many important ways that risk has paid off. More Americans are seeing the Prospect’s work than ever before.
If you spent a lot of extra money and more people are seeing your work than ever before, but you’re so broke you’re about to go belly-up, your risk failed to pay off in the only way that really matters.
Getting beyond that, my first thought after hearing The American Prospect may go belly-up was, “So what?” Of course, you may think, “You’re a conservative! Of course, you’d say that.” The thing is, if I were picking the 10 most important liberal publications, the 10 best, or the 10 I wish we had on the right, the American Prospect wouldn’t be on that list.
That got me thinking and I realized something important; There really are no more indispensible publications. Let’s say 30 years ago, that wouldn’t have been true because there were a lot less outlets. Now, there’s such a deluge of content, much of it covered in multiple places, that no one can process all of it.
That’s not to say every outlet is interchangable. There are some that are better, faster, and more important than others.
On the right, if I were to pick the closest thing to “indispensable” sources, it would be Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report. Both of them have gotten ENORMOUS by being extremely talented, working hard, and paying their dues. Moreover, both Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh deserve their success.
However, they’ve both been so successful that they’ve spawned an enormous number of imitators. Sean Hannity is almost as big as Rush and after him, you still have Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Neal Boorz and Laura Ingraham ALL with audiences over 6 million listeners per week. It would be too bad if Rush left the air, but most of his listeners would move over to other shows and life would go on.
Drudge is even more replaceable. There are probably 1000 people who could put out a product just as good as the one Drudge does. That’s not an insult to Drudge; it’s just that the skills that made him successful are not in short supply. He’s just the guy who had his hard work pay off because his timing was good.
Some people might point to Fox News, which fills a unique niche on television, but it has so consistently proven its success that if it disappeared tomorrow, one of the networks would become conservative themed or someone would just create a network to do it. It’s the Jackie Robinson of Cable News. Before Fox, people could give all sorts of excuses for why a conservative network wouldn’t work out, but after it showed what it could do, we’re never going back to all liberal networks on TV again.
A few people could also point to National Review, but that’s based more on its legacy than the current reality. NR is still very prestigious and it churns out quality work, but you can read most of its authors elsewhere and Townhall puts out a better day-in-day-out product.
From what I’ve seen, the Left has even fewer centrally important news sources because there is more competition and it relies on newspapers to do a lot of its heavy lifting. So then the question becomes…. is the Washington Post or New York Times so important that there would be a major gap if either paper went under? The sad truth for both of those papers is that they’re not even indispensible in their own cities, much less across the United States.
For better or worse, the gatekeepers are dead and we’ve moved into an age where the biggest problem isn’t scarcity of news, it’s trying to sort through the flood of information to find what’s really important.