I noticed two common themes in Josh Marshall’s lecture “The Growth of Talking Points Memo and the Importance of Independent Media,” and John Tozzi’s article for Business Week titled “Bloggers Bring in the Big Bucks.” The first universal theme is the proliferation of advertisers flocking to independent media sites. John Marshall connected with Henry Copeland, the owner of the company “BlogAds,” and soon Marshall’s income was mostly generated by the advertisements. The money from the ads allowed Marshall to expand TPM and hire full time reporters to accumulate and sift through more news. Marshall made a very interesting point during his speech. In regards to the nonprofit magazine he worked for before TPM, Marshall said, “the fact that our continued existence was not based on size or interest level of our readership allowed us to be cut off and not particularly in touch with what our readership had a fine interest in. I think that was not just bad in business terms, but much more importantly, bad in journalistic terms.” This is very interesting, because one usually associates advertisements with distorting objectivity since advertisers tend to push for certain stories to either be emphasized or ignored. Therefore, including advertisements would be bad journalism. But Marshall seems to say that if used correctly, advertisements can help journalists discover what readers are interested in and how to obtain their attention. Once their attention is grasped, independent journalists can start making a difference by opening people’s minds to new ideas or sources of information.
The blog, “I Can Has Cheezburger”also attracts big advertisers. “The cheapest ad costs $500 for a week. The most expensive goes for nearly $4,000.” This is mind-blowing to me! I know that silly humorous sites are very popular nowadays, but I never deemed them credible enough to attract huge advertisers. However, I think this solidifies Marshall’s previous point that advertisements do not necessarily strive to change content. They will go to the sites that attract the most viewers, and website hosts need to be strong enough to avoid content manipulation.
The second similarity I found between the two articles is the art of forming a collaborative community. Talking Points Memo depends on their readers for money and verifiable information. Tons of readers donated money to help Marshall develop TPM and hire some staff members. Readers also helped ultimately break the story about the firing of 8 U.S. attorneys. Marshall said, “we had our readers who sent in – the firings were public, most of them, they were just reported locally. So it wasn’t in one place. The particular advantage that our readers gave us was a really big deal.”
“I Can Has Cheezburger” built up a huge following. Now, readers create their own posts and the site essentially relies on “fans to submit pictures, write funny captions, and send them in.” It is a community run website.
TPM and “I Can Has Cheezburger” both started out as sites that did not intend to make a huge profit. However, it just goes to show you that if you can create something the people really want to see flourish then the advertisers will come to you. The advertisers do not own the independent media outlets, they simply help maximize their profits in order to continue doing good work.