WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — “My politics are relatively well known,” conservative media personality Tucker Carlson told CJR in February of 2010, not long after he and former Dick Cheney aide Neil Patel launched political news site The Daily Caller. “But this site is not a pure distillation of my politics. My views are not interesting enough to sustain the company we’re building.”
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Since that time, the Caller’s editor-in-chief has made good on his claim, and has done so largely by building a site devoted to original reporting and content. Though the Caller takes a broadly (not to be confused with mildly) conservative view in the selection and framing of its stories, it’s at bottom a fairly straightforward news provider aimed at a vast swath of the electorate. Although Carlson’s site puts a bit too much effort into write-ups of the happenings on cable news, the Caller deserves credit for publishing as high a percentage of original Washington reportage as anywhere on the web.
“We’re a startup news company and our theory from the start has been that more than any other single factor we will succeed or fail based on our editorial content,” says Patel, the site’s publisher. Though Patel admits to journalism being an odd fit for him in some ways (“I think I’m the only guy in the White House who didn’t leak,” he jokes) the lawyer and former political operative sounds like any veteran reporter when he says: “The premise of [the Caller] is that the country needs news.” To that end, the Caller’s staffing and spending are both heavily weighted toward content production. (Only five of the Caller’s thirty-six total employees are non-editorial staffers.)
A Guardian piece on the Caller’s launch called it “the conservative answer to the Huffington Post,” but it’s hard to see the comparison. The Caller cuts against the grain of Internet thinking by devoting its own reporters to the kinds of short, breaking news stories that could easily be clipped off the wires, and also spends a fair amount of time on mid-length political analysis pieces that other sites would probably cram into a blog posting. And although the publication certainly does have a sense of humor, and employs Matt Labash to write an advice column to that end, a sense of decorum pervades throughout. Even the Caller’s attempts at grabbing a few extra eyeballs are well within the bounds of decency, as evidenced by this Bond girl slideshow, which most people would feel fairly comfortable scrolling through with their grandmother in the room.
Carlson and Patel roughed out the vision for what would eventually become the Caller in 2009, put together a business plan, and began shopping the idea around to venture capital firms. One firm showed interest and the two were close to taking the deal, but then Foster Freiss, a major GOP donor, offered to match the VC firm’s offer—$3 million dollars—with no oversight provisions. Though the site continues to draw down on that cash for operating expenses, Patel has made progress on strengthening the site’s revenue streams. He hired Alex Treadway, who built the online ad sales team at National Journal, to head up a similar effort for the Caller, and the site continues to make headway with direct ad sales, particularly in the issue advocacy market.
That hefty dose of initial funding has allowed the Caller to grow very quickly, but like any young venture, it will be a while longer before the Caller hits its stride. The reporting operation is well on its way, but the publication sometimes struggles for the personality and splash offered by outlets such as TPM or Drudge, which evolved over long periods of time under the tight control of a single visionary. Ultimately, though, the Caller’s heart is in the right place. If you support original journalism, make sure to pick up a thong or pique polo at the Daily Caller store to help them on their way.
The Daily Caller Data
Name: The Daily Caller
City: Washington, D.C.
Revenue Sources, other: Direct ad sales, primarily in the issue advocacy market, and various ad networks.
Principal Staff: Tucker Carlson, editor-in-chief; Neil Patel, publisher and CEO; Megan Mulligan, executive editor.
Affiliations: Content syndicated to Yahoo! News; private investment of $3 million from Foster Friess.
CMS: Custom Wordpress
CJR on The Daily Caller:
03/02/10: Carlson Calling - Tucker Carlson talks about his new online enterprise - Greg Marx