SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH — For an example of how to deliver a massive amount of information with minimal manpower, look no further than UtahPolicy.com. Founded in 2004, the site is a news aggregator, but it also aggregates politicians’ press releases, pdfs of proposed legislation, and other original materials. All of this is leavened with a dash of original reporting and analysis.
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The for-profit site, run by former Deseret Morning News managing editor and Republican political consultant LaVarr Webb, positions itself as an information clearinghouse for what Webb calls the “political industry.” He describes the political industry as lobbyists, political scientists, politicians, and public servants.
Utah Policy’s aggregation operation is made up of freelance researchers who sift through news articles from business journals, news sites, and local papers like the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, and The Utah Standard-Examiner. Managing editor Bryan Schott selects the best of these articles for aggregation. Moving on down the line, about five links per day become fodder for summarization and commentary by Schott or someone else at the site. Original reporting by Schott, Webb, or contributing editor Bob Bernick is less common, but always thorough and well informed.
The editors leverage manpower by requesting content from their target audience. A “political journal” featured the campaign diaries of two mayoral candidates in West Valley City, while surveys of politicians provide a Playboy Q&A-reminiscent picture of the legislature: (Kraig Powell, of Utah’s District 54, counts “choral singing” among his hobbies and admires “happily married men and women.”) A series of interviews with experts and surveys of politicians provide content for minimal effort. “We just shoot out an e-mail with the questions to five experts from each party, and they fill it out real quick,” Webb says. Orrin Hatch recently answered questions about “Ronald Reagan’s legacy..” Schott often interviews experts or authors of political books.
Beyond political news, data, and commentary, the site also offers political strategy. Webb contributes a series about mounting a campaign and a series about campaign communications. Freelancers pen articles like “Three Keys to Winning Any Local Election.”
For revenue, the site relies on advertisements and two key sponsorships, one from Utah’s Zion Bank and the other from Merit Medical, a medical equipment manufacturing company. “They’ve committed for the relatively long term,” Webb says. “They haven’t requested anything in exchange except for putting their ads up.” The ads help Zion and Merit keep a presence in the political community.
While Webb recently decided to remove Utah Policy’s main paywall, some premium content remains exclusively available to subscribers. Utah Policy also accepts paid advertorials, at $150 each. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce publishes one every Thursday.
Webb says he breaks even with ad dollars and sponsorships. “It probably hasn’t really made a profit, but it’s obviously been good visibility for my business,” he says. “I don’t advertise my political consulting business on the website, but I know it has been good for me.”
Webb worked as a journalist for twenty years, and managing editor Bryan Schott was a longtime radio reporter, most recently as the news/program director at KCPW radio.. Contributing editor Bernick is a former Deseret Morning Newsreporter. Schott wakes at 3:00am every morning to aggregate articles for two newsletters: one for UtahPolicy.com, and another for UtahPulse.com, a business news and resources site also owned by Webb. Schott edits both sites while working a second job in communications for Utah’s senate Democrats, and apparently rarely sleeps. (He recuses himself from reporting on the Senate.)
“It’s an interesting new world to be a part of,” Schott says. “I spent most of my career in radio. Now I’ve taught myself to code, to do video…I’ve turned myself into basically a one-man band.”
While Utah Policy delivers a great deal of journalism, press releases, and raw information, Webb doesn’t consider himself a journalist.
“I don’t want to pursue an image of us as journalists, because we’re not,” he says. “We’re trying to provide a service to the political community or the public policy community. We’re building a service relationship with that community, not the adversarial relationship a journalist would have.”
We won’t quibble with Webb, but that’s spoken like someone who knows a thing or two about journalism.
City: Salt Lake City
Principal Staff: LaVarr Webb, publisher; Bryan Schott, managing editor; Bob Bernick, contributing editor.
Affiliations: FOX 13