DES MOINES, IOWA — While serving as political director of the Republican Party of Iowa in 2007, Craig Robinson had one of those out-there, against-the-grain ideas that rarely survive the journey from imagination to reality. Republicans, he recalls, were having big problems in terms of media coverage. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have people in our state doing good stuff, it just wasn’t being reported on,” says Robinson. His radical idea: to overhaul the party’s communications department. Instead of pushing out press releases, the department would itself become a crack news team, reporting on what Republicans were doing with Iowa.
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When the idea stalled within the party, Robinson decided to break out and start his website on his own. And thus, since his first post on March 4, 2009, The Iowa Republican has been providing Iowans with what he calls “News for Republicans, by Republicans, that’s independent and not affiliated with the party.”
Oddly, for a staunch conservative–Iowa-native Robinson worked for Steve Forbes’s 2000 campaign, and was in charge of organizing the GOP’s Iowa straw poll in 2007 and the Republican caucuses in 2008–Robinson says he aped his original business model from The Huffington Post. He did all of the original reporting himself in the site’s early days, and reached out to other well-known Iowan Republican bloggers for more extra (uncompensated) content. All revenue came, and still comes, through display advertising, which Robinson sells himself. Today, there are still some blogs on the site, but more of the content is provided by (uncompensated) columnists across the state. And he’s brought in a contract reporter, Kevin Hall, the only other paid employee at The Iowa Republican.
Robinson says he has quickly established a “decent relationship” with Iowa’s legacy media, like The Des Moines Register, “even though some of our earlier rhetoric was hostile toward them.” The respect might something to do with the fact that his focus is mostly inward. Robinson says his mission is to report state Republican news, not news about Democrats in a Republican style. “We’re not a Republican cheerleading site,” he insists. “I don’t wake up in the morning and start bashing away at Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)–I can’t remember the last time I wrote about Senator Harkin. We’re really reporting what’s going on in Republican politics in the state.” To that end, the Register‘s former political editor and current political columnist Kathie Obradovich says, “The Iowa Republican is useful as a window into internal party politics.”
Robinson was one of the first reporters in the state to report on a struggle in the Human Resources Committee over a pro-life bill in early 2009–“All of the Republicans on the Committee are pro-life, but there were two who said the bill was not pro-life enough, so it was stuck.” The site features plenty of 2012 coverage–unavoidable in the caucus state, but he doesn’t let it get in the way of more important subjects like redistricting–and Robinson likes to dig deep on local issues. He provided some solid explainers on the Judicial Retention election in 2010 that saw three state Supreme Court Judges booted in retaliation for their votes for same-sex marriage. “My site took the position of, ‘Hey, you can boot judges for whatever reason you want. But what good is booting judges if a liberal nominating committee is just going to replace them with three more bad actors.” Robinson may not bash Democrats, but Iowa Republican probably won’t be to Democratic tastes, either.
Robinson’s reporting on the Republican Party’s internal battles has cost him some friends–“I have a responsibility to report, not necessarily to get along”–but it also means he is one of the most well sourced reporters on his beat. He knows the players on whom he is reporting. “If you’re writing a financial advice column, who’s going to write it better: a reporter–a person who is trained at English, and writing, and all of that–or a financial planner? I think I would want to read the financial planner’s work, not the English major’s.”
Soon, the site that began with The Huffington Post in mind will transform into something more like Politico, albeit on a much smaller scale. The WordPress-hosted site is undergoing a redesign that will include more aggregation, and a better way to host videos and more photographs, and in March, Robinson will publish the first edition of The Iowa Republican print magazine. There will be four editions each year, plus two special editions. A subscription will cost about $25, Robinson says.
Like the website, the magazine will be frank about its political point of view, says Robinson. “This is the lens through which I give my views, opinions, and even straight-up reporting on just what’s going on. For me, if you’re reading something on Iowa Republican, it’s only appropriate that you know that.”
The Iowa Republican Data
Name: The Iowa Republican
City: Des Moines