AUSTIN, TEXAS — Harvey Kronberg and his team at the Quorum Report are true Internet news frontiersmen. Kronberg, who has been covering Texas politics since 1989, purchased The Quorum Report, then a print-only political newsletter, in 1998, and within a year had turned the Report into an all-web news operation. Although he admits that he had to be convinced to go to the web (“Back in ’98, the only people who had Internet connections were teenagers,” he says. “My clientele was going to have to borrow their AOL account from their kid.”), it’s safe to say he’s glad he didn’t go the route of a fax newsletter. Within months after launching online, the site was pulling in 3,000 hits a day. In 1998.
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Readers had no other choice. If they were reading online and wanted to know anything about the world of Texas state politics, they had to visit the site. “We were the only Texas political news voice online,” Kronberg says. “It wasn’t until 2000 that we started to get competition, but by then we were so far ahead.”
The site operates behind a limited paywall. Much of the content is given away for free, with the idea that a “civilian reader” could glean enough to be informed on whatever issue is at hand, but Kronberg keeps the good stuff for subscribers, in order to get political junkies to subscribe. “We’re not a general publication. When we write, we presume the reader has a general idea of the issue,” he says.
With a single online subscription coming in at $325 a year and licenses for additional computers costing $84 each, Kronberg says business has been good. He claims growth every year since going online, ending with a plateau this year that he attributes to reaching the saturation point for his audience. The staff, which began with just Kronberg, now includes four reporters, one office manager, and one clerk. They’ve also recently launched a sister site, The Texas Energy Report, focused on Texas’s energy industry.
The Quorum Report relies heavily on e-mail to reach its audience. Subscribers are blasted with headlines throughout the day, linking them back to news pieces posted on the site in real time. The site has also adopted Twitter and Facebook as a means of distributing their headlines. Kronberg claims to have accelerated the entire Texas political process: everything now moves at the speed of life. “In the last legislative session, we’d send out an e-mail blast. Then, we’d watch [legislators’] phones light up as hometowns got the news,” he says.
The content on the site is a mix of aggregation, commentary, and insider news. When the legislature is in session, Kronberg likens the site’s coverage to a series of episodes, in which information might become outdated in a matter of hours. The previous tidbit seamlessly leads into the next as a story develops. The average story during session is 200-300 words, maybe expanding to 600 when things are a bit slower and there is time for analysis. The site’s most essential features are News Clips, an aggregation of the top forty or so news stories the site deems necessary to know if you’re politically active and sends to its readers in order to “frame the day.”
The crowd favorite is “The Daily Buzz,” the site’s trademark feature available only to subscribers, which is a constantly updating section that houses the most provocative information of the day. It’s here where headlines on debate, bill blocking, and every minute piece of news from Austin entice readers to fork over the dough and jump behind the paywall and into the world of Texas state politics.
Although there is regular commentary on the site, it is billed as a bipartisan publication. The Quorum Report isn’t aiming to push an agenda, merely to keep politicians on their toes and keep the political junkies satisfied.
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