HAMILTON, OHIO — Like many political news sites, Plunderbund was born out of frustration. Ohio-based writer Eric Vessels had been disengaged from politics for years, but when President Bush was reelected in 2004, his apathy transformed into anger. “I realized I hadn’t been an active part of doing anything to make the country go in the direction I wanted it to,” says Vessels. “I couldn’t sit back and complain about it without participating in the process.”
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Vessels, who describes himself as an “entrepreneur involved in online media,” says the idea to start his own personal blog came from one of those dictionary word-of-the-day e-mails. One entry, plunderbund, which means “a corrupt alliance of political, commercial, and financial interests engaged in exploiting the public,” intrigued Vessels. He checked an Internet domain name registry for Plunderbund.com, saw that it was open for the taking, and bought it.
For the first couple of years, Plunderbund was a venue for his political venting, from a “stream of consciousness” post on the 2006 State of the Union address to his dashed dreams for US congressional candidate Paul Hackett. Vessels would also mix in personal stories and thoughts on the Ohio blogger scene, with some Photoshop editorials sprinkled in between. In 2006, two fellow Ohio bloggers, Brian Guilfoos and Joseph Mismas, agreed to combine their writing efforts onto the Plunderbund site. The trio kept Vessels’s unofficial approach alive for two years, with a similar mix of content that ranged from political pontification to commentary on absurdities of American culture.
That style of post continued until the site brought on a few more writers in 2009. At that point, Vessels and the others decided it was time to take Plunderbund in a new, journalistically inspired direction, while maintaining their casual, mocking tone. They kept the site’s simple layout, and with the additional writers started posting new content between two and five times a day. The writers at Plunderbund often make creative use of Photoshop on the stories that scroll across their homepage, regularly featuring Ohio Republicans, such as a recent one with Governor Kasich mid-scream. “We started to place a higher level of attention on maintaining a level of credibility, but we still want to be funny and sarcastic,” says Vessels. “We agreed there’s an opportunity here to be the go-to site, to report and dig, and do what a lot of the newspapers are not doing.”
Since making that commitment, the Plunderbund crew has created quite a buzz for themselves in Ohio, conducting interviews, breaking stories, and being a general pain for politicians, conservative ones in particular. Just this past summer, Plunderbund was first to report on a possible domestic violence situation at the home of Ohio State Senator Kris Jordan. Their coverage included the audio and written transcript of a disturbing 911 call made by his wife, Melissa Jordan, and a video from the cops’ dashboard camera that shows Senator Jordan explaining to responding officers that “She got a little upset…girls do that.”
After Republican John Kasich was elected to the Ohio governorship in 2010, Plunderbund broke the story that Kasich, a fiscal conservative, planned to pay members of his staff much larger salaries than former governor Ted Strickland had. As Plunderbund has done with a number of stories on their site, they published the primary source behind the story: a public records document from the Office of Budget and Management that listed the proposed new salaries. After the story ran, a few newspapers picked it up and credited Plunderbund for breaking the story. The scoop even led to a post on the Ohio blog Clips and Comments, the headline of which declared, “Ohio’s Newspapers Got Pantsed by Plunderbund.”
Governor Kasich has provided a steady source of outrage for the writers at Plunderbund, and with his passage of the SB 5 Law–a bill that hampers collective bargaining for public workers–the site’s traffic climbed. “John Kasich has been the best thing for our site,” says Vessels. Kasich’s bill has united Ohioans around their feelings of dissatisfaction with the state government, and also around Plunderbund, which has an active comment community and loyal readers who make Plunderbund the place they go for Ohio political commentary and news.
Plunderbund is an all volunteer-run operation, and they’ve recently brought some more guest bloggers on board, including, most recently, an Ohio teacher who has been writing about the impact that recent legislation has had on education issues. The goal is to eventually have one person who could make a living by working for the site, but it doesn’t pull in enough revenue for that yet. For now, the ad money they get–mostly from political advocacy groups–goes to enhancing Plunderbund’s visibility. They make T-shirts, which they sell and give away at events. They have held a contest and sponsored two scholarships for readers to attend Camp Wellstone, a grassroots political action training event, where they also sponsored a happy hour. They are also part of the BlogAd network, and were recently named as one of the best political blogs in Ohio by “The Fix” blog on The Washington Post‘s website, which acknowledged Plunderbund as the most recommended blog in the state. Vessels says that site traffic has climbed every month, with just over 100,000 unique visitors in August.
While they report with accuracy, they write from a politically liberal point of view. “We don’t purport to be an objective, fair and balanced site by any means,” says Vessels. “Our agenda is to promote progressive politics, and we don’t hide that.” Vessels says this bias has played a role in their ability to secure sources and scoops. “If there’s dirt on a conservative, people know if they give it to us, we’re going to use it to maximum effect,” says Vessels.
He expects the 2012 election to be another boon for Plunderbund, and plans to continue pushing the site towards original reporting, while retaining their bloggy style and attitude. “I’ve made a concerted effort to refer to us as a political site, a source for news, and try to de-emphasize the blogging nature of it,” says Vessels, but adds that their strength is in the combination of the blog ethic with a journalistic one. “I think the combination of those two in political coverage can be very powerful.”