With $3 million in venture-capital funding in the bank and 21 full-time reporters on its masthead, Tucker Carlson’s political news site, The Daily Caller, debuts today. Carlson — best known for his years as the co-host of CNN’s Crossfire — is an unabashed conservative, but he’s quick to downplay the site’s political bent, saying that The Daily Caller‘s core focus will be original political reporting.
At a time when Politico and, to a slightly lesser degree, Talking Points Memo, have raced out of the gate, Carlson believes there is still room for another general political news site, citing the decline in the overall ranks of reporters. During a recent interview, Carlson said the site has already exceeded, in the pre-launch period, its ad-sales goals for the first year. He also talked about the state of political discourse online, The Daily Caller‘s profit-sharing model, and whether he would let Jon Stewart contribute a freelance column. Edited excerpts below.
paidContent: What gap is The Daily Caller trying to fill online?
Tucker Carlson: There’s been a net loss of reporters over the past 18 months. Huge numbers of journalists have been laid off. Some of them have migrated online from traditional media but a lot of them haven’t. There are just a lot fewer journalists than there were pretty recently, and that’s bad, so we’re just trying to add a few more to the sum total.
What’s wrong with political coverage these days?
The decline in the number of journalists has coincided with an increase in the number of things government is doing and trying to do. So, whether you like it or not (you can) still acknowledge that (the Obama program) is very ambitious and therefore significant and important and worth knowing about and there are fewer people writing about it. There are entire initiatives or proposed initiatives that don’t get any coverage in the mainstream press. Even those issues that do get coverage are covered in pretty basic ways sometimes.
I don’t like to whine about the press partly because I’ve been in it for my whole life. I’m not a big whiner about media bias or media negligence, but I do think that it could be improved, and so in our small way we’re going to attempt to improve it.
Sounds like you’re more focused on The Daily Caller being a journalistic venture than an online one.
I think there are certain facts about the medium that help define what the coverage is. In other words, stories that work in a weekly news magazine or a monthly opinion journal or a daily newspaper don’t work online because people read differently online than they read in other contexts.
So the pieces are going to be structured differently and to some extent written differently. The tone online can be a little different — more accessible, less formal. I also think the immediacy of it has a huge role in how you assign stories. When you’re sitting down in the morning story meeting and (deciding) what should we cover, there are going to be fewer trend pieces and fewer thumb suckers and probably a lot more of what newspapers call spot news and that’s OK.
I think it’s probably a cousin to television. There are similarities between the ways news moves online and the way news moves on air.
What advertisers do you have on board?
We have five launch sponsors: The Auto Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Company (a power firm), Broadband for America, and the National Mining Association.
Those aren’t consumer-product advertisers. Will that change?
I don’t know. Alex Treadway, who was head of online sales for National Journal and a really sophisiticated guy, is running this for us. We’re covering politics and government in Washington so I know that the assumption is that people who make decisions will be reading our stuff.
The last I heard was that despite its millions of readers, the HuffPost isn’t making money. When do you project your site will be profitable?
We’ve already sold a great deal of advertising actually. We’ve done better on the ad side before we launched than we anticipated doing the entire year. Literally. The advertisers have been much more receptive to this than I even imagined they would be.
So you’re not concerned about whether an online ad-based model can support a reporting staff?
We think it can be done. Our model is very different. It’s never been tried: The profit-share model for reporters. We have a pretty sturdy and relatively sizeable in-house stable of good reporters, but we’re also going to be relying on dozens, scores of freelancers because there are more freelancers now than ever and they’re going to be writing on this profit sharing model where they’re getting paid a significant percentage of the revenue generated by pieces they write as measured by ads served to those pieces. That hasn’t been done. We think it can work.
What kind of stories can we expect? Short opinion pieces?
We’re going to have, I hope, a large and vibrant op-ed section. I think we have 55 pieces in the can already. I hope they’re interesting and not just word loaf. But the center of the site is pretty conventional news reporting. We hired a White House correspondent and he’s going to be in the in-town pool and and we’ve hired people to cover Congress and the executive branch and the agencies and a couple of general assignment people. We’re going to have aggregation too. But you want to add to the sum total of facts, at the end of the day. You want to tell people something they can’t find anywhere else.
In that vein, whom do you consider to be your main competitors?
Competitors? There aren’t enough people doing this. I don’t feel like we’re in competition with anybody. There are all kinds of sites I admire that I think are great, but their existence helps us. It doesn’t hurt us. The fact that Huffington Post is succeeding is great. The fact that Politico in three years has become a powerhouse is great. That’s all evidence that there’s room. The marketplace is hardly saturated. I assume, I certainly hope that after we launch on Monday in the ensuing year there will be all kinds of people entering.
You’re talking about mainstream publications — Politico and mainstream newspapers. But your site has a political bent.
I think every daily newspaper has an editorial page. They all do. In many cases they have news coverage that people believe is slanted in one way or another.
Look. I was the co-host of Crossfire for a long time. It’s not like my political orientation is very mysterious. I’m not for further government intrusion into my life and I feel that way passionately. But that’s not interesting enough to sustain a website. My views on politics aren’t just that compelling in the end. They’re not going to get millions of people coming back to our site every month and that’s what we need in order to succeed. So you need to offer more than that.
What do you think about the current state of political discourse online? How will your site change it?
I think there are sites that kind of elevate bitchiness to its own kind of — I don’t know. I should just back off from that question. I have all kinds of reactions to various sites, but I don’t have any smart, well-formulated views on how we’re going to effect that. I mean that’s just something we’ll have to see once we’re up.
I assume Jon Stewart won’t be doing a freelance column?
I am open to anybody with something interesting to say — up to and including him.