Posted Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010, at 12:45 PM
I'm sad to see that the Washington Independent is closing up shop after three years. I worked there from January 2009 through March 2010, starting up a beat about the conservative movement and the GOP. And because the end of a non-profit news organization (the American Independent News Network of state sites, which operated TWI, will continue) inspires lots of brow-furrowing and analysis about the meaning of that business model, let me just say that the TWI model produced a smart and rewarding publication that didn't pander.
It also struggled to define itself, but I think -- obviously I'm not a businessman -- that it came up with a decent model. The highest-profile examples of non-profit journalism have been investigative reporting hubs like Pro Publica and the Huffington Post Investigative Fund which focused on journalism that really was becoming hard to fund privately -- investigations that would take weeks to produce news, if they produced any news. That's the stuff being lost in the age of web ads and shrinking newspapers; also being lost are state house reporters, who get granular on day-to-day political stories, build sources, and discover information that you can't discover if you're counting on wires and press releases to tell you how your government works.
The TWI model was a combination of investigative reporting on undercovered topics and behind-the-headlines stories on the stuff already being covered by the for-profit political press.
I am proud of what I wrote for the site
, but I viewed my role as clearly and accurately explaining what was going on inside a beat -- the conservative movement -- that did not lack for coverage. I always considered the work of people like Mary Kane, Annie Lowrey, Mike Lillis, Spencer Ackerman, and Daphne Eviatar to be the really important stuff on the site, because they used their time and resources to dig into the economic crisis, the failure of Congress to act, and the fading ambitions of foreign policy and civil liberty reformers. Those sorts of stories never, ever have a surplus of reporters racing to cover them.
This isn't a bad time to be a political reporter. But it should be a better time for economic and foreign policy reporters. I realize I sound like the worst sort of J-school scold* but when you've got a rampaging economic crisis, two wars, and a collapsing environmental policy consensus, it seems almost perverse that it's easier to find coverage of who the winners and losers of the day are, how much trash an anonymous congressman is talking about another congressman, and how a politician's kid is doing on a reality TV show. TWI couldn't make its kind of reporting profitable, but I hope someone can. Whoever can: Hire Andrew Restuccia, Jesse Zwick, and Elise Foley right away.
Oh: And keep reading the TAIN state sites.
*and I am!