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Oct. 5, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
Business Models

Crooked Media expands from podcasts to text, with a new site and plans for investigative reporting

“We would find that more established media companies would notice the interesting stuff that happened in our podcasts and turn those moments into articles or news-breaking blog posts on their own sites. We’ll now be our own home for that.”

Crooked Media, the progressive political podcast network run by former Obama administration staffers whose flagship show Pod Save America has been downloaded more than 100 million times since January, is branching out into text. On Wednesday, the L.A.-based company announced the launch of Crooked.com, a website whose editor-in-chief is Brian Beutler, formerly a senior editor at The New Republic, where he also hosted the podcast Primary Concerns.

Crooked.com aims to be a “staging ground for an honest and productive debate about what American liberalism is and how the Democratic Party should represent it,” Beutler wrote in an editor’s note. Politics aside, Crooked Media views its “pivot to text” as a way to better use the content trapped in its podcasts. On tap: A newsletter, more editorial hires, and even investigative reporting. (Crooked Media also announced on Wednesday a new, longer interview podcast, Crooked Conversations, and a new contributors network.)

I talked with Beutler about his plans for Crooked.com and why a podcast company needs a text component too. Our conversation, edited slightly for length and clarity, is below.

Laura Hazard Owen: How’d this start coming together? How are you thinking about your role?

Brian Beutler: It started as a conversation between me and [Crooked Media founder and President Obama speechwriter] Jon Favreau. From the early days of Crooked Media, he wanted to, at some point, build out a written component of the company, and said he would be in touch with when they were ready to do that. That conversation turned into the job.

We talked about how to build out a website that’s based on text. There are many models out there, as you probably know. Some companies take on a lot of investment, expand very quickly, and churn out a lot of content rapidly. We decided on a slower-bore approach. The site is ad-supported. We will have a newsletter, we will have articles on a daily basis, we will draw on the contributions of a network of people. It’s a bit more deliberate in terms of pacing and growth, but that allows us to draw on people who have a wide range of experience in public and political life, and to showcase voices that you normally wouldn’t see consolidated into one political media company.

Owen: Will Crooked.com’s content compete with content from sites like, say, FiveThirtyEight, and the column you wrote for The New Republic?

Beutler: There’s gonna be a lot of argumentative opinion writing. I’m basically porting my column to Crooked.com. If you look at the writing that a lot of the contributors have done publicly, we’re gonna give them a home for that kind of writing at Crooked.com.

We want to be a home for bigger features as we grow. We want to become a home for reporting as we grow. In the immediate term, though, the site will be a more populated version of what it looks like now, with my writing, with Jon [Favreau], Jon [Lovett], and Tommy [Vietor]’s writing, with the contributors writing on regular rotating basis.

Before we had this website, we had these podcasts that had all these interesting conversations happening. Like 43 minutes into a podcast, one of the people being interviewed would said something fascinating or newsworthy, and that valuable moment tended to just escape into the ether. Or we could maybe harness it and post it to social media. Often, though, we would find that more established media companies would notice the interesting stuff that happened in our podcasts and turn those moments into articles or news-breaking blog posts on their own sites. We’ll now be our own home for that.

All of our platforms will overlap with each other, and that will help us to A) populate the website, and B) make sure that the stuff we’re doing elsewhere across the company gets amplified in the way it deserves to be — and that it’s all in-house.

Owen: Looking across the whole web of political coverage out there, what are you looking to do differently?

Beutler: If you look back at my career, I’ve always been at companies that have some kind of ideological valance, and have always been at left-of-center outlets — Talking Points Memo, Salon, The New Republic. Crooked Media is of a piece with that, but it’s doing something newer and interesting and smart and personality-based at the same time.

A lot of ideological media companies represent a certain segment of opinion on their own political side — whether that’s The Nation, Mother Jones, or The American Prospect on the left, or conservative magazines and media companies on the right. They have their niche within their ideological framework. My hope is that Crooked.com will be a place for representing the whole swath of left-of-center or liberal ideas and arguments, and will put them into conversation and argument with each other, so that the whole mess can be represented on the site, rather than just one kind of channel within it.

There’s a wide range of opinion on proper policies, the right way to organize society is, how the Democratic Party should conduct itself in elections, etc. We doon’t want to exclude any reasonable perspective on those issues from the site. I don’t mean to suggest that any of the other outlets I mentioned specifically exclude certain ideas, but they tend to represent a more narrow band of opinion within liberalism or within left-of-center politics, and I would like to have a more expansive roster of writers and arguments on the site.

Owen: What will your publishing volume be?

Beutler: TBD. Because we are small in staff size, it’s gonna be a light load at first. I’ll be writing, the guys will be writing, we’re trying to get these contributors onto a regular schedule of writing. I’ll be editing all of it. We’re trying to put together a newsletter, and also trying to instill within the company the idea that the interviews we conduct — the content we produce — is our work and that we should harness it in every possible way to make sure it reaches as large an audience as possible. I don’t know how many times we’re gonna hit publish in a day, but we’ll grow.

Owen: What’s your plan for the newsletter?

Beutler: It’s a work in progress, so I probably shouldn’t say too much about it yet.

Owen: Okay, and how are you thinking about investigative reporting?

Beutler: That’s a conversation for the future, but I’m fortunate to have a background in shoe-leather reporting, and I’ve been part of investigations, part of beat reporting. I feel like I’m equipped with the professional background to be able to help us move in that direction when we’re ready. I don’t have a timeline for it, but it’s something I know that the guys are interested in doing, that I’m interested in doing, so it’s a fair guess to say that it’ll happen, hopefully, in the not-too-distant future.

POSTED     Oct. 5, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
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