Forget MoveOn, is Townhall.com the future?
“Townhall.com breaks down the barriers between news and opinion, journalism and political participation — and enables conservatives to participate in the political process with unprecedented ease.”
If one ignores the difference in political orientation, Townhall at a first glance seems to be simply a more news-oriented version of MoveOn. It integrates the provision of openly partisan news and the hosting of both pundit and user-generated opinion, with action tools directed at both the political representatives and media institutions. On Townhall, a conservative can find other conservatives, and the radio, commentary, debate, magazines, books – you name it – to match it. Plus tools to pursue a shared aganda.
In short, Townhall strives to be the hub of an open-ended community with a shared political world view and the capacity to act on it – not simply the echo-chamber of ‘the Daily Me’, but one of a ‘Daily We’, a ‘we’ that is united partly by the aspiration to do something, to change or defend something.
The key difference between MoveOn and Townhall is that the latter has been turned into a business model. Whereas MoveOn and campaign websites are dependent on a stream of potentially fickle donations, Townhall has been run as an independent business for some years now since it became independent of the Heritage Foundation. In 2006, it was acquired by the avowedly conservative company Salem Communications for $5.0 million.
The potential power of this model is clear – if successful, it creates an economically self-sustaining base for political action. Maybe it can generate the kind of resources that are usually needed if citizen politics is to take on established institutions.
The critical objections are easy to foresee – Townhall represents the commodification of debate and political activism, professionalisation and pre-packing will squeeze out grassroots.
But maybe not, since the grassroots involvement is a key component to what makes it stand out from simply conservative media outlets. And anyone who has ever been involved in citizens politics will maintain a certain skepticism towards journalistic and academic romanticism when it comes to the virtues of amateurism and the absence of funds.
According to a press release from Salem Communications, NielsenNetRatings rates Townhall.com at 1.2 million unique visitors and 12 million page views a month. And if Google trends is anything to go by, Townhall attracts more attention than MoveOn.
If this constituency is willing to double as customers and as audience for ads, Townhall stands a chance of mobilizing the resources it takes to combine participation with state-of-the-art tools and professional input.
Townhall is neither another solitary blog like the ones that many campaign managers fighting the last war seem to think of as the hot new thing of the upcoming election, a brittle ‘citizen media’ endeavor, nor a leaned-back ‘viewspaper’. It looks like a professional political participatory media where political, grassroots, and commercial players combine their forces and pursue both different (getting elected, making a difference, earning a buck) and shared interests (pursuing a conservative agenda). It will be interesting to see what it can accomplish (they have been around since 1995, but it is only since 2006 that their operation has really been stepped up).
A number of questions remain, and I would like to know what you think:
* What did they ever do? News media are short on coverage on this.
* Is this commercially viable?
* Is it a general model that can be transposed and used by liberals and centrists too?
* Will it turn out to be the case the contribution-driven operations like MoveOn and the Christian Coalition will after all remain the more durable and powerful? Obviously, this is not an eithe/or kind of question
(I am currently trying to find out more about their operation, and will return with more on their action center and the kinds of action it facilitates).