What It Takes
On Discourse Blog's one-year anniversary and the year(s) ahead.
Here we are again. Around this time last year, after spending the months since we had been laid off constantly texting each other about the devolving state of the Democratic Primary (lol), and frustrated there was nowhere suitable for those story ideas to live, we decided—on a lark—to throw some posts up on a free WordPress. How it started couldn't be further from how it's going. Next week marks Discourse Blog's one-year anniversary, a sentence I still cannot fully comprehend. What I've written before remains true: everything about this site has been bigger, and moved faster, than any of us could have ever imagined. We've changed platforms twice since then, and now we own and operate our very own website.
In celebration of our anniversary, all this week we'll be sharing content normally reserved for our premium Steward tier—including our What Now newsletter—with everyone; highlighting some of our favorite posts from the past year and bringing them out from behind the paywall; turning on comments for all tiers; and revealing some more fun surprises. All of this will culminate in a special, one-day-only sale on Tuesday, March 23 (our birthday). Sale details announced next week.
By most accounts, we are doing well: All eight owner-operators of Discourse Blog are able to pay our respective rents and mortgages with the money we make from the site, an immense accomplishment. Our day-to-day costs are covered too, including the services you take for granted when you work at a big media company and don't have to pay for them yourself, like G Suite and Slack and Zoom and Photoshop and transcription services and postage. We're even able to hire the people you need to run an efficient business (all these blogs you're reading cost money!), including accountants, lawyers, consultants, producers, designers, and tech experts. Our site has seen more press coverage than most of us have seen in our entire careers. All of this has been possible because of our incredible subscribers—your support is the reason we can do this, and we do not take that support for granted, ever. When we started this site we thought we'd be lucky if even one person paid for our work. But to have thousands of subscribers? Unfathomable. We are beyond honored.
But we're not done, and I would be remiss not to acknowledge the considerable challenges we've encountered, as well as the long road still ahead of us. There has been so much we didn't realize we'd need to know about running our own website—our own business. When you're in the newsroom, you don't always grasp the full scope of all the systems churning in the background of a media company. But now it's just us—no investors, no funding. So in addition to being our own newsroom, we're also our own business development and marketing team; our own human resources and legal department; our own tech, product, and engineering support. We're learning as we go. And we've certainly screwed up along the way, by equal measures of not knowing better and just plain hubris. Discourse Blog is profitable, yes, but not enough that we can all make a livable wage from the site alone; most of us are still in that liminal space where we need to do extra freelance work to fill in the gaps, which naturally draws attention and effort away from the site.
So as we enter our second year, we are focused on reaching that next level by raising our editorial ambitions (stay tuned for the start of a new project we're all very excited about) and smoothing out the edges of our reader experience, including working with our partners at Lede and Pico to improve commenting, subscription and newsletter management, and create more subscriber-exclusive benefits.
As our anniversary approached, there's a line from the Mike Nichols film Working Girl that's been stuck in my head. Melanie Griffith plays Tess, an assistant to Katherine, a successful, devil may care stockbroker played by Sigourney Weaver. When Katherine is in a skiing accident and hospitalized, Tess seizes the opportunity and pretends to be in Katherine's role—literally faking it until you make it. But as Tess starts to get in too deep, her best friend Cyn (Joan Cusack), tries to level with her.
"I swear, I know what I'm doing," Tess tells her. "Yeah. So do I. Screwing up your life," Cyn says. What Tess says next serves as a nice summation of what it's felt like to try to build something new at this exact moment, when so much has been lost and what remains is so precariously unstable: "I'm not gonna spend my whole life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I played by rules I had nothing to do with setting up."
Our mission remains: To build a sustainable, fully independent business publishing in our authentic voice, uncompromised by corporate interests, and to be a source of inspiration for more journalists to do the same, especially as more and more newsrooms feel the squeeze of corporate austerity and a new media bubble threatens to sweep up all who remain before bursting. If we can help, let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to help us, please consider subscribing.
Like I said on our first day (and not even fully understanding what it was presaging), we're driving until there's no more road. See you online.