The progressive media landscape is losing another useful publication.
Yesterday, The Daily Beast reported that the Center For American Progress Action Fund has decided to power down ThinkProgress, the editorially independent progressive news and commentary site founded by Judd Legum in 2005. ThinkProgress has for years been a respected source of breaking news and analysis of pressing issues, and its powering down is a blow to the progressive movement.
I say “power down” because the site won’t be going away. It’s just not going to be what it has been for so long. Here’s Sam Stein/Gideon Resnick of The Daily Beast.
Top officials at CAP had been searching for a buyer to take over ThinkProgress, which has run deficits for years, and according to sources there were potentially three serious buyers in the mix recently. But in a statement to staff, Navin Nayak, the executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the site was ultimately unable to secure a patron.
“Given that we could find no new publisher, we have no other real option but to fold ThinkProgress back into CAP’s broader online presence with a focus on analysis of policy, politics, and news events through the lens of existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts,” said Nayak. “Conversations on how to do so are just beginning, but we will seek to reinvent it as a different platform for progressive change.”
A dozen ThinkProgress employees will be losing their jobs, a CAP aide said, as many who were on staff had already gone to work elsewhere and some were incorporated into the larger CAP infrastructure.
Those who are being laid off will be given a severance package that runs through the end of November and health care coverage that lasts through the year, said the CAP aide.
It’s very disappointing that the Center For American Progress Action Fund is taking this course of action. It appears from Stein’s reporting that the Center For American Progress got tired of financially supporting ThinkProgress.
That line “run deficits for years” really jumps out of Stein’s story.
ThinkProgress was not a business, yet it was apparently viewed within the Center For American Progress (+ CAP Action Fund) as akin to a money-losing corporate division. But ThinkProgress didn’t exist to make money; it existed to hold power accountable and ask questions that no one else was asking.
Later on in his story, Stein goes into more detail about how CAP/CAPAF officials had come to see the site as a money pit and a liability, rather than an asset.
Rather than coming up with a viable long-term plan to sustain ThinkProgress, however, CAP/CAPAF decided to trim staff and cut the site loose.
They let it be known they were looking for a buyer to take it over.
When they couldn’t find one, they decided to lay off the remaining staff and fold the site back into the Center For American Progress Action Fund.
Hence, yesterday’s announcement.
By powering down ThinkProgress, the Center For American Progress Action Fund is squandering an opportunity to demonstrate sound stewardship of a newsroom in its care at a time when progressive media infrastructure is sorely needed.
ThinkProgress had credibility and readership built up over a period of many years. It had a lengthy track record of covering the issues thoroughly and well.
As Sam Stein and Gideon Resnick noted in their report:
At its peak, there were few more important pieces of unapologetically progressive, online real estate than ThinkProgress.
The site combined original reporting with an attack-dog mentality to target Republican lawmakers and conservative ideas.
A testament to its success is found in the list of prominent alumni currently working in politics and journalism.
That list includes Faiz Shakir, who now serves as Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager; Amanda Terkel, the D.C. bureau chief of the Huffington Post; Nico Pitney, the political director at NowThis; Alex Seitz-Wald, a top campaign reporter for NBC News; Ali Gharib, a senior news editor at The Intercept; and Matt Yglesias, one of the founding members of Vox.
ThinkProgress’ website and archives will remain available and new content will continue to be added by CAP and CAPAF’s remaining staff.
But the ThinkProgress newsroom is gone.
The final ThinkProgress staff roster was as follows:
Editor in Chief
Interim Deputy Editor
Senior Audience Engagement Editor
Sam Fulwood III
Business & Operations Manager
Every time we lose a newsroom or a media organization, whether it be Governing Magazine, The Pacific Standard, or ThinkProgress, our democracy suffers.
Neither the progressive movement nor society at large is properly valuing quality journalism at a time when we sorely, desperately need it.
“I joined CAP in 2003 and was one of the first employees and I joined because I believed in the mission of creating permanent progressive infrastructure. It’s disheartening that CAP no longer believes that independent progressive journalism is worth supporting,” wrote ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum on Twitter.
“The decision to fold ThinkProgress back into CAP, in my view, is a mistake. It violates the spirit in which it has operated over the last fifteen years. It also underscores that this was ultimately about control, not money.”
“It also underscores my belief that we need more progressive media that is not only independent, but self-sustaining. Donors are great until they jump ship.”
And speaking of money and donors: “Just the money that Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg spent pointlessly dipping their toes into the presidential race could have probably funded ThinkProgress for years,” mused Mehdi Hasan.
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