ThinkProgress powers down
ThinkProgress powers down (Daily Beast illustration)

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.

The Dai­ly Beast report­ed in June that ThinkProgress has been expe­ri­enc­ing declin­ing adver­tis­ing rev­enue and few­er ded­i­cat­ed dona­tions than in 2017/2018.

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
Jodi Enda

Inter­im Deputy Editor
Stephanie Grif­fith

Senior Edi­tor
Emi­ly Hazzard

Senior Audi­ence Engage­ment Editor
Patrick Smith

Cli­mate Editor
Kyla Man­del

Deputy Edi­tor
Adam Peck

Luke Barnes
E.A. Crun­den
Zack Ford
Lind­say Gibbs
Josh Israel
Danielle McLean
Casey Michel
Alan Pyke
Casey Quin­lan
Joe Romm

Sam Ful­wood III

Video Pro­duc­er
Hai Phan

Visu­al Editor
Diana Ofo­su

Edi­to­r­i­al Assistant
Kay Wick­er

Busi­ness & Oper­a­tions Manager
Ed Connors

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.

We at NPI are com­mit­ted to doing our part to address­ing our grow­ing jour­nal­ism famine. It’s why we pub­lish this blog, The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, and have since March 2004. We are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing to pub­lish The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, and we wel­come your help in order to meet that commitment.

The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate enjoys the full sup­port of NPI’s Board of Direc­tors. Most NPI staff con­tribute con­tent reg­u­lar­ly and we are enthu­si­as­tic about con­tin­u­ing the site’s mis­sion of pro­vid­ing excel­lent advo­ca­cy jour­nal­ism and com­men­tary on cur­rent events. We con­tin­ue to add new fea­tures, like Last Week In Con­gress.

There are sev­er­al ways you can sup­port TCA’s con­tin­ued publication:

Thanks for read­ing and car­ing about the future of pro­gres­sive media.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “ThinkProgress to power down, lose staff after Center for American Progress fails to sell it”

  1. As a found­ing NPI Board mem­ber and near­ly 10-year Board mem­ber and sup­port­er, I take pride in NPI’s endurance through the ups and downs of pol­i­tics and chang­ing pres­sures on jour­nal­ism. The “pow­er­ing down” of CAP’s web-based jour­nal­ism could not hap­pen at a worse time. We’re head­ing into the most con­se­quen­tial Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­to­ry. We need trust­ed jour­nal­ism to inform Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers. I believe in the pow­er of infor­ma­tion to change minds. I believe more than ever that trust­ed sources must pre­vail despite Russ­ian hack­ing, Trump­ist fake news, and a pro­lif­er­a­tion of social media sources that are unedit­ed, unre­li­able, and unin­formed. Many thanks to NPI read­ers who demand excel­lence from writ­ers and edi­tors. As 2020 approach­es, please sup­port jour­nal­ists and news sources that strive to inform you with trust­ed, proven data. These times ask a lot of us. We must be up to the challenge.

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