By Cal Dymowski – Ithaca College (Journalism, ’19)

In 2008, Talking Points Memo founder John Marshall spoke at Ithaca College on the importance of independent media, including the growth of his own site.

Along with the idea of being ambitious, fearless and dedicated to producing news and content, Marshall spoke of something often taken for granted in independent media: an active audience.

Having readers is vital to success in a small news site, but having active readers is a rare aspect that takes time to cultivate.

Marshall used his readership base to gain information about issues within local communities, as well as take national stories and have a local lens to them. In collaborating with readers, TPM became involved in stories on the ground level, closer than most journalists can ever get.

This prompted Marshall to start fundraising campaigns for the site to hire full-time writers. Yet again, his readership came through with donations of $5, $10, $25, etc. The dedication these readers showed TPM and Marshall was a direct result of TPM serving the people, and writing about stories they genuinely cared about. The money allowed Marshall to eventually attract advertisers and begin to monetize the site on a greater scale, a dream for most start-up news organizations similar to TPM.

The readership base at TPM has been crucial for helping the news site get ahead on stories. When TPM has a lead and readership advantage, there is no limit to the influence and change they can have on society. It helps them beat the major outlets to the punch. But when a large number of reporters and resources are dumped on to it from major news sites, TPM has difficulty.

Marshall said it was weird how their success is the end of the coverage in that manner. The investigative reporters can only do so much when major sites get involved, but the work from those reporters are the reason the major sites got involved in the first place.

Bottom line is that utilizing readers is key. If done right, sites can end up like TPM, which now has an AP wire and sees millions of hits a day.