Farewell, Heat Street

We learn with sadness that Heat Street, a conservative-libertarian website that has produced some excellent content, is folding as a stand-alone operation. Buzzfeed reports:

News Corp's conservative digital media site Heat Street is folding in August, the company told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.

"The operation will be restructured under the MarketWatch umbrella, with the goal of strengthening cultural, entertainment and gaming coverage," Dow Jones, which owns the property, said in a statement. "The Heat Street brand and future content associated with the brand will be part of the MarketWatch group."

The Murdoch-owned outlet launched last year and was originally led by former Tory MP Louise Mensch and Noah Kotch, who recently decamped to head up Fox News' digital efforts.

Mensch separated from the outlet late last year.

It is unclear if the motivation for the decision is financial or political (or both).

Photo: Scott Beale-Laughing Squid/Flickr

Financial dimensions

Heat Street, which has about 15 employees, launched as a right-of-center digital media upstart in an increasingly crowded conservative media field, taking on sites like Breitbart, the Daily Caller, IJR, and the Blaze.

Yes, indeed, conservative media do compete for readers (“eyeballs”) and advertisers/subscribers. And because advertising rates are constantly under downward pressure (as the number of websites increases constantly, thereby increasing supply), staying financially viable is a challenge

There are roughly speaking, two kinds of competitors in the conservative internet publishing industry. Sites that are corporate investments, sometimes backed by major diversified enterprises. Heat Street is a pure version, since it was founded under the auspices of News Corp. Others in this sector started independently, such as the Huffington Post (now renamed HuffPost), and were sold to corporate parents, as Huffington was sold to AOL.

Heat Street did have the advantage of cross-promotion opportunities on other News Corp properties, and certainly did achieve readership figures that display impressive growth, at least in figures supplied to other media: 2 million monthly unique individual visitors in in May 2016;  6 million October 2016, and 8 million in January 2017.  A staff of 15 may not sound large, but supporting them in New York City, in Class A Midtown office space in News Corp’s HQ, is very expensive.

The other sector consists of independents, such as American Thinker and Powerline (to name another site whose founders are known by me), that were started by independent writers motivated by the desire to compete in the Marketplace of Ideas.  The writers and bloggers in this sector that I have gotten to know over the years work in a wide variety of circumstances, but I have never encountered any residing in a mother’s basement. Other than the occasional profesional writing from his office, they do not pay rent on Class A Midtown office space, and often don’t pay some or all of their writers.

Political dimensions

Buzzfeed continues:

Fox News had explored acquiring Heat Street, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. Two people familiar with the matter confirmed the talks to BuzzFeed News. One of the people said that Rupert Murdoch, who controls both News Corp and 21st Century Fox, pushed for the deal, but that Fox didn't want to take on the property, in part because of Mensch's recent Twitter crusade.

BuzzFeed News reported in April that Mensch, a prominent voice in an internet investigation into Russian espionage, had since Inauguration Day accused at least 210 people and organizations of being under Russian influence.

Since she probably hired and trained the staff, I can understand the reluctance of FNC to take on a group of writers  personally invested in the Russia fantasies that draw viewers to CNN and MSNBC.   It also makes me wonder if Marketwatch will have places for all of them. Good luck them.

It is getting harder and harder to earn a salary from a corporation in the journalism sector. Too much competition, including from amateurs in it not for the money but for the love of it.  The days of media monopolies in local papers and 3 commercial networks are over.  The lack of media competition in the decades following World War 2 enabled sprawling bureaucratic organizations, staffed by people claiming status as “professionals,” to develop in order to deliver information to mass audiences. Today, in contrast, there are almost no barriers to entry on the internet. “Virtual organizations” whose members work in their own locations linked in cyberspace, are inherently cheaper and more flexible. It is a network versus a hierarchy, and the trend is in the direction of the network.

The days in which people could be recruited out of graduate schools of journalism and plan on spending 30 years on salary as a professional at one corporation or another probably are over.