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Why I’m at The Dispatch
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Why I’m at The Dispatch

I remember the first time I thought about joining the new media project that would ...

I remember the first time I thought about joining the new media project that would become The Dispatch. I was sitting in a recliner in my living room late on a Friday night, reading that day’s G-File from Jonah Goldberg.

Like a lot of other editors across the country, I had been running Jonah’s columns faithfully each week in my newspaper. I had also kept up with The Weekly Standard and its demise. 

So Jonah’s mention of his new media venture with Steve Hayes immediately piqued my interest, and I fired off an email asking to join their mailing list.

Then, 10 minutes later, I emailed again with, “Perhaps a dumb question, but … ” and told them of my desire to work for a publication like the one they described. Thus began a long, fortuitous conversation between us about the ethos of The Dispatch and the value of journalism in an increasingly fractured society.

Just kidding. I got nothin’. (In fairness, I didn’t actually expect to get a response to my Hail Mary of an email.)

So I kept plugging along as editor of a daily newspaper in East Tennessee, then a few months later became an editor with World News Group and would eventually go on to edit World magazine—two-plus years I will always treasure. Meanwhile, The Dispatch formally launched and I immediately became a subscriber. And I found it lived up to Jonah and Steve’s billing.

So when the opportunity arose in late 2021 to come aboard this pirate skiff, I took it. There’s always some trepidation when you get to go behind the scenes of something you love and appreciate, so I wondered what I’d think of how the Dispatch sausage was made once I got a peek. But a month into my tenure here, I’ve witnessed the integrity with which the entire staff operates. It’s not about clicks or narratives or dunking. What animates The Dispatch’s work is the belief in the value of good journalism and (truly) conservative principles.

That means cutting through the noise of the political theater in Washington, D.C., and reporting the stories that matter in evenhanded ways. But our coverage extends beyond the Beltway.  In the last month we’ve published stories about Afghan refugees coming to the U.S., migrant children who’ve come across the southern border, Ukrainians hunkering down for a possible Russian invasion, and the Iranian diaspora longing for the end of their country’s totalitarian regime. We’ve got plans to criss-cross the country to cover this year’s midterms.

I’ve had a blast so far using the experience I’ve gained at good publications such as World—working with reporters as they think, hunt, analyze, and write. The bottom line: This is about truth-telling, as Steve and Jonah underscored when they announced they were leaving Fox News last year: “We sincerely believe that all people of good will and good judgment—regardless of their ideological or partisan commitments—can agree that a cavalier and even contemptuous attitude toward facts, truth-seeking, and truth-telling, lies at the heart of so much that plagues our country.”

Since I became a journalist, friends and family have listened to me harp about the harm of the 24-hour news cycle. The advent of cable news, then of social media, then of always-on and always-in-our-pockets screens have degraded our ability to discern what’s important and what’s not. Jeffrey Bilbro wrote in his 2021 book Reading the Times:

While the Washington Post claims that democracy dies in darkness, democracy can also die in hypermedia’s garish light. The celebrity gossip, ephemeral political drama, and quirky distractions that dominate our media don’t serve the common good. Keeping up to date with the latest funny video or outrageous statement that pushes through our social media feeds doesn’t bolster democracy. … Many of the “events” that compose the news emerging from Washington, D.C., or New York City or Hollywood are Baudrillardian simulacra, representations designed to amuse and distract but whose relation to reality is tangential at best. Even when serious events are happening—when a pandemic is sweeping the world, or police are killing African Americans, or Congress is deliberating the passage of momentous laws—they can be trivialized through memes and hashtags and co-opted by simplistic partisan narratives.

Add to that the belligerent talking heads and hot-take headline writers trading in fear and anger so that more and more Americans believe everyone on the “other side” hates them.

But it’s possible to consume news responsibly—for information and understanding rather than for fast dopamine hits or a cheap sense of security. News consumers can toss out the dregs of the 24-hour news cycle and still get substance, and The Dispatch’s goal is to separate the wheat from the chaff for readers. As Steve and Jonah wrote in 2019:

We will be timely and topical, but we won’t be slaves to the relentless pace of the news cycle. We will slow things down, deliberately—because we think the times require more deliberation. Whenever possible, we want to pause and think before we react, to research and report before sharing our views. The daily race to be wrong first on Twitter can be entertaining and instructive, but we have no interest in entering the competition. In short, we aim to zig in an era of zagging.

Still, worldview and public policy differences between competing factions matter, and that reality undergirds The Dispatch’s work. My Christian faith informs my own Burkean conservatism. I believe in the necessity of institutions and that true conservatism allows institutions such as the family (specifically, mine!) and the church—and many others too—to flourish in their missions. Those principles can restrain the illiberal forces on both the Left and Right we’re seeing today. But I also believe in the necessity of persuading those of good faith with whom we disagree, not doubling down on partisan jockeying. From Steve and Jonah’s opening missive in 2019:

The conservative movement was not intended to be a handmaiden to a single political party. What is good for the Republican Party may be good for the conservative cause, and vice versa. But that is not axiomatically so. For instance, it would be an unalloyed victory for conservatives—and America—if the Democratic Party fully rejected socialism, abortion-until-birth and its growing obsession with wholesale gun confiscation. But that would not be good news for a Republican Party and conservative media complex increasingly invested in a strategy of polarization and demonization of Blue America. This points to the original purpose of the conservative movement, not just to defend those ideas, institutions and principles that make America an indispensable nation, but to persuade those who disagree with us. And persuasion is impossible in a hyperactive climate of paranoia, exaggeration and willful blindness to the splinters in our own eyes.

I believe good journalism (local and broader) that tells the truth about the world can help in the formation and reinforcement of good social and cultural institutions.

Lest that all sound high and lofty (it does) Steve and Jonah put things in a simpler way in 2019:

We are not launching The Dispatch to change the world, to reimagine news and information, to fix the internet, or to ignite a movement. We have more humble objectives. We are launching The Dispatch to do right as we see it, by providing engaged citizens fact-based reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture—informed by conservative principles.

And that’s really why I’ve loved The Dispatch as a reader and why I love it now as a co-laborer both with the colleagues who produce this work and the readers who consume it: I’m excited to do my part to help build out a journalistic enterprise brimming with integrity. But what my first month here has confirmed for me is I’m excited—and grateful—to do journalism the right way.

I hope you’ll consider joining The Dispatch as a full-access member. Now through February 21 we’re offering a 30-day free trial to showcase all the benefits of membership. Don’t worry: If it’s not to your liking, you can cancel at any point during the trial and you won’t be charged.

Michael Reneau is a managing editor at The Dispatch and is based in Greeneville, Tennessee. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he was editor of WORLD Magazine and for several years was editor of a daily newspaper in East Tennessee. When Michael isn’t editing, he stays plenty busy with his wife and four kids.