What Are We Doing?

From Jonah Goldberg, Toby Stock, and Steve Hayes.

Welcome to The Dispatch. A brief word about what we’re doing – and why.

We’re launching a digital media company with three primary products: a website, newsletters and podcasts. We aim to make
The Dispatch a place that thoughtful readers can come for conservative, fact-based news and commentary that doesn’t come either through the filter of the mainstream media or the increasingly boosterish media on the right. Importantly, we want to build a genuine community, with regular engagement between those of us who work here and the readers and listeners who will pay our salaries.

Today, we’re sharing a bit more about what we’re trying to build. Tomorrow, we’ll publish the first issue of The Morning Dispatch, a reported newsletter that we’ll eventually send out daily. And over the next few months, we’ll be adding newsletters and podcasts from some of the country’s top reporters and analysts.

All of our work will be free, for now. Early next year, we’ll ask you to join our community as a paying member. At that time, small number of articles and newsletters – and all of our podcasts – will remain free to the general public. But the rest – most of the website and the vast majority of our regular newsletters – will be available to paying members only. If you’d like to learn more about membership, please sign up and we’ll provide details. If you’d like to support our work now, please consider joining as a Founding Lifetime Member.

And if you’d like to understand why we’re launching The Dispatch, please keep reading.

The internet puts an unimaginable amount of information at our fingertips, and yet it makes knowledge and wisdom harder to grasp. Social media connects people in meaningful ways but also manages to make it more difficult for us to understand each other. It is less a World Wide Web linking us all together than an accelerant, quickening trends long in the works. Our confidence in the institutions that once anchored us was declining even before the internet became a fixture in our lives, but its arrival has only made us feel even less fixed to a common landscape. 

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of journalism.  Not only do we have too much noise and not enough signal, but the signals we should be heeding are often discounted as noise and the noise is marketed as prophecy. A great deal of excellent journalism is still available to those who want it, but one has to seek it out like a tourist trying to find a chapel amidst the neon signs of some dystopian red-light district. 

The demand for “clicks” required by the dominant revenue structure of journalism today drives a need to pimp “hot takes” that, as the name suggests, shed more heat than light. The balkanization of the media landscape and the commodification of cheap opinion encourages outlets to emphasize quantity over quality. It’s easier—and considerably cheaper—to provide quick outrage to an audience eager for affirmation than it is to produce good reporting and thoughtful, fact-based commentary that might challenge consumers—and citizens.

If the media business is on shaky ground so, too, are our political parties. Partisanship may have been stronger in the 1850s, 1930s or 1960s, but the parties themselves have never been weaker. They are less functioning organizations motivated by a patriotic vision of what is best for the country—or even themselves—and more like competing brands willing to change their products based on whatever will sell this quarter. Though it may seem like an oxymoron, the country’s extreme partisanship is actually a function of this party weakness. Healthy parties mediate passions and reject passing fads in favor of long term success. As party power has diminished, media organizations have moved in to fill the void. Many news outlets do the work once properly carried out by the parties: opposition research, ideological messaging and even political organizing. As a result, much of what passes for political journalism is really party work by proxy. 

This is true across the ideological spectrum, but it is most worrisome on the right. 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. 

We are not launching The Dispatch as an indictment—of a politician, party or institution. 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, importantly, to offer a community and forum for thoughtful discussion and civil disagreement.  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. 

We don’t apologize for our conservatism. Some of the best journalism is done when the author is honest with readers about where he or she is coming from, and some of the very worst journalism hides behind a pretense of objectivity and the stolen authority that pretense provides. When we provide analysis, we will endeavor to describe the opposing points of view with honesty and charity. When we report, we will do so without concern for whether the facts prove inconvenient to any party or politician. We’ll test our own assumptions and, we hope, challenge our readers to do the same. We expect people to disagree, but we hope they will see that we come to our positions honestly, without some unstated agenda.

This will inevitably run afoul of partisan agendas. That’s not only okay, it’s by design. We believe telling the truth is always its own defense. 

We do not believe such a mission requires the sort of eat-your-spinach humorlessness or finger-wagging that often accompanies such endeavors. This will not work if we fail to provide what all readers should demand: lively and engaging writing that values the reader’s time. 

So, we are starting fresh. We are rejecting the advertising that makes clickbait seem so necessary. While we want as many readers as possible, we do not care a whit about traffic for its own sake. That’s why much of our content will be delivered via newsletters uncluttered with distracting ads (we are working diligently with our partners at Substack to do this in excitingly innovative ways). We won’t sell or rent our lists to low-class marketers, disreputable spam merchants or political groups seeking to make a buck on outrage.

We won’t subject our readers to auto-play videos, pop-up or pop-under ads or any of the clickbait boxes that even respectable news outlets use to monetize actual fake news. If you see an urgent message from some group that needs your credit card number to avert catastrophe, please contact customer service because that will mean we’ve been hacked. In every regard, we’d rather err on the side of providing a quality reader experience, both in terms of substance and presentation. 

This means we are putting our faith and our prospects in the hands of those who want to be part of this. Membership, for us, isn’t just a fancy word for subscriber. We want friends and participants, not just customers. That’s why including our members in the conversation will be central to our structure, not some gimmicky add-on.  

Right now, we are a small and merry band, boarding a pirate skiff with limited provisions amidst choppy waters crammed with well-equipped battleships, barreling through the smoking wrecks of larger vessels that came before us. But we believe we are not alone. We think there are many out there, of all ideological persuasions, hungry for what we are offering. As Basil King* said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” We believe that the mightiest force out there will be the readers eager to come along for the ride. If we’re wrong, we’ll fail. But failure in a good cause is better than triumph in a bad one. Besides, if we didn’t think we were right about what many people desire, we wouldn’t be trying this in the first place. 

We not only hope you’ll come along for the ride, we hope you’ll help with the rowing.

*Correction: We incorrectly attributed the Basil King quote to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.