Today is the 10-year anniversary of my first story, our first post, on AMERICAblog. (Thanks to Bill in Portland for remind me!)
It was early 2004, and like most Democrats, I’d pretty much had it with the Bush administration. My friend Michelangelo Signorile had been mentioning to me for a while this “blog” he liked to read, written by some guy named “Atrios,” and I remember asking Mike to explain to me exactly what a blog was.
How AMERICAblog got started
I’d always been a good writer, and had already written professionally at this point, as a stringer for the UK magazine the Economist. I was still doing my political Internet consulting (that I’d started in 1997), and knew that blogging wasn’t going to earn me any money. But Bush finally pushed me into blogging when he gave a speech at the White House endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). The FMA would have amended the US Constitution to ban gay marriage, but also quite possibly strike down every gay rights law and ordinance nationwide.
For many gay Americans, that was the last straw (not that Bush hadn’t already crossed the line of “too far” already). Thus, AMERICAblog was born on April 23, 2004.
My plan at AMERICAblog was to offer a sympathetic (to the left) insider’s look at the US politics. Not just report the news, but explain the news. We particularly wanted to focus on gay rights news, but not exclusively. To paraphrase Towleroad’s slogan, I liked to think of us as a “straight” blog with gay tendencies, unless a big issue comes up, then we became a full-time gay blog until we win. (I’d make a bi joke, but progressive humor was outlawed about a year ago.)
Our writers over the years
I think we’ve pretty well accomplished our mission. It started with Joe Sudbay and me, Chris in Paris joined on shortly thereafter (or maybe Chris came at the same time as Joe). Joe, like me, is a political expert, but Joe brought the election, and particularly polling expertise, as well. Chris, having worked on Wall Street, brought a keen sense of the economy to his work.
Lots of others have passed through over the years, like my friend Michael Giltz in NYC who covered movies and culture, and former defense intelligence officer Alex Rossmiller who offered great insight into the Iraq War back in the day. So many more have circulated through, including our present day crew, including Becca Morn, Dr. Mark Thoma, Chris Trejbal (who just joined on), and of course Gaius Publius, who is now writing a book about climate change (more on that in the months to come). There were many more I’m leaving out, far too many to mention, but all were appreciated.
Over the years, I like to think we’ve had a rather unique impact in our niche. Our first big story was about the Jeff Gannon brouhaha, where we uncovered the fact that the very conservative anti-gay Gannon (aka Guckert), who was a regular at the Bush White House, had worked as a gay male prostitute and was working now under a fake name.
Wesley Clark’s cell phone records: Pre-texting
Another big story of that era was my piece exposing the fact that you could buy anyone’s cell phone records online for about $89. I figured the best way to make the story go big would be to buy the records of someone famous, so I bought Wesley Clark’s (Clark was a Democratic presidential candidate and the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO). The story exploded, and within a year, Congress passed a law banning the practice and Bush signed it.
Ford Motor Company vs the Gays
We’ve done a number of high-profile gay advocacy cases, including an early one that was particularly effective, taking on the Ford Motor Company’s decision to cease advertising in the gay press, at the behest of the American Family Association, a huge religious right group. Well, Joe and I destroyed Ford over the issue, while the lead gay groups dilly-dallied, and won.
Microsoft vs the Gays
Around the same time as the Ford brouhaha, the press was reporting that Microsoft had decided to no longer support gay rights measures, particularly in employment non-discrimination, but rather would take a neutral stance. This was in response to a religious right preacher in Washington state.
Over the next month, AMERICAblog revealed that Microsoft had secretly hired religious right leader Ralph Reed as a $20,000 a month consulting, and we published the internal invoices of Reed’s bills. Reed was fired, Microsoft relented, and the gays lived to fight another day.
The DOMA brief
In more recent times, Joe and I broke the news that the Obama administration was not only continuing to defend the anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), but that they were using a Bush administration anti-gay brief in court. It was a brief that included references to incest and pedophilia, in addition to a number of noxious allegations. Our story exploded online, and reportedly got the President’s attention the next day.
As Mike Signorile put it the other day, Joe and I “began the campaign to stop Obama from defending DOMA after the Justice Department filed an offensive brief defending DOMA in June 2009, in the face of many Obama apologists, some connected to the administration, who attacked them and said that the administration had to defend DOMA.” After dogging the administration for two years, with the help of many others, the President finally changed his mind and stopped defending DOMA in court (and, rather, to the President’s credit, pushed for DOMA’s repeal).
President Obama “evolving”
On a second “gay marriage” issue, Joe made a particularly big splash with his interview of President Obama, at the White House, in October of 2010 when, after an impassioned question from Joe, the President acknowledged for the first time that his views were “evolving” on the issue of marriage equality. Signorile explains again: “It was a pivotal moment, certainly reported on at great length in the media, that would be used against the president over and over by media pundits and activists demanding that he ‘evolve already!’ ”
Similarly, Joe and I were absolute pains-in-the-ass of the Obama administration on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I’m not even sure I could find just one post that encapsulates our two-year effort on that issue.
BP Gulf Spill
One of our biggest stories, and biggest traffic days ever, came from a tip I got from my nephew Anthony. He saw some mention somewhere that British Petroleum (BP), during the middle of its hugely diastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was faking supposed “oil spill command center action photos” on its Web site. Anthony and I scoured BP’s site, and what do you know – he was right. Our story detailing the forgeries went huge, worldwide, and brought us around half a million visitors that day alone.
AMERICAblog also took a lead role in working with Dan Savage and Queer Nation, among many others, to explode the story about Russia’s human rights abuses against its gay and trans citizens last year, in the months before the Olympics. While the story had been around for years, it hadn’t garnered any traction until a small group of us latched on to the idea of a vodka boycott to successfully put the story on the map internationally. Russian President Putin’s treatment of Russian gays ended up becoming a prescient canary in the coal-mine of Putin’s now world-famous move back to his Soviet roots.
The 2008 economic collapse decimated our income. I’d been working mostly full-time on the blog for years at that point, making 99% of my income from the site, and destroyed 75% of our income. In 2009, I made 25% of what I made in 2008. (And today, I’m still only up to 40% or so.)
I decided privately that we needed to shake things up in order to get more traffic, and thus more ad revenues, or the site was going to be closed by Christmas of 2012.
In October of 2012, we launched AMERICAblog 3.0, our current version of the site, which permitted us to double and triple our unique visitors, while increasing our pageviews by around 50%.
Interestingly, we cut back on the number of posts from perhaps 20 to 30 per day, to only 5 substantive posts a day, following by some lite filler, such as videos at night.
The change in posting was necessary as Joe and Chris had moved on to focus on their “real” jobs – I was never able to make enough on the blog to offer them a real full-time job – so most of the responsibility for writing rested with me, along with Gaius who usually penned one story most weekday mornings.
I took a gamble and chose to focus on writing more in-depth stories and analysis, rather than simply posting snippets of stories from other sites. The gamble paid off. As noted, our traffic increased significantly, which helped me decided to keep the site alive, and give it a chance, for a few more years.
So thank you, all of you, who have been with us over the years, who have written for us, who have donated to help support our work. It’s not easy striking out on your own and trying to make a living by being your own boutique magazine. Thanks to the efforts of so many, we’ve (so far) been able to keep the old site chugging along. We’re not out of the woods yet by any means, but we’ve managed to last this long, and make a bit of a difference along the way. And as far as jobs go, sitting at home in your pajamas has its merits.
PS Here’s the very generous description of our site that Bill in Portland posted on Daily Kos today: