Nick Schulz has done something unusual for a thirtysomething Washington opinion journalist: He’s bought out his employer.
In late mid-Sepember, the sandy-haired 34-year-old writer and editor acquired TCSDaily from the Washington lobbying and PR firm DCI Group. Founded by James Glassman, and previously known as TechCentralStation, TCS is a successful conservative-libertarian Internet venue that publishes well-circulated think pieces by the likes of Glenn Reynolds, James Pinkerton, and the occasional free-market politician. Before becoming its owner, Nick was the editor of the site.
Opinion writers who think they may want to become the boss should take note: Schulz is assuming not just editorial control over TCS but also the financial and managerial responsibilities. The new arrangement has significant upsides, great editorial freedom for one, but the market, of course, can be a cruel judge of money pits, even well-written ones. Can Schulz make TCS financially solvent? If so, he will have done something that must-read money-losers like the Weekly Standard and National Review have not.
Schulz is not your typical malcontent right-winger. Handsome and amiable, he exudes a calm that seems unusual for a man of the right. And yet his rÃÂ?ÃÂÃÂ©sumÃÂ?ÃÂÃÂ© proves he is just that. Prior to working at TCS, Schulz was politics editor of FoxNews.com and, before that, he was a producer for Ben Wattenberg’s PBS show Think Tank. He has also done a stint as an consultant for Platinum Technology International, now part of technology giant Computer Associates. As a researcher, he’s worked for Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett at Empower America and for author Virginia Postrel back when she was writing The Future and Its Enemies.
A Vanderbilt philosophy graduate — this qualified him “to do absolutely nothing, or absolutely everything” — his freelance writing credits include the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, and Forbes.com. His father is William Schulz, the longtime Washington bureau chief of Reader’s Digest, not to be confused with William Schulz of Amnesty International (who “probably thinks my dad is a war criminal.”) The Washington, D.C., native received Whittaker Chamber’s Witness as a Christmas gift when he was ten years old — one example of what he calls his “red-baiter diaper baby” upbringing.
Schulz’s first byline, a 1995 op-ed in The Washington Times, called for the abolition of the Commerce Department. He stands by the argument, smirking a little. “It could certainly be bundled into one of several other agencies,” he says. Asked to name his intellectual idols, Schulz cites Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Frank Meyer. Meyer, a Cold War-era National Review editor, is best known for analyzing and advocating “fusionism” between libertarians and conservatives, echoes of which are evident in TCS.
The opportunity to take over TCSDaily came this summer when its “host” — that’s how founder and financial commentator Glassman styled his role there — decided to take over American Enterprise magazine and turn it into a business magazine called the American. Since then, Schulz has been flying solo. I asked Schulz to reveal the terms of the deal, including the price of sale. Predictably, he declined to tell us. Valuations of web publications vary wildly. One source, however, says the price was comparable to real estate in Manhattan — when the Indians were selling it. In any case, Schulz stresses that he doesn’t expect to make a bundle.
Nick says that in some ways not much has changed for him since he started at TCS in 2002: “The overarching goal I set was to build an audience,” he says. And how did he do that? “It had become the expectation to publish every day.” So he assigned himself a weekly column to knock off one of the five slots. Then he went about the task of editors everywhere: Find good writers making original material you can’t find anywhere else.
Blogs were one source of talent. “I have mixed feelings about blogs and the blogosphere,” Schulz says. Blogs are “a great way quickly to find talent.” But “99 percent of blogs are worthless.” And yet “there are talented people out there.” The first one he hired was Glenn Reynolds, still one of the most-read bloggers.
Schulz says he lives by the golden rule of opinion journalism: Tell me something I don’t already know. With few exceptions, he explains, most people don’t care about a given writer’s opinion on a given issue. Instead, they want fresh ideas and information.
TCSDaily receives between 75,000 and 100,000 visitors a week: Washington policy types, the media, military, some corporate readers, and lay people with an interest in politics. According to Alexa.com, TCS gets about a quarter more Internet readers than the Weekly Standard and the New Republic’s websites, about half as many as PowerLine, and about a quarter as many as National Review Online.
Which raises a question: How can you be profitable when the near-equivalents are perennial money-losers? For TCS, part of the answer lies with the low costs of a skeleton staff, no paper printing, and relatively cheap author payments typically beginning at $150.
That’s not the end of the story for TCS, though. Schulz is keeping in place a “sponsorship” business model originally imported from Glassman’s PBS show TechnoPolitics. All else being equal, it brings in more money through several very large corporate sponsors, which in the past have included McDonald’s, ExxonMobil, General Motors, and Intel. This has opened the site to accusations of conflict of interest. Nicholas Confessore in the liberal Washington Monthly in 2003, accused TCS of “journo-lobbying” for all-too-convenient sponsorship dollars from likely beneficiaries of the website’s policy prescriptions.
Schulz doesn’t have much patience for this line of argument. Sponsors “like the editorial worldview of the site,” a view which Glassman had already clearly set forth. “In any journalistic enterprise which is also a business, there’s a potential for conflict.” He thinks the fact that the Washington Monthly is a liberal magazine that doesn’t share TCS’s free-market outlook explains most of their hostility. And now, with DCI out of the picture, at least some of these criticisms no longer apply.
Editorially, there seems little question that Schulz can lead TCS to success; he’s been doing it behind the scenes for years. It will be interesting, though, to watch his managerial choices. Great success would prompt imitators and possibly even forge a new subspecies in Internet journalism.
Brendan Conway is a 2006 Philips Fellow and an editorial writer at the Washington Times.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire