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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

TPM and Online Political Journalism

Of many events these day that make me feel my age, one prominent example is the tenth anniversary of Joshua Micah Marshall’s online enterprise Talking Points Memo.
A quick disclosure: I’ve known Josh since his days of working in the Washington office of The American Prospect; once guest-blogged for the main TPM site; and used to be a pretty regular contributor to one of TPM’s earliest sidelines, TPM Cafe (never got paid a nickel for any of this, but didn’t mind). I’m also very proud that TDS is on the very short list of “TPM Approved Sites.”
You don’t have to personally know Josh to appreciate his accomplishment; it just helps. Josh Green of The Atlantic has provided a fine explanation on the very beginnings of TPM, when the two Joshes were both still at TAP. I remember having lunch with Josh Marshall just down the street from the Dupont Circle Starbucks where TPM was first “housed” right after he left TAP to devote most of his time to the new venture. At that point he still thought of the blog (which is what it was then) in no small part as a way to advertise his writing for free-lance journalism assignments. But even when his hobby turned into his main preoccupation, he never for a moment stopped thinking of himself as a journalist, which was unusual in those early days of blogs as either personal platforms for opinion (e.g., Mickey Kaus’ Kausfiles) or political community sites like My DD and then Daily Kos, or the primitive online operations of more traditional political organizations.
TPM’s first real “score” came in 2002 when Josh managed to take a story the MSM had treated as a one-day amusement–Trent Lott’s suggestion that the world would have been a much better place had Strom Thurmond been elected president in 1948–and wouldn’t let it go until the chattering classes reflected on its significance for a while. Long story short, Trent Lott was forced to step down as Majority Leader of the U.S Senate, and suddenly it was obvious that online political writing could be something more than a vanity medium or an ideological clubhouse.
The rest of TPM’s story is probably too well known to most readers to require any recitation here, but the key thing is that Josh Marshall significantly expanded the possibilities for online political journalism, at a time when the almost universal belief of serious political players was that “blogs” were a May-fly phenomenon enabling puerile cranks to play at being pundits. Those of us who have subsequently found ways to address serious topics online–such as political strategy–owe a big debt of thanks to Josh and to TPM for making online political journalism impossible to dismiss and perilous to ignore.

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