The Washington Independent, signing off
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm
Nearly three years ago, The Washington Independent was launched as a bold experiment in online journalism. The idea was to combine hard-nosed investigative reporting with all the web had to offer: the nimbleness of real-time coverage, the interactivity made possible by this new thing called blogging, and the ability to create a narrative that was bigger than the sum of its parts.
The results were spectacular. We won awards for our reporting and recognition for our pioneering efforts. We sent reporters to Alaska, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. We graced numerous TV shows and were cited by every leading newspaper in the country. Most important, our reporting made a difference, whether by bringing flawed legislation and programs to the attention of people in power or by bringing critical overlooked issues to the attention of a broader public.
But TWI was not just a journalistic experiment; it was also a financial one, and ultimately, the successes of the former couldn’t sustain the strains of the latter. Our first year was marked by a kind of exceptionalism, the feeling that we were expanding as other newsrooms were contracting, that this new model of journalism would survive as our dead-tree colleagues struggled. But in the end, we fell prey to the recession just like everyone else.
TWI has always relied on donations, primarily from foundations seeking to promote journalism in the public interest. Those donations began drying up long ago. I’m grateful to the American Independent News Network for keeping TWI alive long past the point when its expenses began exceeding its receipts. But it wasn’t sustainable, and today the bosses informed us they’re pulling the plug. On Dec. 1, TWI will begin mirroring the content of our network’s other national site, The American Independent. TWI’s reporters and I will look elsewhere for work.
I have seen a great many changes in my more than two years at TWI. I’ve worked under three inspiring editors with three very different styles — Allison Silver, Laura McGann and Mary Kane — before being given the privilege to lead the team myself in July. But through it all, there’s been a deep conviction that good, solid reporting is more important than capitalizing on the latest scandal to drive traffic. I’ve had the tremendous honor of working with some of the best young reporters in the country: Spencer Ackerman, whose tenacity as a national security reporter is completely unrivaled; Dave Weigel, who defined the modern conservative movement and understood it like no one else; Mike Lillis, whose tireless coverage of Congress was underscored by a desire to root out stories of injustice; Annie Lowrey, who showed us that an economy reporter is more valuable when writing about the underprivileged than when covering Wall Street; and many more. It’s no surprise that these TWI alums are all making waves at top national publications.
But I’ll miss the current TWI team most of all. We’ve only been together a few months, and it feels like we were just getting started. Andrew Restuccia is a scoop machine on the environmental beat, but he grounds his coverage in the news that truly matters, sexy or not. Jesse Zwick is a masterful storyteller who has managed to distill an enormously broad beat into important and meaningful narratives. And Elise Foley has quickly transformed herself into one of the best immigration reporters in the country, and in the process, she’s proved just how critical and undercovered a topic immigration is. (Note to any editors out there: You’re in luck — these guys are now employable. Don’t pass up this tremendous opportunity.)
Finally, let me thank our readers around the world. Together, you have come to our site nearly 20 million times since January 2008, and for that we’re eternally grateful. We hope we’ve given you something valuable over the years. Please continue to read our reporters’ work, whoever ends up publishing it. It’ll be worth your while.
The crisis in the world of journalism today isn’t really about journalism — it’s about the bottom line. Reporters and editors everywhere are trying to find a way to keep their very good work alive. We thought our model had a chance. It put up a good fight.
Now it’s time to say goodbye.
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