Rough & Tumble recorded its first hit at 1:08 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002*. Since then, it’s racked up more than 35 million page views and today is the first internets stop of the morning for your Calbuzzers, along with the other 1,998 people who incessantly gossip with each other about state politics. The single most essential news source for California political junkies, it’s the brain child of 30-year veteran, Emmy-winning, political reporter and online seer Jack Kavanagh. With so many people taking R&T for granted, we thought we’d interrupt Jack’s weird sleep schedule to find out how his work actually gets done.
Calbuzz: What’s the mission of Rough & Tumble?
Jack Kavanagh: The mission is to save readers time with a one stop, free, snapshot of California public policy and politics. It must be balanced so all will feel welcome.
CB:Describe the process of how you put together the daily report.
JK: I cruise about 25 sites in California, Washington and New York and create links to important stories from reliable sources. The internet is a sewer bubbling with viruses and misinformation; you need a guide.
CB: It sounds pretty grueling to put it together seven days a week, with updates throughout – when do you sleep?
JK: The bulk of the site goes together between 10:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. at which time I slip quietly into a sleep-deprivation induced coma. My wonderful wife gently pours hot French Roast coffee into me later in the day and I crawl out of said coma… and update the site.
CB: What’s your traffic like?
JK: Rough & Tumble readers generate about 400,000 page views (for advertisers that means 400,000 impressions) a month. Traffic is event-driven; as news breaks, traffic spikes. The peak was 34,000 page views on the day Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was running for Governor.
CB: You seem to be pretty healthy with ads — do you think it’s possible for web sites to be self-sustaining with an advertising business model?
JK: Rough & Tumble is not about making money on the internet, it’s about giving readers the information they need. This is the information business. Give readers the information they need, and readers will find you. Advertisers will also find you.
Look at the Wall Street Journal. It knows its readers’ needs intimately and works that relationship daily. Readers pay about $150 a year for the privilege. The online Wall Street Journal is a profit center for Rupert Murdoch.
CB:What’s the biggest difference you see between print and online reporting? Do you favor print, or is there just more of it out there?
JK: There is no difference. Lazy reporting in print is lazy reporting online. Brilliant reporting in print is brilliant reporting online.
The reporting — the story telling — in the Voice of San Diego is stunning. And it’s online only. The investigative reporting by California Watch is major-league. It originates on the internet and is picked up by most major print outlets. Politico reporting is first rate. And it’s online only.
Snarky writing online is often entertaining but no different that snarky writing in print. My sense is that readers like to be entertained, but they want to be informed first.
As newspapers closed their Sacramento bureaus, I noticed that they continued to follow the same stories and issues, they just did it locally.
Enterprise, balance, clarity and good storytelling don’t change whether the platform is print, the internet or the mobile phone.
CB: What did we forget to ask?
JK: What about pay walls?
Look for them to return soon. The Wall Street Journal thrives behind one. The Stockton Record is now behind a paywall. The Bay Area News Group (BANG) has a plan for a pay wall. The New York Times has a plan. Pay walls have been tried before and dropped at the San Jose Mercury and at Capitol Alert.
I have no idea whether pay walls will work this time. Pay walls may open up an opportunity to attract readers and advertisers to new alternative news producers on the internet.
Not every publication has the reputation — the brand — of the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Many subscribers of print publications have dropped their subscriptions, maybe because they did not feel the information they received was worth the cost of the subscription.
Some of those same folks will probably be standing in line to pay $500+ for an Ipad.. and use it to read…Calbuzz!
* At least that’s when Jack started using Webstat to keep track of his online traffic. He actually began his site sometime in 1995, when he was still at KOVR-TV. It was “an effort on my part to expose young, newly-arrived-in-California news producers in the KOVR newsroom to the broad scope of public policy issues in California along with the depth of reporting on those issues,” Jack recalls. “That effort failed.”