By Drew Clark
I got the news today from an insider: National Journal’s Technology Daily, which covered the tech and information policy on the inside for nearly nine years, is closing down in January.
I’m no longer a part of Technology Daily, having left in August 2006 to pursue another journalistic opportunity. But I was there from November 1998 until last year, serving as a senior writer for the publication and writing more than 2,400 stories for Tech Daily. When something that you’ve been a part of for eight of its nine-year-life dies, that affects you. It’s time for a moment of appreciation.
In the e-mail, the president of the National Journal Group says that the company “will be expanding our technology coverage across our publications in 2008, in recognition that technology issues infuse nearly every area we cover: health care, energy and the environment, national security, education, and even campaigns and elections.” The e-mail then notes that Tech Daily, which it notes was launched “during the tech boom,” will be closed down.
Its penultimate graph concludes:
Technology issues and coverage have come a long way in ten years; it is time to recognize the need to incorporate technology into all that we do. We plan to make some of TechDaily’s most popular features available in CongressDaily.
Certainly it is true that Tech Daily was launched in the tech boom, and successfully weathered the tech recession of 2001-2002 (and beyond, for the telecom sector) on the strength of its reporting and editing. But tech issues – or at least Web 2.0 issues – are clearly booming once again. Telecom policy, intellectual property, cybersecurity, privacy and the tech presidency are as relevant to Washington insiders (and their outside-the-beltway patrons) as never before. There remains a discernable group of people who care about “tech policy.” Indeed, the breakaway success of Creative Commons, in my mind, speaks to the fact that there are millions more of Internet users who care about the conflicts like copyright.
So why was Tech Daily not able to make it?
I can’t say for certain. But as one who continues to write on tech, media and telecom policy, both on this blog and elsewhere, I’d like to offer some preliminary thoughts.
1. Is there room in Washington for more than one Com Daily?
From the time Tech Daily launched on January 25, 1999, to today, Warren Communication’s Com Daily was the bible of telecom policy. Com Daily was slow to grasp the significance of the Internet as a policy issue, and for several years, that served to Tech Daily’s advantage. I also like to think that Tech Daily’s reporting and writing was more entertaining and readable than Com Daily. (Which would you rather eat, your vegetables or cake and ice cream?) Still, the reality of digital convergence ultimately put telecom, media, copyright and information technology issues within the same realm. And as Com Daily (and its companion publication, Warren’s Washington Internet Daily) migrated into that space, Tech Daily also moved more aggressively into the Com Daily strongly of FCC-land. Still, when you’re Tech Daily, with 10 editorial employees listed in your mast-head, you’re always up against Warren Communications and its 21 editorial employees. Warren has been around since 1945.
2. Why stick with one subscription price?
I was never on the business side, so I don’t know whether the subscription and sales team ever cut deals to get sales. But everyone knows that the base price of Technology Daily was more than $4,000 a year, with a half-priced version generally available for non-profit organizations. That’s a lot of money, even for lobbyists. Com Daily may cost a little less, but it is also in the same multi-thousand dollar range. There have got to be some MBAs out there who can think about ways to charge different prices for different packages of specialized news. How about a $200 a year base price subscription, with a $2,000 or $4,000 package available for those who must have the premium content, such special reports and invitations to forums and other events? Tech Daily did do several such events (many of which I had the opportunity to be involved in), but this perk could have been even more of a mainstay. Alternatively, or additionally, National Journal Group could have taken Tech Daily the advertiser-supported route, which is the way most destination blogs sustain themselves. When you work so hard to build your reputation as the go-to place for tech policy news, you shouldn’t cut yourself from all new people who care about the subject but don’t know about you because they aren’t insiders.
3. Adapting to Web 2.0, or the read/write Internet
Tech Daily preceded blogging and podcasting, and eventually adapted to them. But later than it should have. Others had already filled the biggest void for tech news online. Credit is due to Danny Glover, then-Managing Editor (and currently Editor), who spearheaded both efforts. Danny, who launched his Beltway Blogroll blog (a publicly-available site) in June 2005, clearly appreciated the role that blogs play in the news cycle. Danny wanted to get reporters blogging, too. The problem was always: how do you blog beyond a pay firewire? With the launch of the publicly-available site Tech Daily Dose in November 2006 (most of the posts were written by Senior Writer Andrew Noyes), Tech Daily may have been trying to move in this direction. The next step? Get your readers to become your reporters, by opening up certain wiki-style documents to the public at large. That is, I believe, journalism’s next big challenge. Unfortunately, it will remain for the next generation of tech policy news sites to come.