So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
By now you’ve all seen the press release we issued about my stepping down as Bearing Drift Editor-in-Chief and from Virginia Line Media LLC. But since I’ve been writing here for seven years now, and some of you have been reading my scribblings for almost a decade, I feel like I owe you more than just a press release to explain why I’ve chosen to leave. Some of you will appreciate it, others will think this is just Schoeneman’s oversized ego at it again. Both are probably true. But you’re reading this anyway, so hey – obviously you want to know what I’m thinking. What’s wrong with you?
I turn 40 on July 12. That’s a pretty big milestone for me, and I’ve been looking back and evaluating where I’ve been and where I want to go. When I started writing for Bearing Drift, I was just another random blogger Jim Hoeft had recruited away from a competing site. I started writing in 2008 for Too Conservative, then started my own site in 2009. It was a pain, churning out content daily to keep readership up, and when Jim asked me to join Bearing Drift – then, as now, the biggest of the big dog’s in Virginia political circles – I felt honored and relieved. I could shutter my site (which I ended up selling) and move on to bigger and better things.
I remember being excited when I joined Bearing Drift. Bearing Drift is unique among Virginia’s political websites. We’re one of the longest lasting, and that’s because we’ve never been afraid to reinvent ourselves and adapt to change. Things are radically different now than they were back in 2004 when Jim started the site. New sites have come and gone. All the big names from when I started – Raising Kaine, Virginia Virtucon, Not Larry Sabato – are gone. New ones have stepped in, but Bearing Drift is still here.
A few weeks ago, I heard through a colleague that a Virginia political action group was looking to partner with a website for the upcoming election cycle. They inadvertently paid us the highest compliment we’ve gotten in a long time – they turned us down. Why? “Bearing Drift is too journalistic for what we want to do.”
That has always been my goal here, whether it was as a contributor, as an editor, or Editor-in-Chief. I wanted us to be different from the other sites out there – not a blog. I wanted us to be commentators and purveyors of news and deeper thinking than what we’d seen coming from blogs in Virginia politics. Sure, you can get a lot of clicks by being incendiary, but what I’ve always wanted to do is talk about things in a way that made folks think, educated them about the nuances of process that the media usually screws up on, and entertain. We’ve done our best to do that. We’ve championed long-form writing, not punchy listicles. We covered events first hand, not report on them second hand using anonymous sources. We resisted the easy lure of sponsored post money, and we wouldn’t let ourselves be turned into catspaws for whichever candidate had a beef and didn’t want to dirty his hands by speaking on the record. And when we’ve screwed up, we’ve owned it and fixed it in a way that most online media never does.
The result was that we’ve always walked a hazy middle ground that made us hard to quantify. We aren’t journalists, but we’re not bloggers either. We have editorial standards, we have a review process, we have style guidelines, weekly schedules, and internal controls – all the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a newspaper. The biggest difference was our contributors are volunteers who write when they want to and while we would hand out assignments and ask for posts once a week, we never told folks what they could or couldn’t write.
I think that model works pretty well, when you’ve got motivated people who have something to say.
My biggest problem was that I was running out of motivation. After multiple years of sharing opinions, debating and arguing, I’ve really just had enough. You can only have the same argument with the same people a couple hundred times before it gets old. I was tired of trading barbs with folks. The current political environment is toxic, and I don’t foresee it getting any better. I know that I’ve contributed to the toxicity, and that’s on me, but I’ve also done my best to live by one of the political mottos I’ve had for a while: “don’t want none, don’t start none.” It was rare for me to take the first shot at somebody out of the blue, and I saved most of the invective for those who truly deserved it. But in the current environment, unless you’re punching somebody in the nose all the time, folks think you’re a wishy-washy liberal. As much as I like smacking around Democrats and Republicans that make us all look bad, like Dave Brat, Bob Marshall and Corey Stewart, I just don’t have the desire anymore to take shots at these guys. At some point, I can only hope that voters see through the scams they’ve been running, but I know that if they haven’t done that after all the copious amounts of digital ink I and others have spilled writing about them, any more of it from me won’t make a difference. You can lead a horse to water, as the old saying goes. I’m not really a horse guy, anyway.
In the end, the fundamental reason I am leaving is that I feel like I’ve done and accomplished about as much in the online commentary sphere as I’m going to. No, I’m not quitting to run for office again. No, I’m not quitting because Corey Stewart forced me out (although I think it’s hilarious that folks would actually claim this). No, I’m not quitting because nobody’s paying me to write anymore (they never were). My wife and I made the decision back in the middle of May, and chose the date because we were both turning 40. It felt like the right time, and it still does.
I do regret not being able to write that article about Bob Marshall retiring, though.
I don’t have a lot of other regrets, but I do have things I’m going to miss.
Working with the incredible folks who have poured their hearts into Bearing Drift and all of our other properties will be at the top. The friendships I’ve created with Jim, Shaun, Scott, Lynn, and others over the years has been worth all the nonsense that seven years worth of sharing my opinions has produced. I’ve gotten to crisscross the state, covered a presidential nominating convention, multiple Virginia conventions, and dozens of other meetings and debates. Done radio across Virginia, and seen my name in print more times than I can count. I’ve met people from every part of Virginia, from Bristol to Chesapeake, from Winchester to Danville, and in all those places, I’ve had folks come up and tell me they loved the site and thanked me for writing. That was the best part of the job.
I took a while the other day to run back through some of my old pieces, and I pulled out a few from each year that I particularly enjoyed writing. Here they are in case you want to read them again, or if you missed them the first time.
Understanding Wisconsin, 2011
Again, thanks everybody for reading all these years. Keep voting Republican, and I hope I’ll run into you at the polls on election day.