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Seventeen Years and Counting

It was four years ago today that Brian Schoeneman, Bearing Drift’s editor-in-chief at the time, announced he was stepping down. In his post that day, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish [1], he explained all.

As I reread his post this morning, as I do each year when it pops up in my Facebook memories, it reminded of why we at Bearing Drift do what we do. We all get battered and worn out at times, and especially in today’s political climate, but we feel it’s important to have an independent voice.

This paragraph stood out to me:

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 Hoeft 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.

Bearing Drift is, indeed, still here. Created in 2004 by Jim Hoeft, we are now in our 17th year. Some faces have been around much of that time while others are new as we endeavor to keep up with the ever-changing online political world. Our original young writers are now in their 40s but still churning out new concepts and goals, while a new group of twenty-something millennials have come on board bringing their podcasting skills and writing styles as well as ideas for the future.

Brian noted that a colleague once told him some years ago that a Virginia political action group was looking to partner with a website for the upcoming election cycle but didn’t want Bearing Drift.

“Why not?” Brian asked.

Bearing Drift is too journalistic for what we want to do,” was the response.

We’ll take that compliment. We definitely cannot be compartmentalized because of the wide array of thoughts, opinions, and life experiences our writers bring with them to enrich our offerings.

Bearing Drift is not paid by campaigns or elected officials to push their points of view. Our writers, also unpaid, are not directed to write from a particular perspective. We are mostly center-right but our opinions are our own.

Or, as Brian put it:

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, educate 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 … 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.

That model has worked very well for 17 years. All our writers are politically involved at one level or another – grassroots leadership, candidates for office, running campaigns, volunteers. When they are on campaigns they take a step away from Bearing Drift to concentrate on their candidates.

We indeed have our style guidelines: Oxford commas, one space between sentences, an ellipsis is preceded and followed by a space, to name a few. We still have our dissidents who are very vocal when they disagree but often silent when they agree.

Our one Democratic writer, a longtime Bearing Drift contributor, was a Republican until 2016. Now he offers a center-left look at issues which provides a “fair-and-balanced” approach similar to the early days of Fox News when a Republican and Democrat were on set to offer opposing opinions. The show Hannity and Colmes comes to mind.

I sent a note to Brian this morning reminding of this anniversary and thanking him for his guidance and sage words of wisdom through the years. With thanks to Brian, Jim, Shaun, Norm, and all the others from the original crew, we continue our journey through the turbulent political waters of Virginia (and national) politics. It’s not the easiest of times to be on the right side of the political aisle when all are expected to walk lockstep with the majority of Republicans … but we’re up to the task.