Amid continued internal turmoil, plummeting ad revenues, and despite the election of Donald Trump, which the outlet hoped would spark its big comeback, ThinkProgress, an independent project of the Democratic Party’s Center for American Progress, shut its doors Friday.
In a report published Friday, The Daily Beast announced the not-unexpected news that after reaching out to over a dozen news publishers to try to stave off the site’s demise, Center for American Progress Action Fund Executive Director Navin Nayak was forced to tell the already depleted staff of ThinkProgress that the project was officially defunct.
“Given that we could find no new publisher, we have no other real option but to fold the ThinkProgress website back into CAP’s broader online presence with a focus on analysis of policy, politics, and news events through the lens of existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts,” said Nayak in a statement reported by The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein and Gideon Resnick. “Conversations on how to do so are just beginning, but we will seek to reinvent it as a different platform for progressive change.”
Founded during the George W. Bush administration and maintaining prominence as one of the top progressive sites during the Obama era, ThinkProgress operated as an editorially independent project of CAP. Now, Nayak said, it would be folded back into the Democratic action fund.
While thinkprogress.org will continue to exist, Stein and Resnick explain, “it will no longer function as an independent enterprise focused on original reporting.” Future contributions to the site will come from the group’s various scholars promoting the progressive agenda, while the ClimateProgress blog will be taken back over by founder Joe Romm.
Stein and Resnick provide a summary of some of the reasons ThinkProgress ultimately failed to stay afloat (formatting adjusted):
…the site suffered from editorial frictions during the Obama years, when the visions of some of the staff clashed with the larger political demands of CAP and its donors. At one point, CAP’s then-CEO Jen Palmieri wrote a guest post on Yglesias’ ThinkProgress blog to issue a defense of Third Way after Yglesias had criticized the centrist-Democratic group. Elsewhere, there were rifts and tensions over ThinkProgress posts that were critical of Israel.
In the fall of 2015, staffers at ThinkProgress unionized, in part as a means of formalizing editorial independence from CAP brass. And there was a sense that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 would spark a boomlet in material for staff to investigate and cover. In 2018, the site brought on board Jodi Enda, an alum of CNN, to serve as editor in chief, in what was presented as a movement towards more original reporting. But editorial tensions have lingered.
The site’s unionized staff reportedly turned on CNN alum Enda, particularly over her handling of a piece that was critical of Bernie Sanders. The site’s publication of the piece resulted in backlash from the democratic socialist, who accused CAP of doing the bidding of corporate donors.
But what appears to have been the biggest factor was the site’s deepening financial woes. The Daily Beast obtained a document showing the site “facing a $3-million delta between revenues and expenses in 2019, of which $350,000 had come via a shortfall in ad revenue.” (Read the full report here.)