Trying to run a national political news website from this Lincoln Park loft is kind of like trying to make movies outside of Hollywood, Tom Bevan and John McIntyre admit.
But it’s working for them.
“In the last 30 days we had 6 or 7 million unique visitors,” McIntyre says of Real Clear Politics. According to websites that track page views, that put them on par with Politico, behind Drudge and ahead of Salon.
“We know the site is a major player and a place where affluent, politically important people go,” McIntyre said.
Which helps with advertisers.
“A lot of people have come to know Real Clear Politics, but don’t know who John and I are,” Bevan says.
“That’s deliberate – it’s not ‘The Huffington . . .’ ” McIntyre says as Bevan chimes in with an exaggerated “Daahhhling,” in an Arianna Huffington/Zsa Zsa Gabor voice and they laugh.
“It’s not Bevan/McIntyre,” McIntyre says.
“And it’s been the key to our success,” Bevan says. “Part of our success is being outside of Washington, being here. Neither one of us was involved in politics or journalism professionally. We were just junkies and created a site for people like us. I get paid to read and talk about politics. What’s better than that?”
Bevan and McIntyre have succeeded over the past 12 years with an unglamorous daily roundup of what they consider the most important stories on the Web.
When 2,500 journalists from around the world descended on Chicago to cover the NATO summit last weekend, McIntyre and Bevan did not host a cocktail party. They thought about it. And they actually have a nice rooftop on this loft overlooking Chicago’s skyline. But it’s just not their thing.
“I love it that they’re not into it to go to parties with politicians. They’re very unpretentious, kind of like Chicago,” said Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed. “They are a huge force. Their polling average is the Dow Jones of campaign coverage.”
RCP was a pioneer in collecting and averaging polls of political races around the country.
McIntyre was a trader and Bevan an advertising executive when they decided to switch to their avocation: news junkies.
“Our mission is: Every day we go to all these sites. We read all these things and make an editorial judgment,” Bevan said. “A lot of people who are junkies would love to get up and read this for seven hours a day. There’s so much noise out there. We’re reading all that for them.”
Bevan’s alarm goes off at 3:55 every morning, and he’s in his nearby Evanston office by 4:15 a.m. McIntyre sleeps in till 5 a.m., sometimes working from home, sometimes coming here to the loft. Because so many news websites post stories the night before, they really don’t need to focus as much on the morning lineup, posting throughout the day.
The format hasn’t changed much in 12 years. There are a few more photos, but the core of the website is still a block of headlines.
“Yes, it’s sort of text-heavy and if you’re not used to that, it can be a little overwhelming when you first come on the site,” Bevan said.
“We don’t do the ‘10 best Cheerleaders’ story to juice up page views,” McIntyre said. “We’re trying to have serious intellectual pieces. We’re not looking for the over-the-top, vitriolic, red-meat craziness on either side. A lot of these advertisers don’t want their brand associated with people who are perceived on the extreme of the right or left.”
Competitors, political operatives and elected officials who regularly consult the site say they appreciate the balance of stories that Bevan, McIntyre and their staff choose.
Going further into the website or their 10 sister websites, you’ll find more pictures and videos. They’re also writing e-books. They’ve been augmenting their staff of 60 around the country with more reporters to originate their own news.
“We’ve made a pretty significant push over the last 18 months or so to change the perception of us as just an aggregator of other people’s content,” McIntyre said. They have offices in Washington and New York, as well as their tech center in South Bend, Ind.
They were both pleasantly surprised to see their page views up this election season over four years ago when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were battling on the Democratic side as well as Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and others on the Republican side.
“Our traffic is running ahead of where it was in 2008, which is great, given that you don’t even have a Democratic contest and the Republican contest is . . .” McIntyre searched for the right words.
“Careful,” Bevan said as they laughed. “Less than scintillating?”
“. . . isn’t as exciting as it necessarily could be,” McIntyre said. “So the fact that our traffic is running higher than in ’08 is a good sign.”
Stationing themselves here, outside the D.C. cocktail circuit – in addition to sparing them the Washington-New York “bubble-think” – also lets them spend more time with their families, they said.
McIntyre, 42, has four kids. Bevan, 43, has five.