The Capital of Community

John Marshall and Eric Nakagawa are two bloggers responsible for creating websites that are not only extremely popular, but also very lucrative enterprises.

Marshall’s website, Talking Points Memo, is a progressive blog with a focus on investigative journalism. Marshall’s blog was responsible for revealing the US Attorney General Scandal during the George W. Bush administration, the results of which were the dismissal of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. Moreover, the liberal news outlet, launched in November of 2000 earns Marshall around $45,000 a month and has grown from a one man operation to a six person editorial site; with three affiliated spin-off webpages.

Cheezburger, Eric Nakagawa started I Can Has Cheezburger?in January of 2007 with his female accomplice Tofuburger. The website was started as a joke with funny photos and amusing captions. Unexpectedly, this simple, yet amusing idea, has turned into a $5,600 a month cash cow for Cheez and Tofuburger.    

Despite their substantial differences, Talking Points Memo’s focus on serious political issues and I Can Has Cheezburger?’s emphasis on comedic photos, the two blogs share a similar storyline; originating as creative side-projects and ending up as highly popular websites financing profitable careers.

Both websites found a niche (politics and funny animals) where there was a high amount of demand for the content Marshall and Nakagawa were producing.  

However, their true success lies in their ability to utilize the “community” created by interested readers. One that not only could contribute funds, but readers willing to investigate stories and submit their own content for their favorite blogs. 

For Marshall, this idea of a “community” where those formerly known as the audience actively contribute to the blog took off following the 2004 general elections. 

“After the 2004 election, it had become second nature to me to make use of the readership as a source of information. What I did on the site was a hybrid of traditional journalism and what we now call collaborative journalism-working with readers,” said Marshall. 

However, Marshall would never have known he had this vast community of readers at his disposal to assist in his investigative pieces if it were not for events during the 2004 election. In an effort to be able to cover the “first in the nation,” democratic primary in New Hampshire, the creator of Talking Points Memo, asked his readers to fund his trip to the Granite State.

The reader response was so strong, Marshall was able to raise between $6,000 and $7,000 in 24 hours and use a similar strategy to expand his newsroom. Furthermore, Talking Points Memo was able to utilize the active interest in its blogs to expand the reach of his small staff to every small town in America where progressive individuals interested in the blog resided. A fact allowing Talking Points Memo to cover a multitude of issues, even when they occurred far away from the web site’s Manhattan office. 

For Nakagawa the breakthrough moment when the blogger realized the strength of the “community” following his pictorial musings came when he created a widget to allow readers to rate the quality of posts on a scale of 1 to 5 cheeseburgers. This minor tweak to the blog helped drive readership from 1,000 to 2,000 views a day.

Nakagawa harnessed this substantial audience interest to help create content for his website by building, “a tool to let readers select a ready-made photo or upload their own, add and position captions, choose font styles, and submit a finished product.”  

By facilitating audience contributions Nakagawa maximized the ability of his “community” to contribute to the blog, creating a snowball effect, where one reader’s ideas can kick-start related ideas from himself or other readers; an endless cycle of new ideas ready to be published on Cheezburger.   

The evolution of Talking Points Memo and I Can Has Cheezburger? are extremely successful models of how a part-time blog can turn into a full-time money making machine. Not all bloggers can hope to turn their passions, whether they be politics or cats, into such lucrative careers. However, by finding the right niche and successfully utilizing the readers within that niche group, bloggers opining on a wide variety of topics can create a secondary and maybe, a primary flow of income. 

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