By Edward B. Driscoll Jr.
Roger L. Simon had one goal when he started blogging in 2003 – to promote his new book, “Director’s Cut: A Moses Wine Novel.” That plan didn’t work as well as he hoped, but it introduced Simon to the promise of a whole new media world and to people who shared his enthusiasm for it.
And the rest is PJ Media history – a decade of it, to be precise.
Ten years ago this month, on a Spartan website that looked much different than the expansive current version of PJ Media.com, Simon and co-founder Charles Johnson unveiled their vision of a citizen journalism network fueled by the “Pajamahadeen.” As PJ Media upgrades the site again today, it’s a good time to reflect on how the media landscape and our place in it have evolved over the past decade.
You can see our roots in Instapundit, which is still going strong. You can see the evolution of blogging into longer forms through our columnists. You can see future of video on the Internet through PJTV. The whole history of new media is here.
The idea for the blogger network that started it all sprang from a story that is in the news again, courtesy of Hollywood’s attempt to rewrite media history. The movie “Truth” fails mightily at portraying former CBS anchor Dan Rather and former “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes as victims of a right-wing conspiracy. But the film unwittingly succeeds at reminding Americans why they are better informed now that the likes of Rather and Mapes have lost their monopoly on the news.
PJ Media helped break that monopoly. Simon and Johnson started the company in the wake of “Rathergate,” which exposed forged documents about President George W. Bush’s military record, and they gained a company name, too. The original brand Pajamas Media came from CBS loyalist Jonathan Klein’s snarky barb about bloggers pontificating in their pajamas without any editorial oversight.
Briefly known as Open Source Media, Pajamas Media launched with a network of more than 70 bloggers, including Glenn Reynolds, aka the Instapundit. The editorial board featured prize-winning journalists like Claudia Rosett and Michael Ledeen, who still write columns for PJ Media today.
Two noteworthy achievements stand out in Simon’s mind from the blog network’s early days. First, he recruited as Baghdad editors the Iraqi brothers Omar and Muhammad Fadhil, who blogged about democracy from within their own country.
“When Iraq had its first democratic elections, the coverage on Pajamas Media was bigger than anybody’s because they set up a series of stringers across Iraq to monitor the votes and how it was happening,” Simon recalled in a recent interview. “We had coverage of that that no one else had.”
PJ Media also played a role in freeing three Iranians from months of diplomatic limbo in Russia. Zahra Kamalfar and her children, Anna and Davood, lived in a Russian airport from May 2006 through March 2007. PJ Media’s coverage included an exclusive video that was smuggled out of the airport.
“Because of the pressure we applied, we helped them to get to Canada,” Simon noted.
Although built upon a foundation of written words, PJ Media has eagerly embraced other forms of communicating with our audiences throughout its history. Podcasts came first. I produced our initial episodes in my den, and those efforts eventually led to our “PJM Political” show on SiriusXM satellite radio.
The 55-minute show ran every week for more than three years. The highlight for me came during a stretch in 2007-2008 when every Republican presidential candidate and representatives from the campaigns of all of the Democrats appeared on the show.
The presidential campaign became the setting for another important milestone in PJ Media history – the launch of PJTV at the Republican National Convention in 2008. The PJTV crew were initially relegated to a tiny booth, but by building on our reputation, and the lineup of big names we had scheduled for live interviews and panel discussions, we finally ended up with a large area, in the center of media row, and closer to the action than some of the mainstream media TV networks inside the convention hall.
Looking back, Simon noted that streaming the convention “was an absolutely phenomenal experience – and kind of a madhouse, because no one had ever done a broadcast through the Internet for a political convention before.”
A few months later, PJ Media headed to the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., for the first time. It was a great forum for introducing the team in person to a huge gathering of conservatives.
That same year saw the rise of the tea party movement against runaway government spending on bailouts, healthcare and more. PJ Media not only covered major tea party rallies but also equipped citizens around the country with video cameras to record firsthand reports.
Like all innovative media ventures, PJ Media has adapted to changing realities over the years. The original blog network included writers across the political spectrum, but in the increasingly partisan atmosphere of the blogosphere, that model proved unworkable. Instead the company quickly became the home of the best aggregation of center-right commentary on politics, policy and the media.
Eventually, PJ Media became a more traditional media outlet with a masthead and smaller roster of regular contributors. It morphed from trying to break news to offering commentary on the news, and it has been doing that extremely well for the last several years.
Simon praised the PJ Media columnists who “gave the site gravitas, because most of them had written books. They were well-known people in the world of political opinion.”
On the video side of the business, PJTV shifted its focus from long-form television-style programming for the Internet to creating premium content for subscribers as well as clips for YouTube. Stephen Green, Andrew Klavan, Scott Ott, Alfonzo Rachel, Bill Whittle and other personalities continued to capture the interest of viewers – and they still are.
Although the vision changed over time, the depth of talent at PJ Media – whether in text, audio or video – remained the one constant in our first decade.
Joan Seavey, the vice president of business development, said Simon’s specialty as PJ Media’s editorial mastermind from 2005 through 2013 was handpicking insightful experts. “If you do the job well and create the right content, the people really do come,” she said. “We’ve developed a really faithful and loyal audience that’s stuck with us.”
PJ Media Managing Editor Aaron Hanscom said editing the copy of luminaries like Simon, historian Victor Davis Hanson, Roger Kimball, Michael Ledeen, Andy McCarthy, Claudia Rosett and Michael Walsh “has been as much an honor as a joy.” And the editorial depth chart has just grown stronger over time.
Hanscom mentioned a handful of writers in particular:
- Bryan Preston, who quickly made PJ Media a go-to site for breaking news and opinion with the launch of the group blog PJ Tatler in 2011. When Preston became the digital media director for the Texas General Land Office this year, Rick Moran and Walsh rose to the challenge of keeping the content on PJ Tatler compelling and relevant – so much so that the section is morphing into a bigger part of PJMedia.com. It will no longer be called the “Tatler,” Instead, it will be the “trending” section of the website that is dedicated to covering important news stories as they happen.
- Bridget Johnson, a veteran journalist, who “has helped take PJ Media to new heights with her reporting from the nation’s capital.” Among other efforts, she created the Yellow Ribbon Project to tell the stories of Americans who are held captive or missing abroad.
- And J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky, who as a team investigated and exposed the politically biased hiring practices of the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder. Hanscom said their 11-part series is PJ Media’s “greatest editorial achievement.”
The year 2011 was a momentous one for PJ Media. In addition to launching PJ Tatler, the company shortened its name from Pajamas Media to PJ Media. The change reflected our maturity as a company and the reality of what our loyal audience had been calling us for years.
PJ Media also added a focus on lifestyle in 2011. That venture expanded the website’s focus beyond news and politics to topics like entertainment, faith and liberty as covered in books, movies, music and pop culture.
And the improvements keep coming. This year we added a parenting channel to our editorial mix. Supervising editor Paula Bolyard and her team of writers offer real solutions to real parents and also give them a slice of real life.
Parenting is one of the core categories on this new website, with the others being trending topics, news and politics, homeland security, faith and lifestyle. These buckets of content improved the organization of the site, and we complemented the editorial changes with technology upgrades like a responsive design that will make the articles easier to read based on the type of device each reader is using.
“It started out like a political blog, and it grew into insightful reporting and a conversation with readers on more than politics,” Seavey said. “We expanded the subject-matter base, and now we’re expanding it once again.” She said the goal is to reach young working adults who have less time and consume information in briefer packages on their mobile devices.
The PJ Media that exists today is one that pleases Simon, who is now covering the 2016 election on his blog Diary of a Mad Voter. “I’m very happy that this evolved into a full-blown media company that’s still here; so many websites quickly disappear.”
Ask him how PJ Media managed to succeed and Simon has a straightforward answer: “We’ve had passion, and I’m proud of that. And if you want to know why people go to the site, that’s the reason – passionate people writing passionately.”