As we get closer to WND’s 18th anniversary as the first independent online news agency, I have been reflecting on what I’ve witnessed as far as the changing landscape of the Internet.

One story over the weekend caught my eye – about the implosion of MSNBC ratings.

When we started WND in 1997, MSNBC was the largest website of any kind, anywhere – No. 1, numero uno, king of the hill, top of the heap, “A number one,” as Frank Sinatra would say.

I decided to set my goals for WND high. I told anyone who would listen that WND would someday surpass MSNBC in traffic. As it turned out, that day came a long time ago. But I never expected it would happen because a partnership of Microsoft and NBC, two of the biggest corporations in the world, would allow its fledging and promising New Media experiment to commit suicide.

That is exactly what happened when MSNBC took a sharp left turn amid a corporate news establishment that was already dominated by the voices of “progressivism.”

It’s startling to take a look back on what MSNBC had accomplished and what it threw away.

To say MSNBC was an innovator would be an understatement. Not only did it do a great job promoting interactivity between TV and the Internet, but it broke news – often ahead of CNN, then the only cable news competitor.

MSNBC also employed under-utilized voices on TV – from Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham to Alan Keyes and Michael Savage, if you can believe it.

The prime-time Alan Keyes show was canceled in 2002 after a five-month run with management blaming poor ratings. But those “poor ratings” were comparable to some of MSNBC’s longest-running shows in recent years – and that was back in the early pioneering days of cable TV news.

The Michael Savage show is an interesting case, too. While MSNBC did not cite ratings in the cancellation of his weekend show, it’s interesting to note that back in 2003, his TV program had higher ratings than does any weekend show on MSNBC today – by a significant margin.

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Can you imagine Keyes, Ingraham, Savage and Coulter on MSNBC today – even as guests? MSNBC is a political one-note johnny. It’s like Izvestia or Pravda back in the old days of the Soviet Union. It’s like an official house organ of the Democratic Party. If you gave a thriving TV network to the Communist Party USA, it would not differ much from the programming on MSNBC, with the possible exception of being slightly more interesting to watch.

What prompts decisions like that?

I’ve seen it happen throughout my lifetime. And when I look back at the history of innovative institutions and businesses, there is an obvious cycle in their lives that demonstrate this tendency to depart from the principles, values and convictions that made them successful.

One of my dear old friends was a guy named Carl Karcher. He started a fast-food franchise in California around the time McDonald’s was getting started. It was called Carl’s Jr. Karcher was a very conservative Christian man who, like the owners of Chick-fil-A, brought those beliefs to his business dealings.

Today, every time I see a smutty Carl’s Jr. commercial, I think of my old friend and how he must be spinning in his grave over what has happened to his fast-food empire.

I’m fond of telling the story of the New York Times and how it was founded as a Christian newspaper – just as most every other major newspaper in America was.

The same can be said about virtually every major and prestigious university in the country.

Think about how almost every cultural institution in America has drifted and shifted from solid Christian foundations to the secular and humanist groundings of sand.

Why does that happen? Why do institutions gravitate philosophically and spiritually in ways that are often at odds with their own business self-interest?

I think Bob Dylan nailed the answer in one phrase in his song “It’s Alright, Ma”: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Another way of saying that is, “He not busy being born spiritually is busy dying.”

As WND approaches its 18th anniversary May 4, I’m thinking about these things – and how to avoid such a fate for my company.

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