Twenty-seven years ago, Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of the Sacramento Union, sat in his office flipping through a stack of written requests to subscribe to his paper.
The Sacramento Union was something of a legend. The oldest daily newspaper west of the Mississippi River, it counted Mark Twain, Herb Caen and Bret Harte among its famous contributors. Under Farah’s leadership, it offered a unique news perspective that appealed to a geographically broad audience.
Perhaps that was why Farah found subscription requests not just from all over California, but all over the United States. People from far outside the paper’s circulation area had heard of the Union’s reputation and were eager to get it. Unfortunately, there was no economical way to deliver the news outside of the Sacramento area.
But this dilemma gave Farah an idea: Why not harness the power of the Internet to deliver news electronically to readers all over the country, and indeed all over the world?
Seven years later, on May 4, 1997, Joseph Farah launched WorldNetDaily.com, the first independent online news agency. Now known as WND.com, it is marking its 20th anniversary this May 4, in an era when online companies launch and then fail in the blink of an eye.
“I had been frustrated by the fact that we had big demand for the innovative paper we had created in Sacramento from all over Northern California, Southern California and, indeed, across the United States,” Farah recalled. “But there was no way to get the paper efficiently and cost-effectively to consumers outside our traditional delivery area. At the same time, I had been visiting the Silicon Valley and was becoming aware of the emerging technologies and what they indicated was possible in the near term for disseminating digital information anywhere. That’s when I began planning what I then called ‘an electronic newspaper.'”
The rise of the Internet did not happen soon enough to save the Sacramento Union from closing its doors in 1994, but it proved to be a boon for WorldNetDaily. The fledgling website quickly established itself as a powerhouse in traffic, rivaling almost every major U.S. newspaper in audience in its first two years and throughout its 20-year history.
But how could WND bring readers all the national and global news they craved with only a small team of reporters and contributors? The answer came from the DrudgeReport, which also launched in 1997. According to Farah, the DrudgeReport showed that aggregation of links to news articles on other sites could supplement his own site’s coverage and give readers a comprehensive news presentation.
“The simple genius of Matt Drudge showed the way,” Farah said. “He showed that good news judgment had been undervalued for too long in the news business. He showed that independent thinking and provocative headlines could serve as a valuable roadmap for people to navigate the news for themselves.”
In fact, before launching WorldNetDaily, Farah actually called Matt Drudge and asked him to come work for him on his new website. Drudge politely declined the offer, and his own website subsequently grew into the top news aggregator in the world.
Today, WND.com ranks consistently among the top 500 U.S.-based websites, and the top 20 news websites, in terms of traffic. It has also blossomed into the No. 1 Christian website in the world thanks to the strong evangelical faith of Joseph and Elizabeth Farah – a faith that shapes their worldview and the content of WND.
Farah realized the Internet had the power to loosen the stranglehold the mainstream media had on the news industry in 1997, leveling the playing field for more media competition across America and around the world. And competition was exactly what the mainstream media needed, in Farah’s view, because they were forgetting their main purpose.
“Why did I leave the old ‘mainstream media’ to start something fresh?” Farah asked. “Because I saw that we had lost our way, we had abandoned our mission, we had betrayed our sacred trust as practitioners of the ‘free press.’ How?
“Because, as everyone in the press once understood, the central role of the free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government and other powerful institutions. That’s why America’s founders uniquely guarded in the First Amendment the practices of the free press as a guardian of liberty and another check and balance on government power.
“I took that seriously 20 years ago. And I saw most of the establishment press did not. In fact, I saw a cozy, symbiotic and unhealthy relationship developing between the corporate press and state power. I vowed WND would never fall prey or be seduced by that temptation.”
Columns on WND’s 20th anniversary:
“The 6 biggest moments in 20 years of WND” by Joseph Farah
Why’d Hillary lose? Blame Joseph Farah by Jane Chastain
Free speech, Coulter, WND and me by Barbara Simpson
Free speech for me, but not for thee by Jerry Newcombe
WND, Trump neutering the mainstream media by Gina Loudon
The site began with only a handful of reporters who came from all walks of journalism: television, radio and print.
David Kupelian, WND’s vice president and managing editor, has been with the organization since 1999 and helped Farah build it up in the early years.
“I had worked together with my friend Joseph Farah on another journalism project in the early 1990s, so in 1999 when he was getting ready to transition WND (then WorldNetDaily) into a for-profit news organization, Joseph called and asked if I wanted to become his managing editor and help him roll out this pioneering new company,” Kupelian said. “We got together, talked all afternoon about his vision for WND, shook hands, and that was that. Over the next year or so, we brought on most of the rest of our team – which is actually one of the most unique aspects of WND: We have almost no turnover! Most of the people I work with day after day, year in and year out, have been with us literally for at least 10 or 15 years or, like me, 18 years. WND attracts gifted journalists from throughout the media world – from all the big print, wire, cable and broadcast outlets, and WND becomes their home.”
Kupelian believes WND occupies two niches that may seem at first glance to be unrelated.
“WND is one of the most popular and trusted news websites in America, but is also the world’s largest Christian content website,” he noted. “Yet, if one agrees that a journalist is a professional truth-teller, and that the Christian faith is nothing if not about Truth, then there’s no conflict between the two.”
Kupelian praised WND for its willingness to acknowledge truths that can be difficult for other news outlets to swallow.
“I’m a 35-year journalism veteran, but in today’s world, how many news organizations would I want to work for? Not too many,” he declared. “Most – not just ‘mainstream’ organizations, but even, frankly, many ‘conservative’ or ‘alternative’ news outlets – shy away from acknowledging politically incorrect truths that a generation ago were obvious to almost everyone. Hard-core, provable truth like, for example – Islam is not a religion of peace and never has been; homosexuality is a sin and a disorder; transgenderism is a mental illness and delusion, and so on – is increasingly indigestible to most in the news business.
“For these and many other reasons, I really appreciate Joseph for calling me that day in 1999, and am very grateful to God that He has kept WND alive and thriving, despite relentless attacks of every imaginable sort throughout the years. I guess we must be doing something right.”
Joe Kovacs, executive news editor for the site, had a long history in broadcast journalism as a network news anchor on radio and a managing editor for several TV stations when he joined WND in 1999.
“I can’t stress enough what a game-changer WND has been to the news industry,” Kovacs said. “Even while I was running TV newsrooms, I would read and mine WND for story ideas. It was simply amazing to me how one small company could report news better than the big boys.
“This fledgling company had a much firmer grasp on what real news is when compared to many in the so-called mainstream media. WND changed the national conversation from whatever the New York Times was reporting to accurate coverage of real events, without bowing to any political agenda.”
“Part of the beauty of WND is that it reports what others refuse to,” he added. “Perhaps other news agencies are really not so interested in reporting truth, or the information they withhold from the public does not fit their narrative.”
Over the years, WND has expanded beyond its initial function as a news site. In 1999 the company created what is now known as the WND Superstore. Begun primarily as a bookstore, it now offers an extensive array of thousands of products from books to movies to preparedness products to jewelry and much more.
In 2002, WND Books was created. It was the first publishing enterprise to be started by a digital company, and it has distinguished itself over the years with the highest percentage of New York Times bestsellers of any book company in the world.
Ten years later, in 2012, WND Films was launched with the debut of “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment,” the most successful faith film of that year and the following year.
Twenty years after its founding, WND remains committed to its mission as “an independent news company dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice and revitalizing the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty.” Its founder is proud of the inroads his organization has made into the media marketplace.
“I remember thinking in 1997 that WorldNetDaily would challenge the Big Media and eventually, with other independent efforts like ours, end what had become a virtual monopoly on the news because it was dominated by a single, secular, ‘progressive’ worldview,” Farah said. “It took 20 years, but I think we are seeing the beginning of the end of that monopoly in 2017.”