Political websites: Clocks that never stop.
The presidential election may be over, but those covering politics have plenty to write about.
It was the best of times …
Over the past few months – September and October, in particular – if you wanted to be popular on the Internet, you should have blogged or run a website about the presidential campaign. Starting with the prolonged fight for the Democratic nomination in early 2008, and then the general-election fight between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, blogs and websites that dealt specifically with politics saw their numbers soar.
For example, when Politico.com sponsored one of the Republican debates in May, some 648,000 people visited the political website, up 162 percent from April. By September, 2.6 million people were visiting Politico. Also that month, an eye-opening 4.5 million people visited the Huffington Post, up a staggering 472 percent from September 2007.
TalkingPointsMemo, a blog run by Josh Marshall, had the largest percentage increase in September, up more than 1,000 percent from the previous year.
Other sites reporting spikes in Internet traffic over the past few months included FiveThirtyEight.com, Pollster.com, and
Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog. (Daily Dish has always been well-read. But over the election campaign, Mr. Sullivan regularly talked about the increase in traffic his site was seeing.)
But now, it might be the worst of times …
My friend, Peggy Girshman, who until recently was executive editor at CQPolitics.com, says that the biggest challenge that political websites now face is how to keep up
Web traffic in the aftermath of the Nov. 4 election.
After a historic election campaign, how do these sites keep people interested in politics when the horse race is gone and actual governance takes its place? Some might be concerned that the audience would dry up, returning to look at online videos of people putting Mentos in bottles of Diet Coke rather than giggling at Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin.
Not to worry, says Taegan Goodard, an old hand at the political-blogging game. Mr. Goodard, who writes the popular and independent Political Wire blog, expects 2009 to be a banner year for political websites. He has written about politics for more than a decade, blogging his way through three presidential elections.
“Back then, there was no real ‘politics’ section in the papers,” says Goddard. “So I wanted to create my own politics section where people could follow politics the same way they follow sports.”
Goddard, who now makes a living writing his blog, knows it’s inevitable that traffic will slow down now that the election is over. But he expects that issues such as the transition between administrations, the confirmation of new officials in the Obama cabinet, and the possible replacement of one or two Supreme Court Justices will keep audiences coming back for more.
“The transition won’t end on January 20th,” says Goddard, who wrote a book on political transitions titled “You Won, Now What?”
“Some of these appointments could go into the following year,” he says. “And you’ve got a president who has to deal with a terrible economic situation.”
I also asked Goddard whether the nation has entered a new stage for American politics: the never-ending campaign. Just weeks after the election, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had already taken trips to Iowa.
“Actually, we’ve been in that constant-campaign stage for a few years now,” he told me. “For instance, the GOP campaign for 2012 has already begun. Look at all the attempts by GOP contenders to bring down Gov. Sarah Palin as they try to position themselves for the next election.”
And as Karl Rove has already written, the next Congressional campaign should have Republicans feeling optimistic about making up lost ground. Historically, the party in opposition does well in mid-term elections after a new president has been elected.
“It used to be that politics had to fight to get their way into the news cycle,” Goddard says. “But politics goes right around the clock now. And that’s the way people want it to be covered.”