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Ten Years: Ten Thoughts (plus John’s)

It was ten years ago this weekend — ten years ago today, I think, but maybe tomorrow — that John Hinderaker went to Blogger and set up Power Line. On Memorial Day that weekend he gave me a call and invited me to contribute. Once one of my kids helped me get into the publishing platform, we were off and running. Looking back, I thought I might take the occasion to offer a few random thoughts that I hope might be of interest to readers.

1. John and I had already been writing columns and essays together for ten years. John was the brains of the operation. I was the one who spent time trying to place our pieces for publication. The highlight of our pre-Power Line work was “George Bush’s tax return,” published by National Review in May 1994. It was an attack on the incredibly shoddy (and influential) work of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele. Rich Lowry edited the piece for NR. We were excited about the publication of the piece in NR; we faxed a copy of the article to President Bush. President Bush wrote us one of his handwritten notes:

Dear Scott and John,

Your great piece “Barlett and Steele: What Went Wrong?” [our title for the piece] was right on the target.

The problem is, of course, they have damaged us by their sloppy if not vengeful writing. I am glad you set the record straight.

I would love to know if those two ever try to rebut that which you have written. Better still, if they apologized, though I would not hold my breath on that one.

Many thanks for that insightful piece. It made Barbara and me feel very good indeed.

Sincerely, and gratefully –
George Bush

I think John has the original handwritten note hanging in his den.

2. The first things that struck me about writing on the Internet were the freedom and immediacy of publication. The second thing that struck me was the lack of readers. Newspapers and magazines gave us a built-in readership. What do you do to earn readers on the Internet? Within the first two or three months we had a few hundred readers outside our immediate families. I wanted regular readers to have a reason to return every day and devoted myself to posting early every morning before I went to work.

3. I think our first significant link came from Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy. Thank you, Professor Volokh.

I think the first serious notice anyone took of us was Hugh Hewitt, whom I heard talking about our work on the Coleman/Wellstone (and then Coleman/Mondale) Senate campaign in the fall of 2002 one night as I drove to a fundraiser at which Karen Hughes was appearing. I just about drove off the road when I heard Hugh talking about Power Line. My colleague Gene Allen had mentioned Power Line to Hugh when he was doing an in-store promotional appearance in St. Paul. Thank you Gene, thank you Hugh.

The encouragement of Michelle Malkin also gave us a timely boost. Well before she had climbed onboard the Internet herself, we wrote and asked her to take a look at the site. She wrote back: “You guys have a great thing going.” That meant a lot to us. Thank you, Michelle.

It wasn’t long before Glenn Reynolds began to find items worthy of notice on the site and to send us the horde of readers who look to InstaPundit to direct traffic. Thank you, Glenn.

4. By the summer of 2004 we had a few thousand regular readers a day. My recollection differs from John’s on this point, but I think our software showed us having about 3,000 unique readers and 6,000 total hits a day. We thought we had a good thing going, a sense that was confirmed by the invitation we received that summer to cover the GOP convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City from August 30-September 2. John did a fantastic job covering the convention for us. He even caught future Minnesota Senator Al Franken in a characteristic moment, going ballistic on Radio Row (photo above left).

5. Rathergate occurred a week after the conclusion of the 2004 GOP convention. Rathergate occurred in part because of regular readers who got us going with information they emailed on the morning of September 9. It is amazing to me in retrospect that we were able to post updates to “The Sixty-First Minute” based on messages from the few thousand regular readers we had at the time. Other readers came that morning from links that directed them to us. The first significant link to the post, as I recall, was Jim Geraghty’s at NRO’s Campaign Spot (then the Kerry Spot). Thank you, Jim. The link that changed my life, I learned later, was the one that Andrew Breitbart supplied along with the screaming siren on the Drudge Report. Thank you, Andrew. You are missed.

6. I’ve written for Power Line just about every day for 10 years. I have no unexpressed thoughts left. I think my favorite post of the thousands I have written is “About those roses.”

7. What does it take to do well writing on the Internet? It helps to have news of interest to report, of course, and to have commentary based on it. I also think it helps to be a little obsessive, to be able to return to the same subject with something new to say, to revisit it from a different angle. I think of Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison, NEH Chairman Jim Leach, (Don’t Leave it to) Emanuel Cleaver, and so on. (The Star Tribune is in a category unto itself.)

What do these folks have in common? They are frauds, all of them. I am grateful to all our readers, but especially those who stuck with me through the series devoted to these subjects.

8. Power Line has opened so many doors for us it’s hard to count them all. We have made a lot of friends we would never have made without the site. I am grateful.

9. I have found writing for the site every day to be an effective and inexpensive form of anger management therapy.

10. More gratitude: I am so grateful to John for asking me along for the ride over the last ten years. After we had been up for a couple of months, John had the idea of asking his college friend and debate partner, Paul Mirengoff, to join us. Great idea, John! Thanks to Paul and to Steve Hayward, who joined us last year, for everything they have contributed to the success of the site. Our publisher Joe Malchow has helped us survive death-defying catastrophes and improved the site technically to the point where, after 10 years, we are doing better than ever.

When he invited me to start contributing to the site, I told John I’d be happy if only he read what I had to say, but the thought that we would ever have readers struck me as a pathetic fantasy. As usual, John was right, I was wrong.

I am grateful to my wife and kids. They have been incredibly supportive.

I am most grateful to our readers — literate, knowledgeable, encouraging, large-hearted, responsive to every good cause we have supported. You have kept me going for the past 10 years.

JOHN adds: Scott–who, as usual, is much too modest–wrote about the origins of our writing partnership here. I wrote about how Power Line got its start here, and Paul supplemented my recollections. Along with those Scott mentioned, we are grateful to Mitch Pearlstein, founder and President of the Center of the American Experiment, who gave us some of our early writing opportunities and sponsored a memorable debate between Congressman Martin Sabo and me which you can still see on CSpan. Also Liz Steffes, a friend of my daughter Laura, who is grown now but was a 13-year-old girl when, passing through our kitchen ten years ago, she suggested, after a moment’s thought, the name for this site. But for Liz, I might have stalled out on Blogger, unable to come up with a name, and abandoned the project. And we can’t thank Hugh Hewitt, one of the nicest men in the world, enough. He promoted our site relentlessly in the early days and continues to be a good friend. Without his early support we might have sunk without leaving a trace.

The best thing about writing on the internet has been the many great people we have gotten to know. I don’t want to start naming them because there is no way to name them all, but our lives have been immeasurably enriched by the friendships we have made and the fascinating and sometimes powerful people we have met as a result of this web site.

We have changed software several times over the years and haven’t tried to keep records, so we don’t have an accurate tally of the traffic we have enjoyed. But in rough numbers, since that Memorial Day weekend ten years ago there have been 300 million or more visits to Power Line. Which is evidence, I guess, that obsessive-compulsive behavior is sometimes rewarded!

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