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Aiming to be the MoveOn.org of the Right

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Conservative Spotlight: Townhall.com

Aiming to be the MoveOn.org of the Right

“Successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not division and subtraction.”

–Robert H. Krieble (1916-97),
former vice chairman,
The Heritage Foundation

Ten years after the Heritage Foundation first launched Townhall.com, the popular conservative website has spun off from the Washington think tank into a newly formed corporation. The move, completed in March, is expected to boost readership, inspire activism and make Townhall the one-stop source for conservative opinion journalism on the Internet.

In some respects, Townhall has already achieved its goals. It draws 1.5-million visitors per month, has active e-mail lists with 300,000 subscribers and inspired community Meetups (Meetup.com) during the 2004 presidential election. Sixty-eight opinion columnists (including HUMAN EVENTS’ Terence Jeffrey) can be found there as well. But under Heritage’s umbrella, there was a limit to what Townhall could accomplish.

Now, free from the restrictions of Heritage’s 501c3 tax designation, Townhall plans to become the MoveOn.org of the right–even as it continues to provide all of its existing content. The news and information that have made the website popular for conservatives will remain. But it will soon market itself as a place where activists can put that information to use, whether it’s contacting members of Congress or organizing an event in their own community, said Drew Bond, its president.

“For years our readers have asked us what they can do, and we haven’t been able to tell them,” Bond told HUMAN EVENTS. “Now with Townhall being an independent entity, we have the flexibility and the freedom to answer our readers when they ask us what they can do.”

The transformation began in December when Heritage’s board of trustees approved the spinoff upon the recommendation of its president, Ed Feulner. It was Feulner who took a lead role in Townhall’s growth over the past 10 years when “Town Hall” was only a private online bulletin board run by National Review and Heritage. The domain Townhall.com has existed since 1995. National Review eventually sold its share to Heritage, which successfully marketed the website with commentaries, news, online chats and daily e-mails.

Bond, 35, a former chief of staff to Feulner, is the new face behind Townhall. He spent nearly four years working with Feulner, and before that was a health care sales representative for Pfizer. He has also worked in government, serving as the chief of staff for Republican Oklahoma Corporate Commissioner Denise Bode and a legislative assistant for former Sen. Don Nickles (R.-Okla.).

Bond said Townhall would operate as a limited liability company (LLC) and be free to tackle the projects it legally had to avoid while affiliated with Heritage.

Townhall’s Meetups–monthly gatherings in communities organized using the Internet–are one area where Bond plans to devote his attention. Former Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean made Meetups popular in late 2003 and early 2004. Dean’s momentum at the time inspired Townhall to launch its own Meetups. Today there are nearly 25,000 people registered and 536 groups worldwide. Anyone can join by visiting Townhall.Meetup.com.

“In the past, we haven’t been able to tell them, when they’ve asked, what they can do next,” Bond told HUMAN EVENTS about the challenges of the Meetups. “In fact, we received a lot of frustration among the groups because they wanted more direction from us. Now we can let them know what they can do to make a difference.”

Bond said he understands the uniqueness of the Townhall product. He said there is nothing like it on the left–no website devoted as much to news and information and, now, also activism. He expects copycat websites will try to mimic what Townhall is doing.

Editor in Chief Jonathan Garthwait oversees all content on Townhall. He first joined Heritage in 1995, around the time Townhall was born on the Web. Garthwaite has a six-person editorial staff under his direction that Bond is seeking to expand. In addition to adding more content, he also wants to boost advertising.

Ultimately, Bond said, his goal is to make Townhall the top conservative website–a place where visitors can find breaking news, opinion articles and engage in activism. “The websites that are the best have the most content,” Bond told HUMAN EVENTS. “People keep coming back because they see there’s a value there and they find what they need.”

Written By

Mr. Bluey, a contributing editor to Human Events, is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com.

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