Andy Malcolm, the heart and soul of most popular LA Times political blog, Top of the Ticket, is leaving the Times to blog at Investors Business Daily – a devastating blow to blogging at the LAT.
Even though The Ticket was rarely just a one-man-show (it began with Malcolm partnered with Don Fredrick and Scott Martelle, Johanna Neuman was Andy’s co-blogger for a while, and for the last four months of my employ I was Mr. Malcolm’s teammate) he was so good and so dedicated that many considered the Ticket “Andy’s Blog”.
And because Andy leaned to the right in his writings, some considered the blog a conservative blog, even though I doubt anyone would consider Fredrick, Martelle, Neuman, or myself righties. But why pay attention to tedious details?
This one, gray haired, jovial, awardwinning and tireless man was a workhorse on that blog. When I first told him about the Technorati which was once a semi-reliable blog ranking site, Andy became obsessed. When I taught him about Digg, he studied it like a fiend. SEO, Twitter, Facebook, anything that could help the Ticket become a bigger player in the ridiculously competitive political blogging world Andy sunk his teeth into it – exactly how you’d want All of your bloggers to work.
The results? Groundbreaking. Especially at the Times. The Ticket was the first LA Times blog to shoot into the Technorati Top 1000, it was consistently one of the most popular blogs in our collection, Andy won the Publisher’s award, he was invited on tv shows, radio shows, and podcasts. Soon after it cracked the Technorati 1000 it clawed its way into the Technorati Top 100 a feat that only LA Now accomplished afterwards.
But most importantly, he was a strong conservative voice for a paper who was often viewed as liberal. Thus he gave us balance for how can you say you are a bleeding heart commie rag if your most popular political blog has original charts from Karl Rove, and numerous posts defending Sarah Palin?
In political blogging, if it is a group blog, balance is key. How do I know this? Because when Andy and I worked together the Ticket was never more popular because readers couldn’t just write it off as being one thing or another. With me writing 4-5 posts a day making fun of the right and Andy writing just as many posts making fun of the left, readers never knew what was coming next and they loved it. And hated it. But they came, left comments, and linked to it.
But the momentum that got the Ticket to that place is all due to the man who is moving on. A man that even a team of national political writers couldn’t top.
Top of the Ticket was allowed to have “attitude” aka a point of view, and Andy was the master of that, and extra extra, some audiences want a little spin. A little subjective commentary.
Politics Now, the objective LAT political blog written by a bevy of reporters on the campaign trail is an excellent blog with on-the-spot reporting, but the Ticket beat it last month and basically tied it the month before that.
What does that tell you? That just as many people want the straight dope as those who want analysis.
Unfortunately partisans don’t like it when you are criticizing their team.
Boo hoo for them.
Andy and I started working together days before I was officially hired. I advised him that if he wanted to be better than his current competitors, he should branch out in his coverage to include web-popular politicians like Ron Paul. I also suggested that if he emailed his links to blogs that would love to know that the LAT was writing like-minded posts, or posts that would rile them up, he might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Many veteran journalists bristle at emailing no-name bloggers or hustling their URLs to would-be competitors or omg expanding their coverage outside of the frontrunners. But Andy would try anything. He was a blank canvas completely comfortable with experimenting and studying the results. AKA an absolute joy to work with. Days before I officially started he got some positive results based on my tips and wrote my new boss and cc’ed me saying Get this Kid in Here ASAP! And a beautiful partnership was formed.
Andy did most of his work from his home just outside of LA county – a perfect place to focus simply on blogging. Ironically the office could be a distracting place if you wanted to write. But any time I asked Andy to drive in so we could have a working lunch to discuss things, he gladly obliged. Those were some of my favorite lunches as he would tell me stories about working at the New York Times, or being Laura Bush’s press secretary, or writing for the Editorial pages at the LA Times before he started blogging.
It’s so easy (and lazy) to look at one line of a man’s resume and write him off as this or that, but when you sit down with a guy, even for just an hour, and hear his tales of being a foreign correspondent, or a father, or a husband, you see that all this red/blue left/right political bs is… bs. We are all human beings, with unique perspectives, and often fascinating lives – especially those of us who are hugely successful due to intense work ethics.
Andy earned every reader he got, he hustled for every Twitter follower he received, and when Yahoo unprofessionally named their new political blog The Ticket years after Andy made The Ticket what it is today, he merely looked at it as another guy subtly giving props to the king.
But there is only one Ticket, and I’m very very sad to see that it is moving away from where it was born.
When people write stories about how traffic has increased at the Times, and when they point to blogs as being the central engine to that rise, I wish they had the perspective that I have. Because if they did, they’d know that blogs would not have taken off as quickly as they did just a few years ago if it hadn’t been for Andy and Top of the Ticket, which gave legitimacy to blogging at the paper. And showed that yes a veteran newsman could transition to new media, and have a second life which in some cases may be even more liberating and successful in the third act than in the previous two.