CQ launches free site to complement sub-only CQ.com

Earlier this year, Congressional Quarterly lured Ken Sands from the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Wash., where he earned a reputation as one of the country’s top newspaper website editors. CQ.com has won more than its share of awards over the years, but brought Sands on board as Executive Editor for Innovation, in part, to further expand CQ’s Web offerings.

This week, CQ launched CQPolitics.com, a free website aimed at broadening CQ’s reach beyond the Capitol Hill community that has sustained the subscription-only CQ.com. The new site offers a mix of blogs, columns and strategic analysis, along with selected stories from CQ and the Associated Press’ Washington wire.

OJR swapped e-mails with Sands to find out more about the new site.

OJR: What are the editorial, readership and business model differences between CQPolitics and the established CQ.com?

Sands: I’m still new here, so I’m learning a lot about existing CQ practices. But I see three fundamental differences:

First, the existing CQ audience primarily consists of inside-the-Beltway professionals and CQPolitics is reaching out beyond that to public and policy professional outside the Beltway and political enthusiasts.

Second, the business model has been to charge premium rates for high-end, proprietary information that professionals use to do their jobs. The CQPolitics site is a free site supported solely by advertising. This is a key difference. Unlike virtually any other mainstream media company, CQ has made a majority of its revenue from subscriptions to its online products. We’re excited about adding a consumer-oriented product supported by advertising.

Third, since its founding in 1945 by Nelson Poynter, CQ has been profoundly non-partisan. The print daily and the magazine don’t have opinion pages. It’s stunning to me that something like 85 percent of the members of Congress can agree on anything. But they do seem to agree that CQ is worth the subscription price. We don’t expect that to change. What is changing, however, is the addition of opinion bloggers to CQPolitics. Well-known left-of-center blogger David Corn has joined the CQ family as an independent blogger, as has self-described “conservative maverick” Richard Whalen. It will be interesting to see how the CQPolitics blog network grows, and how the CQ newsroom will react to the cultural change.

OJR: Why a new website? Why not build CQPolitics’s features and functionality into the existing CQ.com?

Sands: The existing CQ.com site primarily is a paid-content site. CQPolitics is free. I wasn’t here for the initial planning for the site, but believe they wanted to keep a clear separation.

So an entirely new department was created. Consumer Publishing General Manager Bruce Drake reports directly to CQ President & Editor-in-Chief Bob Merry. Bruce, along with Executive Editor Peggy Girshman are in charge of the new site.

Since I came in August, however, it became clear that significant resources from the editorial department were needed to build the site and to operate the site post-launch. So half a dozen people from the CQ Innovation department and several people from the IT department have been working nearly full-time to get the site going. It’s an exciting time at CQ and everyone’s glad to pitch in.

OJR: What what into building and launching the new site?

Sands: It’s quite complicated. I think Bruce Drake has the hardest job at CQ right now. The site launched on his six-month anniversary at CQ. An amazing amount of work took place in that six months, from hiring staff, to negotiating a contract with a vendor to help build the site, to building and executing a content plan.

What you see today at CQPolitics.com is just the beginning. Perhaps as soon as next week we’ll have an interactive electoral map, highlighting every Congressional district in the United States.

We have a staff of three designer/developers working full-time to brainstorm and implement cool new features to add the site in the coming months.

OJR: What are your goals with the new site, both editorial and business?

Sands: The company’s goals are pretty clear: to become one of the most-influential political sites on the web and to generate significant advertising revenue from the traffic that comes to the site. That’s very ambitious. The New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, realclearpolitics.com, politico.com, wonkette.com and the Huffington Post are some of the traditional and non-traditional sites that already are well-established.

We have to figure out a way to differentiate our site from every other site. The media landscape is pretty full right now. The last thing anyone needs is just one more site to watch. But I’m excited about the possibility of helping to build something that will stand out. Bruce and Peggy and I already have been brainstorming with the development team about some pretty cool stuff. We’re not ready to talk about anything yet, because it’s too early in the development process and we don’t want to tip off the competitors.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.