- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2008

For a while last spring, it seemed to many conservative bloggers that Fred Thompson might be on his way to becoming “the First Blogger.”

“We know for a fact that he loved blogs,” said Roger L. Simon, chief executive officer of PajamasMedia.com, which posted Mr. Thompson’s tribute to the online community that had urged him to enter the Republican presidential campaign.

“By empowering individuals and building communities, the Internet provides a way of going around the inside-the-Beltway crowd to reach people in numbers unheard of not that long ago,” the former senator from Tennessee wrote at the site in May.

PajamasMedia.com (PJM, for short) is the hub of a network of more than 90 bloggers, including Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit.com), Charles Johnson (LittleGreenFootballs.com) and Michelle Malkin.

Mr. Thompson ended his presidential campaign Monday, but the writing was on the wall for the former “Law & Order” TV star more than a week earlier when Mr. Simon visited the offices of The Washington Times for an interview.

Mr. Thompson “was strong with new media, but then he abandoned it. … I don’t know what happened,” Mr. Simon said, using a term denoting online alternatives to what bloggers scorn as the “MSM,” or mainstream media. “I think some of the misfire of his campaign is that he didn’t stay with that initial impulse.”

Like the candidate whose campaign “came out of the blogs,” Mr. Simon has a Hollywood connection, working as a novelist and screenwriter before starting a blog to promote his 2003 novel, “Director’s Cut.”

“In those days of blogging, you didn’t realize the impact,” Mr. Simon said. “You thought, this is just playing around.”

Now, however, bloggers are courted by political campaigns. Former blogger Jon Henke helped operate the Thompson campaign’s new-media outreach. The ability of the “blogosphere” to generate buzz — and potentially lucrative Web traffic — has caught the attention of those much-derided MSM operations, which have started their own blogs in an effort to cash in on the trend.

In this Wild West online frontier, Mr. Simon might as well be John Wayne.

Along with Mr. Johnson and others, Mr. Simon founded PJM in 2005 in an effort, he said, to “monetize” the often unruly Internet world, where hundreds of thousands of readers each day go online to read and comment on the news, analysis and humor that arrive filtered through distinct personal perspectives.

While some conservative bloggers, among them Mrs. Malkin (whose syndicated columns appear in The Washington Times) and Mary Katherine Ham of Townhall.com, are well-known from their appearances as cable-TV news commentators, many of the most popular bloggers operate behind pseudonyms, including PJM affiliates Allahpundit (HotAir.com), Ace of Spades (Ace.mu.nu) and Rusty Shackleford (MyPetJawa.mu).

The revelation that Mr. Thompson was a blog reader attracted a lot of support from those excited to discover a Republican candidate who shared their interest.

“He was like us. He was up at night reading Ace or whatever,” Mr. Simon said. “But then when you start running for president, you’ve got about six minutes of free time a day.”

The man who runs PJM — a network with a combined readership measured as 30 million page-views per month — confesses to being “a secret techie,” but still views the business with a sense of amazement.

“It’s such an accident that I’m running this thing,” said Mr. Simon, wearing his signature fedora.

For more than 30 years before he became a blogger, Mr. Simon made his living as a writer, scoring his first hit in 1973 with “The Big Fix,” a whodunit featuring an ex-hippie detective, Moses Wine.

To turn that story into a screenplay of a 1978 movie of the same title starring Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Simon moved to Hollywood and continued to write novels and screenplays. In 1989, he received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the script for “Enemies, a Love Story.”

He was successful and liberal, and then came the 1990s, especially the murder trial of actor and former NFL star O.J. Simpson. Mr. Simon, who had been a civil rights activist in the 1960s, said he was shocked by “the kind of essential dishonesty to justice” of Simpson’s acquittal in 1995.

“I found the use of racial politics in the O.J. trial so repellent to me, morally, but also, I couldn’t believe it was happening right there in front of my eyes. It started to shake up some things,” he said. “And then came 9/11.”

While protesting that he “doesn’t like the whole liberal/conservative thing” and is still liberal on social issues, Mr. Simon said that by 2003 he felt the need to speak out, as well as to promote his novel, and discovered the joy of blogging.

“You’re putting out something, you don’t deal with an editor or a publisher, you don’t have any delays — just ‘Boom,’ ” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, the blog was getting 20,000 [visitors] a day. … Part of the reason was Glenn Reynolds was linking to me a lot. The other thing was, some people knew who I was through the books and the movies. It wasn’t like I was some Joe Blow from nowhere. It just sort of took off.”

But the site was more successful than the product it was intended to promote. Blogging “didn’t help [sales of] the book at all,” Mr. Simon said.

Trying to make money from blogging remains a challenge, he said, with many advertisers continuing to resist the potentially irresistible online audience.

“The Pajamas readership, of all the blogs, demographically, is above the Wall Street Journal in income and education,” Mr. Simon said.

Persuading advertisers to pay to reach that upscale online readership is still a tough sell.

“This is not just a problem for PajamasMedia. Going forward, it’s going to be a huge problem for all [online] media,” he said.

The man who heads a major new media concern (though he doesn’t talk specifically about the finances of the privately held firm) said it’s not money that motivates so many to participate in the online discussion.

“What’s great about blogging is that it’s humanity,” Mr. Simon said.

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