A little bit of backstory that the Daily Beast piece won’t give you.
The Center for American Progress, of which ThinkProgress is a subset, sided with Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. (Even though former site vet Faiz Shakir is Bernie’s campaign manager.) There’s been a slow civil war underway since. It speaks to the radicalization of even lefties that ThinkProgress itself fell afoul of what is now the lefty core.)
And now on to Think Progress’ financial troubles.
According to the document, advertising revenue is projected to fall $350,000 short of what was budgeted this year, and online contributions are expected to fall short by nearly $180,000. The site is projected to have about $64,000 in grant revenue (money derived from donations to CAP and meant for coverage by ThinkProgress) in 2019. That’s roughly $60,000 short of what it had budgeted for the year and roughly $540,000 less than it received in 2018.
In the face of these falling revenue streams, ThinkProgress has seen payroll drop by 12 percent from its peak level in 2019 and “salary growth” by 5 percent, according to the document. Among those leaving is the site’s managing editor, Tara Culp-Ressler, who announced her departure last week.
Sources at CAP and ThinkProgress told The Daily Beast that Nayak has had to engage in a series of “blunt” conversations with staffers at the website, telling them they should be looking for other jobs. These conversations took place even as the site’s union negotiated a contract at the end of 2018.
“As these challenges emerged, CAP Action Fund has been transparent with ThinkProgress staff, including implementing and explaining the need for a hiring freeze early in 2018 and providing managers and the union a full account of the financial pressures facing ThinkProgress in the fall of 2018,” said Nayak. “Indeed, in fall of 2018, we shared with the ThinkProgress union that the situation was so concerning that actions of some kind would be needed. The budget situation has only grown worse since.”
The site seemed poised for a boom during the Trump years, when content for a liberal-minded outlet appeared bountiful. Instead, the road has been rocky. When a number of fairly large donations came into CAP following the 2016 election, ThinkProgress staffed up, ballooning its ranks to 40 people at one point, a source familiar with internal operations said. But those were one-time donations and as traffic declined—in part, several sources say, because of changes to Facebook’s algorithm—and revenue fell, there was not enough money to sustain the higher payroll.
According to a source at ThinkProgress, the site is already in a state of “slow attrition.” Four people, the source said, have left this year. Culp-Ressler’s announced departure makes five, though she remains on staff at the moment. A source said the number is expected to drop further by the end of the second quarter.
It’s a familiar story in digital media. Add a union to the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster.
But what it really highlights is the Center for American Progress’ decline. In 2008, CAP was the think tank powering Obama Inc. These days it seems largely irrelevant. The party is adrift and obsessed with Trump. Lefty policies are everywhere, but CAP seems to have less of a role in driving them. Unless CAP can attach itself to Joe Biden, it risks appearing irrelevant. Which, it arguably is.
Another factor in TP’s decline is that the mainstream media has largely become interchangable with ThinkProgress style content. When you can’t tell the difference between the Washington Post, digital media sites and Think Progress, there’s less reason to keep something like TP going.