What is The Daily Banter? Part 1: Humble Beginnings

(Pic: The Daily Banter in Dec 2007)

As part of an ongoing series, every writer at The Daily Banter will be penning an essay titled ‘What is The Daily Banter?’ Given this was my idea, it was only fair that I go first (well, everyone else on the team took the other dates so I sort of had to to go first…).

I don’t have anything particularly clever to say about the site or what we do – I’m hoping that should be evident given the amount of writing we’ve been doing these past three years. But I would like to share a bit about the beginnings site and how it got to where it is today.

I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 after graduating university in Sussex, England with a degree in politics and international relations. After taking a short course in practical journalism at UCLA, I began working as a boxing journalist, writing for some websites and a couple of magazines back in the UK. I also went through a Martial Arts instructor program at the Krav Maga center, and hired myself out as a personal trainer to help pay the bills. While training celebrities and going around boxing gyms interviewing fighters, I was becoming more and more disturbed by the disintegrating political climate in America. I had gone to New Mexico, a vital swing state, in 2004 to help get the vote out for John Kerry because of how important I felt it was to get George W. Bush out of office.

It was deeply depressing to watch Bush get elected again (although that may not have actually happened), and I spent the next year or so trying to pretend that politics did not exist. But the continuing fuck-ups of the Bush Administration were a little hard to ignore – there was Hurricane Katrina, the endless bloodbath in Iraq, the ludicrous tax cuts to the super-wealthy, spiraling wealth inequality, and the continued dismantling of the government by the radical free market ideologues in charge of it.

One of the most troubling aspects of all of this was that all of the above could have been prevented had the news media done something resembling actual journalism and called the Bush Administration out on its bullshit before it all went to crap.  I found myself getting angrier and angrier at the journalists who had suddenly found their courage and starting speaking out when it was, to be frank, far too late. Around the same time, the media was going through an extremely turbulent time financially as online news was ruining the print industry and no one could make any money out of websites. I had looked into getting a job as a journalist for a big news organization, but the only jobs posted were for financial reporting for trading companies. Not exactly my cup of tea.

One night in 2006, my friend Ari Rutenberg and I were watching a CNN political talk show at my apartment in West LA.

We had gone to Sussex together and had been a part of an unofficial group that met up frequently to discuss what was going on in the world based on the philosophy of ‘banter’ –  discussions had to be informal, open, and anything could go.

The conversation in my apartment went something like this:

Me: This is awful. I wish there was something to watch based on having banter.

Ari: We should do our own thing online, so we can have banter on a daily basis

Me: Yeah, like ‘The Daily Banter’.

Ari: Holy shit, I wonder if that domain is available.

(checks laptop)

Ari: Fuck, it is!

Me: Buy it!

And thus The Daily Banter was born.

After borrowing some money to get a site designer, and months of figuring out what the hell things like DNS records, domain forwarding, HTML, CMS, and hosting meant, we got the site up and running in early 2007. Here is a screen shot of what the site looked like back in Dec of that year:

Back then, myself, Ari and a few other friends contributed to the site and did our best to get ourselves any recognition we could. We wrote every day, emailed all of our friends, and reached out to other blogs to try and get them to notice us. Crooks and Liars for example, sometimes featured us on their weekly blog round-up, providing us with some much-needed attention. Here’s an email I wrote to the team in November of 2007:

A very big few days for The Daily Banter: We have had over 7160 page hits this week.

We have to keep it up and capitalise on all our publicity. Soon, we’ll be a real power in the blogosphere.

If anyone has any more ideas on to how to help promote the site, let me know!

It’s hard not to laugh at the line about being a ‘real power in the blogosphere’. On a good day, we’ll do that kind of traffic before noon, and we’re still not a ‘real power’. Nevertheless, you have to start somewhere!

In 2009, I began to realize there were many other sites were experiencing some of the same problems we were – lack of monetization infrastructure, and problems maintaining an audience due to isolation. I formally started the Banter Media Group LLC and invited other blogs like ours to join a network. The idea was that we would run ads across the sites in a revenue split deal and share traffic through a shared RSS widget called the ‘Banter Wire’:

At its peak, the Banter Media Group had over 25 independent publishers running our ads, and reached over 6 million people a month. Due to massively fluctuating ad rates and tech issues, in 2012 we decided to move onto our own platform and host content from some of our more prominent writers (namely Bob Cesca, Chez Pazienza and Oliver Willis). The site then looked like this:

Before we launched the new site, Bob, Chez and I had discussed doing original pieces on a semi-regular basis for the Banter – the primary idea being to drive attention to the individual blogs. We tried that out for a couple of months, and it started to work so well that we decided to keep doing it.  As we grew, Bob and Chez came on full time and we began to get noticed by a lot of people. We broke national stories, challenged people like Glenn Greenwald when it wasn’t popular to do so, sent one of the team to report on the protests in Ferguson, and actually broke the internet one time. We then brought on more talented writers – Tommy Christopher from Mediaite, Mike Luciano and Tom McKay from PolicyMic, and upcoming talent like Frederic Poag and Jamie Frevele making the Banter voice more diverse and interesting.

Here’s a snap shot of our traffic over the past 2 years (from google analytics):

And that is pretty much how we got to where we are today. We have taken a traffic hit after implementing the members section and meter – necessary steps that we took to ensure we could focus on quality and not worry relentlessly about ad revenue. Despite our future’s financial uncertainty, we’re still here, still publishing great content every day, pissing off both the Left and Right and not worrying too much about what people say about us (and it’s not pleasant much of the time). And we won’t stop until we are dragged kicking and screaming from our laptops, because this is too damn important.

That is, at least to me, what The Daily Banter is all about: an unlikely troupe of writers who banded together to create something bigger than themselves, and bigger than the technology they publish on. We will be here in 12 months time? Who knows, but it’s damn fun being a part of something like this and I intend to keep enjoying it.

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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.