In the aftermath of the Democratic defeat in the 2004 Presidential election, the influential liberal blogger Joshua Micah Marshall considered taking a step back from American politics and writing a book. The subject: Oceanic exploration in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Eventually, Mr. Marshall decided to postpone the book project. Instead of focusing on other people’s explorations, he would forge ahead with his own. In the fall of 2004, the trailblazing, almost neurotically obsessive reporter behind the Talking Points Memo Web site set off into the next unsettled realm of 21st-century media: Web TV.
He’s still very much in the testing phase.
On a drizzly day in mid-May, Mr. Marshall stood on a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan and began filming a short piece for his Web site. A man holding a garbage bag strolled behind him. A loud clanking sound came from somewhere off camera. A car honked. Somebody began dismantling the awning under which Mr. Marshall stood. “It’s a perfectly nasty day here in New York City,” Mr. Marshall told the camera. “I’m kind of under the gun here.” And then: “This isn’t working.”
Afterward, Mr. Marshall finished shooting indoors. Later, when he posted the piece on his Web site, he didn’t bother to edit out the flubs.
“Each time we do something that is outside of our core thing, we ask ourselves, ‘What is it that our audience likes about us?’” he told The Observer in a recent interview in TPM Media headquarters, on the third floor of a small building above a bustling plant shop in midtown Manhattan. “With text, there’s an intimacy to the writing that I think our readers really key into. We want to have decent production values, but we want to preserve that feeling with video.”
Mr. Marshall was dressed in jeans and a dress shirt. His sleeves were rolled up. Empty Starbucks cups littered his desk.
Things were busy. For the next hour, Mr. Marshall tried to ignore his phone, which rang constantly, and the questions from his staff, which were persistent, and an invitation to speak at a major university, which was up in the air, long enough to spell out his philosophy on Web video.
For the past several months, he has been filming a show called TPM TV, which appears on his site four days a week. Mr. Marshall said that he was still figuring out what makes for must-see Web TV.
In recent weeks, he has taped two dispatches from a politics and new media conference at Pace University. He has interviewed Al Franken. And he has filmed analytic episodes in which he has attempted to compile a series of piecemeal blog posts into a fully formed narrative.
“We want to find a way to take the most important things we’re working on and package them in what we think is an inherently accessible medium in both a technological and conceptual sense,” said Mr. Marshall. “If it goes viral, the aim is, a person who doesn’t know what we’ve been doing can see it and it makes sense.”
“Hopefully we can reach a much larger potential audience,” he added.
Follow Felix Gillette via RSS.