Tom Bevan, Founder of RealClearPolitics.com, at the Ath

Tom Bevan, founder of RealClearPolitics.com (and sister sites), spoke at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum last night.  Real Clear Politics is a news aggregation site with millions of readers inside and outside the Beltway. Mr. Bevan's talk went smoothly, in contrast to Rove's speech the night before.  Bevan joked that he was going to pay people to protest his speech like they had for Rove, but couldn't find anyone to do it.

At the head table, I asked him questions about how he runs his business-- marketing, revenue sources, editing, staff, and future plans for RCP and sister sites (they are launching a technology-focused and other sites).  It turns out Bevan actually does much of the article selection for RCP himself and is less interested in running the marketing, sales, etc. than I would have expected.

He says his process for selecting articles on RCP involves opening roughly 75 saved tabs of newspaper websites in his web browser and skimming or reading the first few paragraphs of each article or Op-Ed that looks interesting to him-- "we've got it down to a science by now," he said. The process often takes over 3 hours for each update.  He also mentioned he doesn't use any algorithms or crowd-sourcing techniques, which surprised me a bit, but made sense when he described his reasoning.

Bevan does not spend much time on RealClearMarkets or RealClearSports, and does much of his work from an office in Evanston, IL, where he lives with his family.  The other members of his staff are spread around the country, although they do have a Chicago office where they base the business.

The table also had discussions about websites like Drudge Report and RCP's effect on mainstream media, but I won't go into that here (see a link to another student's review of the talk at the bottom this post).

During dinner, a student at our table asked Bevan what his question was for Karl Rove the night before (Mr. Bevan had tried to ask Mr. Rove a question during the Q&A session following Rove's talk, but Rove repeatedly denied him the opportunity in order to give preference to students).  Bevan mentioned that Rove had e-mailed him the next morning saying "OK, what was your question," and that the answer would also appear in Mr. Rove's Thursday WSJ column.

In his speech, he spoke about the challenges he faced starting Real Clear Politics, where the idea came from, and the problems "dead tree publications" deal with today.  Most of this wasn't new to hear, but hearing it from Bevan is hearing it from one of the great pioneers of new media himself.

He also touched upon the phenomena that have helped his site-- the 2000 election aftermath, 9/11 and the war on terror, and now, the frenzy over the 2008 election.

During the extensive Q&A-- at least 10 questions, each with thorough answers-- almost every student, with a couple exceptions, asked about the presidential race.  This struck me as somewhat odd, considering Bevan is a self-described political junkie and quasi-journalist (he told us he is unsure about the journalist classification himself), but not quite a political insider or expert.  Bevan did a commendable job answering the questions nonetheless.

Charles Johnson '11 also wrote up his thoughts on Bevan's visit on his blog here.

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