On a clear winter morning the Brentwood headquarters of Truthdig.com is a refuge of serene natural beauty. Floor-to-ceiling glass affords panoramic views of the oaks and sycamores of Mandeville Canyon, with the occasional hawk circling high above the treetops. As seven staffers take their seats around an oblong table laden with wide-screen iMacs, the only visual reminder of the political and environmental turmoil so relentlessly covered on the prizewinning, left-leaning news site is a signed, limited-edition print by Robert Rauschenberg hanging on a far wall—with its images of raw sewage, attack helicopters, and bludgeoned Filipino protesters.
Perched against a contemporary desk, Truthdig cofounder and publisher Zuade Kaufman calls the meeting to order. Since launching the Web site eight years ago with her friend and mentor, the journalist Robert Scheer, she has turned over the lower level of her midcentury-modern home (not to mention a chunk of her family’s real estate fortune) to the venture. “So,” she says, her long, carelessly parted brown hair framing her alert face. “Can we start with the agenda?”
Apparently not. “There are certain perks when you’re over 75,” says Scheer in his singsong Bronx rasp. Lean and wiry at 77, Truthdig’s editor-in-chief sports a white beard and mustache and a full head of shaggy silver hair. “One is that you don’t have to take off your shoes at the airport anymore. And another is that you get to forget to bring the agenda.”
Then he’s off, decrying other Web sites’ plundering of Truthdig stories, warning about the encroachment of advertiser-sponsored content into Web news, and venting his frustration with the Truthdig app on his iPad Mini. He even offers a critique of the branded items being sold on Truthdig Bazaar, the site’s online store. “The messenger bag sucks,” Scheer says. “The cups are very good. The hats are terrific. But the T-shirts suck—the logos are in the wrong place.”
“Maybe you should do a video review of them,” jokes Truthdig’s 32-year-old managing editor, Peter Scheer, who’s spent a lifetime listening to his father’s rants.
The elder Scheer shows a more tender side as he turns his attention to Truthdig’s young writers and assistant editors, delighting in their work as if they too were his children. He welcomes back Natasha Hakimi, a 25-year-old poet, who since completing her 2011 Truthdig internship has spent two years of fellowship study abroad, all the while filing hundreds of posts on topics ranging from forced child marriage in Yemen to a recent Berkeley research paper exploring the nexus between wealth and narcissism. “A real star—an international star!” Scheer says as Hakimi grins.
As for editorial priorities, Scheer tells his staff that Truthdig must keep up its coverage of the surveillance state and if possible expand its reporting. “Not just the National Security Agency but what the private companies do—the pushback from Google and Yahoo and what happens to their information. It’s an issue we should be front and center on.”
Don’t get him started about Obamacare, which Scheer considers a victory for the insurance industry. He’s also concerned by how ceaseless Republican attacks and the administration’s incompetent rollout have made such a morass of the health care debate. “I think anything we could do to help clarify what’s really at stake here would be great,” Scheer says. He pauses for a moment as he selects the ideal lens to bring the matter into focus. “We need to show,” he says, “who’s getting screwed—and who’s doing the screwing.”
The tag line “drilling beneath the headlines” has appeared on Truthdig’s home page since the site’s debut in November 2005. But “who’s getting screwed—and who’s doing the screwing” would be just as apt a slogan.
To visit the site is to read about a planet betrayed. The columnists and bloggers chart an ecosystem in irreversible decline, follow human rights crises and repression overseas, and probe the erosion of American democracy by perpetual war, the disappearance of privacy rights, the abandonment of the poor, and a political system in thrall to corporate titans, gross polluters, and Wall Street crooks. By pursuing these subjects with an intellectual rigor and relentlessness seldom found on the Web, Truthdig has become one of the most critically acclaimed Internet-based news sites in the world.
Scheer and Kaufman’s enterprise has also distinguished itself by what it doesn’t do. Most news Web sites, even those aiming to play a major civic role, serve up generous helpings of fluff. Scheer, by contrast, has placed Truthdig readers on a starvation diet of celebrity schadenfreude. Visitors can expect to be updated every time former NSA contractor and fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden sneezes, but Lindsay Lohan could steal Rupert Murdoch’s yacht and crash it into the Queen Mary and readers would be none the wiser. “Tits and ass, poisoned food,” Scheer says, ticking off the kinds of guilty pleasures he tends to shun. “Put them on a site and you can drive traffic to it. But that doesn’t translate to credibility.”
Neither, it seems, does slick presentation. First-time readers are often struck by Truthdig’s dearth of visual enticement. The color scheme ranges from rust to tan to taupe, the possibilities for user customization are minimal, and the navigation capabilities are about as agile as a rowboat’s.
What Truthdig does offer is something in sadly short supply online: long-form analysis. No concessions have been made to accommodate the supposed shrinkage of attention spans. More than 400,000 visitors a month follow Truthdig, proving that there is a digital appetite, after all, for strong medicine in large doses.
Among the site’s most influential stories was an atheist manifesto by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris. At more than 4,500 words, the post worked in references to Rwandan genocide, the early-20th-century smallpox epidemic, and such religio-philosophical principles as Blaise Pascal’s “Wager” and Søren Kierkegaard’s “Leap of Faith.” The most popular columnist, meanwhile, is best-selling author and former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges. His weekly columns typically require three screen jumps and on occasion have run long enough to fill the Times’s entire op-ed page.
Scheer often continues Truthdig’s coverage of stories long after other media outlets have moved on. Though Truthdig’s initial story or even its updates may be relatively brief, their accretion over months or years has a cumulative impact. In 2006, the site ran a searing birthday tribute to slain U.S. Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman, written by his brother, Kevin. The Pentagon had concealed the cause of Tillman’s death—friendly fire—putting out a false report that he had died at the hands of the enemy in Afghanistan. Kevin’s Truthdig essay garnered so much traffic, it crashed the site. In a Truthdig post five years later, Narda Zacchino, a former Los Angeles Times associate editor and Scheer’s wife, criticized President Barack Obama’s decision to put former General Stanley McChrystal in charge of a federal outreach initiative for military families in light of the central role he had played in the Tillman cover-up while he headed U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
This feature originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Los Angeles magazine
“Truthdig shows that people are interested in following critical thinking wherever it takes you,” says Amy Goodman, whose syndicated column appears on the site. As host of the popular public radio news show Democracy Now!, Goodman has built her following on a similar foundation of long-form analysis. “In order to understand how someone like a Robert Scheer or a Chris Hedges arrives at a very different point of view—not the establishment consensus,” Goodman says, “you have to go on a journey to see the various arguments and historical references that have led them in that different direction. And that journey takes time.”
Traffic is heaviest when Scheer and Hedges post their once-a-week columns. Nonetheless what draws readers to Truthdig on a daily basis are blog entries and curated links usually posted by the assistant editors. Which brings us to another practice that sets Truthdig apart: All contributors are paid. Even The Huffington Post, which lures 7 million people on average per day (and which was purchased by AOL for $315 million a few years back), doesn’t pay its bloggers. Truthdig, though constantly short of revenue, has always compensated its columnists, bloggers, and interns. Regular bloggers, called “core Truthdiggers,” work on salary or on an hourly basis. “Ear to the Ground” posts, which are brief and usually link to stories elsewhere on the Web, command $25 to $75.
While no Truthdig writer is getting rich, the costs of paying them all in a medium so voracious for content quickly add up. Throughout its existence Truthdig has hemorrhaged money, and it would have expired long ago if not for major cash infusions from its publisher. Those won’t last forever. “I can’t support the site indefinitely,” says Kaufman, who is 53. “I’m already two or three years beyond what I should have been doing.”
It might help if the site pursued potential revenue streams with a fraction of the urgency it brings to rooting out corporate malfeasance and political corruption. So far, that hasn’t happened. Truthdig lacks a full-time marketing manager. Sponsored events are sporadic. The majority of the site’s revenues come from ads courtesy of Advertising.com, which takes a cut.
“The Internet is the last great chance for having some kind of democracy in the world,” Scheer likes to say. But until Truthdig starts approaching its readers as sources of income as well as engaged citizens, the question looms: How can this digital bulwark of a free and open society hope to survive?
Truthdig traces its beginnings to a New Year’s Eve dinner in 2004 at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The choice of venue wasn’t a matter of happenstance. Chef-owner Alice Waters’s friendship with Scheer started way before she began transforming California cuisine along organic and locally grown lines. In the spring of 1966, Scheer was the 29-year-old foreign editor of Ramparts—one of the few magazines of the era to carry its message of political dissent beyond a tight circle of lifelong leftists and student radicals. When he decided to run for Congress in the Democratic primary in the Bay Area, Waters, though still an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, signed on to manage his insurgent campaign.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Scheer was presiding over a table with his wife, China expert Orville Schell, then-Ohio congressman and two-time progressive presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, and Scheer’s friend and soon-to-be business partner, Zuade Kaufman.
The guests lamented the degraded state of print media. Not only mainstream newspapers but also progressive magazines and weeklies had been financially weakened and editorially defanged by corporate consolidation and Internet competition. Yet few Web-only news outlets seemed to have taken advantage of the medium’s lack of space constraints and its relatively low start-up costs to foster the kind of hard-hitting journalism the traditional press was abandoning. That night Scheer and Kaufman resolved to seize the opportunity.
Truthdig went online the same month Scheer was fired by the Los Angeles Times, where he’d worked for nearly 30 years. Although he was dismissed without explanation, he believes the newspaper’s upper management had become squeamish about his op-ed pieces excoriating George W. Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War. Hundreds of Scheer’s fans picketed outside the Times building. Barbra Streisand canceled her subscription in protest.
Thruthdig has offered new insight into the death of Pat Tillman, the NFL star turned solider. Photograph by AP Photo/Photography Plus Via Williamson Stealth Solutions
Truthdig’s cofounders began with a clear idea of where they wanted to go editorially. “So much stuff on the Internet you can’t trust,” Scheer says. “There’s a limit to Yelping. So what—20 schmucks didn’t like the restaurant? It still might be a great restaurant. Zuade said at the very beginning—and I supported her—that we wanted to have the same standards the L.A. Times has, period.” Less certain was how they could actually make a profit or break even. “The idea,” Kaufman says, “was, Let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks.” Although they’ve never ruled out turning Truthdig into a nonprofit, Kaufman initially balked at the idea of begging people for money. At least temporarily, she said, she’d foot the bill.
She certainly had the means. In 1957, her father, Donald Kaufman, already a successful contractor, had founded a home-building company with the husband of his wife’s cousin, an ambitious 23-year-old accountant named Eli Broad. Kaufman & Broad, which is now called KB Home, became one of the biggest tract home development corporations in the world.
You might think the Brentwood-raised heiress and the leftist lion from the Bronx an unlikely pairing, but in fact Scheer had been an influential presence in Kaufman’s childhood. Her father read Ramparts during Scheer’s tenure there as editor and as a correspondent reporting from Cambodia and Vietnam. What’s more, Donald “read Playboy for the articles,” his daughter recalls, which means he couldn’t have missed Scheer’s interview with Jimmy Carter on the eve of the 1976 presidential election. In it the devout Baptist candidate confessed that he had “looked on a lot of women with lust” and had committed adultery many times in his heart. That same year Scheer began writing for the L.A. Times, the Kaufmans’ hometown paper.
Despite her father’s business success, Kaufman says, “he understood poverty” and instilled in her a concern for the plight of poor people. The son of Russian immigrants who settled in Detroit, he was sent to live with relatives after his mother contracted tuberculosis. “My dad was a bit of a street urchin,” Kaufman says. “At age ten he sold newspapers on the streets, giving his earnings over to his struggling family.”
From her father Kaufman seems to have inherited a rebellious streak and a love of risk. “As kids,” Kaufman says, “we never felt we had to abide by authority.” Donald Kaufman took his children skydiving and hang gliding. They went rafting down the Amazon. Through the years Kaufman has remained something of a daredevil. She has kept riding even after being thrown from a horse and breaking her back, and on another occasion suffered a concussion that gave her a headache for eight months straight. She stopped skydiving only after injuring her knee in a dirt bike race.
Kaufman speaks of her father as “a huge inspiration for me and a magnificent force in this world.” Bereft after he died in 1983 in an experimental-biplane crash, she was still years away from receiving her inheritance. She also lacked a clear career path at that point, though she’d studied film at UC Santa Cruz and worked at nonprofit organizations in L.A. So Kaufman moved to France, where her son, Donald, was born in 1990 (she and Donald’s father are divorced).
That same year she returned to L.A. and soon met Scheer at a dinner party. “Right away we connected,” she says. He eventually hired her as his research assistant at the L.A. Times. He encouraged her to earn her master’s degree in journalism at USC, where he’s still a professor. Later Kaufman became a writer and contributed to the Westside Weekly section of the Times, remaining there until it was shuttered in 2001.
For Kaufman’s son, Scheer filled the void of father and grandfather. His mother abhorred soft drinks, so when young Donald would visit Scheer’s downtown apartment, the journalist would make sure to give him a soda. Donald won acceptance to Crossroads School after Scheer arranged an interview with the headmaster of the exclusive Santa Monica academy. “Bob,” Donald says, “has been my biggest idol since I was a kid.”
While Donald always remembers his mother having an unwavering sense of right and wrong, he says, Truthdig “has made her grow in terms of her politics. I think that’s why it’s working so well. She’s the hardest worker I know, and she’s trying to prove something.”
The 2013 awards season brought yet another year of critical validation for Truthdig. At the Los Angeles Press Club Awards, Scheer and Kaufman took home the trophy for best Internet-only news site for the third time in four years. And at the 17th annual Webby Awards—the online equivalent of the Oscars—Truthdig won for the fifth time, for best political site. It prevailed over Politico and FactCheck.org, though it surely lagged behind the competition in every area but substance. “With Truthdig,” says Webby Awards executive director David-Michel Davies, “structure, navigation, personalization, and all the other usual factors get out of the way in favor of the main thing it offers, which is very compelling content.”
Truthdig’s five Webby wins in the political category put it well ahead of The Huffington Post, which has three. Recognizing that the Internet is above all a popularity contest, the Webby organizers also distribute People’s Voice trophies during the yearly gala to the sites that have won the most online votes. Here The Huffington Post has trounced Truthdig. HuffPost is the 20th-most-popular site in America, according to the Web analysis company Alexa, and second in the news field only to Yahoo. Truthdig’s Alexa rating stands at 10,315.
None of this will come as a surprise to devoted fans of Left, Right & Center, the political talk show launched by KCRW (89.9-FM) in 1996 with Scheer as its most vehement voice. He represented the left, of course. Arianna Huffington, chosen as the standard-bearer for the Republican revolution, would soon shed her conservative orthodoxy and fall into such harmony with Scheer that the producers hired a more partisan commentator to occupy the seat on the right.
This feature originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Los Angeles magazine
Huffington launched her eponymous Web site in May 2005, six months before Truthdig—conceived, she claimed, as a progressive counterweight to the conservative Drudge Report. At a day old The Huffington Post was dominated by news of plummeting real wages, Congress’s ethics problems, and a $300 million bank fraud by Iraq’s deputy minister. Iran’s nuclear revival was also a concern.
Over the years, though, HuffPost has proved itself every bit as adept at shape-shifting as its creator. It has expanded beyond tasteful political outrage to become the Web’s most successful consumer marketplace of news, ideas, tips for healthful living, and celebrity scandal. Its home page is now an uneven playing field where environmental catastrophe, Third World poverty, Miley Cyrus’s twerking, and Khloe Kardashian’s divorce vie for attention.
According to Huffington, who considers Scheer a friend, Truthdig succeeds not just because of its content, but also its constancy. “Truthdig has thrived—and scooped up awards along the way—because it has stayed true to its DNA,” Huffington wrote in an e-mail. “Its core values of challenging conventional wisdom and drilling beneath the headlines are present in every story.” Huffington exited Left, Right & Center in 2011, the year AOL purchased HuffPost, but Scheer has remained. His political stance has hardly budged since the first day he went on air.
“Look, in my life I don’t have the capacity to accommodate,” Scheer says. “It might have not been the wiser course, and maybe I could have accomplished a lot more, but I think I’m driven by experiences and feelings that trump those other things.”
Scheer is fond of pointing out that he has never experienced politics as an abstraction. “For me,” he says, “the issue always was, Shouldn’t the ordinary person get some kind of a break?” He comes by his working-class sympathies honestly. In Lithuania his mother, Ida Kuran, was part of the Jewish Socialist Bund movement, and as a New York City garment worker she threw herself into so many labor disputes that it prevented her from obtaining citizenship. Frederick Scheer, his father, was a knitter mechanic and a shop steward who led many bloody workplace battles. He ran afoul of his Communist-led union for denouncing a workforce agreement they had just negotiated as a cave-in to management. Frederick and Ida never married, and once while riffling through the mail to intercept a report card, Scheer discovered his father had another family.
Scheer attended City College in New York. Through his study of engineering, economics, and New Left social critics like C. Wright Mills and Bertrand Russell, he found a theoretical base to match the experiential politics of his youth. Scheer may be the only far-left journalist of the ’60s who broadened his audience in subsequent decades without moderating his views—maybe because he was always less committed to the utopian visions of the counterculture than to the majoritarian ideals of the Depression. After leaving Ramparts and Berkeley for L.A., Scheer interviewed every president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. He lasted almost as long at the Los Angeles Times as conservative mainstay William Safire did at The New York Times.
In the summer of 2010, during a visit to New York for the 14th Annual Webby Awards, Scheer and Kaufman attended a cocktail reception for winners and nominees at the Standard hotel’s rooftop bar on the edge of Greenwich Village. Visiting the rest room, Scheer found himself “looking out the window at this beautiful view,” he remembers. “I saw my father’s factory—one of those buildings that have been turned into fancy restaurants. It was where he had worked for 25 years and where he had had a stroke at his machine, dragged himself home on the subway, and then died a few days later.”
The very next evening Scheer had an irresistible opportunity to strike a blow for his parents’ politics. The 2010 Webby Awards ceremonies were being held at the onetime world headquarters of Citibank, just around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange. When Scheer strode up to receive Truthdig’s prize for best political blog, he seemed to welcome the Webby tradition that limits all acceptance speeches to five words. “Wall Street,” he said, grinning up at the gilded rotunda. “What fucking thieves.”
Chris Hedges didn’t know it then, but he took his first step on the road to Truthdig on a sun-drenched May afternoon in northernmost Illinois. Dressed in a black academic robe and white sash, a gentle breeze ruffling his thin golden hair, Hedges, then the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, offered the Rockford University class of 2003 not one word of praise or encouragement in his commencement address. “I want to speak to you today,” he told the graduates, “about war and empire.” Hedges’s microphone was cut off twice, and students did their best to drown out his indictment of a corrupt body politic with chants of “USA! USA!” and a chorus of “God Bless America.” “Fear engenders cruelty,” he pressed on. “Cruelty, fear, insanity, and then paralysis.”
The speech didn’t go over well with his employer, either. “The Times gave me a written reprimand,” says Hedges, who is 57. “The choice was, I muzzle myself or be fired. And I wasn’t gonna stop speaking out.” He quit and turned to book writing, detailing the nation’s decline in such counterintuitive best-sellers as American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.
When Kaufman approached Hedges in 2006, she promised him the equivalent of a literary penthouse on Truthdig’s site that he’d be free to decorate as he saw fit. He’s made the most of that freedom. In columns like “Shooting the Messenger” (about attempts by some on the left to elevate Edward Snowden at the expense of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning) and “Outsourcing Torture” (about CIA and U.S. military prisoners’ rendition to interrogators in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt), Hedges at his best has tempered his righteous indignation with nuanced argument and a wealth of supporting facts. His Truthdig leitmotif—how perpetual war always degrades democracy—stretches back to Pericles’ Athens and draws on his own decades of reporting from many of the world’s worst war zones.
Four years ago Hedges wrote a book called The Death of the Liberal Class, chronicling the traditional left’s degradation into “courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric.” In some Truthdig columns he devotes himself to speeding these courtiers’ ideological execution. After the 2012 presidential election, Hedges excoriated liberal voters for clinging to isolated issues like abortion rights and gender equality while “ignoring the vast corporate assault on the nation and the ecosystem along with the pre-emptive violence of the imperial state.” Last November he singled out those “liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel” who—when confronted by the brutal facts of Palestinian oppression—“unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism at the core of modern Zionism.”
Truthdig’s Israel coverage has caused friction between Kaufman and her sister, who is raising her family within shelling distance of Palestinian positions. Kaufman admits that Truthdig content has at times caused her internal friction as well. “Some of what we put out on the site is harsh for me,” she says. “I feel it’s too extreme. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to go on the site.”
Hedges doesn’t concern himself with sparing readers’ feelings. “It’s very hard to know on the Internet who your audience is,” he says. “And I don’t really care about the audience. I think of producing the best work that I can and being as honest as I can.” The site has struggled to monetize his popularity. In eight years he’s made three appearances on Truthdig’s behalf—at a salon at Kaufman’s house, at a New Mexico retreat, and at a paid event at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club.
In 2010, borrowing a fund-raising idea from The Nation, which charges its readers to bond with their favorite writers on the high seas over plates of unlimited shrimp, Kaufman and Scheer asked Hedges to participate in an annual ocean cruise for Truthdig’s fans. Asked why he declined, Hedges doesn’t lack for reasons. “Let’s start with the fact that cruise ships are major polluters,” he says. “Then there’s the whole notion of sitting around the buffet table, which is a little nauseating. I like my privacy and my space, and I don’t think I’d get either on a cruise ship.”
Instead Kaufman and Scheer agreed to Hedges’s counterproposal: a five-day trek he agreed to lead through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. “It’s pretty rigorous, actually,” Hedges says. “You have 45 pounds on your back and hike eight to ten miles a day. You go up 5,000 to 6,000 feet.” The physical requirements alone may have discouraged the majority of Truthdig’s audience, which skews age 40 and older. Thirteen Truthdig fans signed up, at $2,100 apiece.
Truthdig’s editorial future and its financial viability may depend less on its mid- to late-career stars from old media and more on its young reporters—who have been immersed in the Internet since childhood but are being steeped in Scheer and Hedges’s journalistic ideals. Truthdig is fundamentally a family enterprise, though a far less conventional one than, say, The New York Times. Beyond Scheer, his sons Peter and Joshua (the latter, 34, is a Truthdig podcast interviewer), and Kaufman, who has become a sort of adopted daughter, there are a half dozen bloggers in their twenties and early thirties who are being nurtured as if the future of journalism depends on them. Most started as interns, but long after they complete the program, few leave the nest entirely.
NSA wistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Upon his graduation from the Berklee College of Music in December, Donald Kaufman began an internship at Truthdig. His band, Visceral Design, has relocated to L.A., and although he plans to continue composing and recording “psychological electronic pop” with his bandmates, he also has definite ideas about the Web site’s direction—some of which he discussed with his mother over the holidays.
Donald, 23, says he has no tolerance for what he calls “the emotional porn” of the mainstream media and the Internet. “There’s so much anger and fear and insecurity,” he says, “but it’s been put in the wrong frame of reference so many times that we don’t know what we’re upset about. So people will turn their anger and frustration on Alec Baldwin sooner than they will on Obama or John Boehner.” Still, he finds nothing wrong with highlighting celebrities when they put their fame to work promoting issues essential to the site.
Donald was encouraged by a Truthdig video post last October that featured Russell Brand on British television. The clip—in which the actor-comedian spoke about economic disparity, environmental degradation, and a corporate takeover of government to an increasingly hostile interviewer—got “huge traffic,” Donald says. “Brand was really falling along the same political lines as Chris Hedges but in a way that might be more entertaining to certain people.”
Sounding like an Internet mogul in the making, he suggests Truthdig might have something to learn from the Web site of London’s liberal Guardian newspaper, which has posted exclusives of Snowden’s leaks on state surveillance at the same time it has planted browser cookies on visitors’ computers to get a better idea of their search interests and how to market to them. As for building revenue, Donald says, “if Truthdig is just looking at advertising, that’s never going to work because the market is so saturated.”
Donald has told Scheer and his mom that they must take Truthdig seriously as a brand. “They need to have public talks every three or four months,” he says. “There are much better ways of mobilizing the readers they have. They also need to focus on younger people, too—although I do tend to meet a lot of college kids who know about Truthdig.”
In leveraging live appearances for all they’re worth, the site would be following the lead of recording artists who might once have made the bulk of their living through album sales but now rely on ticket sales and merchandising to make up for what iTunes and audio streaming have forever taken away.
“If the music industry has been able to solve its predicament,” Donald Kaufman says, “so can Truthdig.”
Ed Leibowitz is a writer-at-large for Los Angeles. His last piece, about the 1994 Northridge earthquake, appeared in the January issue.
This feature originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Los Angeles magazine