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Joe Conason, Coming to an Inbox Near You

The columnist on his new progressive email newsletter National Memo

Joe Conason

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Adweek: What is National Memo?
I’ve always been interested in having an Internet vehicle. My wife [Elizabeth Wagley] started a company called Progressive Book Club. That pulled together a large list of progressives, liberals, and Democrats across the country, who are very interested in political issues. We have tens and tens of thousands, and we think we’ll be up to a million in the next couple of months. I thought, what about a newsletter model for the center-left?

Why not a website?
It’s a form that goes back to Tom Paine and George Seldes and Izzy Stone. For Elizabeth and me, that’s an appealing model because we think it works politically and as a business. What we’re trying to bring to readers is a very sharp take on the day’s news, a fair amount of original news, and aggregation. Of course, it has my unique sensibility and my reporting experience behind it.

Would you make it more broad?
I’m definitely thinking about bringing on Joe Scarborough’s column and more conservative stuff. Smart, conservative commentary is definitely something we’ll do.

Do we need another media vehicle for the left?
What we’re delivering is an audience that’s engaged, interested in travel, healthcare. From what little I know about marketing, the ROI for email marketing is better than any other form of marketing. I think we can get big brand advertisers and we will, but there will be specialized advertising and cause-related advertising as well.

Who’s financing it?
I guess that’s proprietary info. Is that how you say it?

How do you size up the political media landscape?
Our audience is particularly interested in what they see as a threat to their future and living standards by the Republicans and Tea Party and what’s going on abroad. There’s a profound interest in news right now.

Rupert Murdoch fired you years ago when he took over the Voice where you were a columnist.
He tried to. He had acquired The Village Voice by accident when he bought New York magazine. I wrote a column in the Voice every week, and one of the things I covered quite often was the New York Post and Rupert’s political shenanigans. There came a point where he called [editor] David Schneiderman and told him to fire me. David, to his credit, didn’t do it. It blew over.

Did you get any satisfaction out of that shaving cream attack?
If they didn’t pay that guy, they should have, because it makes him look good and Wendi look great. I’m not surprised. This Mr. Magoo thing he did in Parliament—the “I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on” act—is not him. I remember he would have the front page of the [New York] Post faxed to him in Australia every day—he was that controlling of his newspapers.

You also had a run-in with [ex-Post gossip columnist] Richard Johnson.
He took a swing at me. My recollection is he swung and then ran out of the building. Someone bigger than both of us grabbed me and someone grabbed him and pulled us apart. We’ve kissed and made up since then.

You left the New York Observer after 18 years. How is it doing?
I think the Observer’s gone through a tough few years. I don’t agree with everything they’ve done. But I’m glad they’re still there and publishing.