32 minutes | Jun 15, 2020

'We don't need your clicks': The Dispatch co-founder Steve Hayes on bucking the attention economy

The attention economy hasn't just proven to be a losing proposition for media businesses financially. It also encourages quick, outrage-based political coverage that thrives off of (and feeds) poor governance, according to Steve Hayes, CEO and co-founder of the Dispatch.

"Everything we're seeing in our politics has an emphasis on performance," Hayes said on the Digiday Podcast. "The economic incentives and business models that everyone has pursued in this space in the past 10-15 years have contributed pretty significantly to that."

With the Dispatch -- a newsletter-first media company that leans conservative -- Hayes is aiming for subscribing members who aren't monetized by the minutes they spend reading the company's coverage.

"We don't need your clicks. Come, learn and then go. Live your life," Hayes said. The Dispatch put up a paywall in February, and now has 12,000 paying members — around 450 of them paid $1,500 for lifetime memberships when the company launched in October, according to Hayes. "It's growing faster than we had anticipated."

The membership model has also helped the Dispatch forgo venture capital or billionaire ownership, the risks of which Hayes learned first hand as the last editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, a conservative institution that billionaire owner Philip Anschutz shut it down in 2018.

The Dispatch and its staff of 12 aim for the same conservative readership. Despite concrete evidence of growing polarization, Hayes also gestures toward a middle ground in U.S. politics representing perhaps 70% to 75% of the U.S. population.

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