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What a Rare attempt at media crossing political lines proves

Ryosuke Hosoi (CC)

Cox Media Group made a big splash last spring in the world of conservative politics, with the introduction of the website 'Rare'. The premise was simple enough - a play on words from the culinary world, to show that the site would "red" in the middle. It was meant to be a smart and savvy place for young conservatives to get their news and entertainment in one site, and maybe even get the attention of some readers from the rest of the political spectrum.

The initial editorial staff read like a "who's who" in conservative political writing and social media, including James S. Robbins and Tabitha Hale. Brett Decker was tapped to lead the group, and in the beginning, all went well. Hits skyrocketed into the millions thanks to many original offerings from conservative heavy hitters like Ted Nugent, and there was more than a little interest from multiple writers across the conservative community (including yours truly.)

And then the bottom fell out.

It wasn't a quick drop, per se. The first signs of trouble were when readers started figuring out that while there was a little original content, the site seemed to be churning out just short blurbs on content from other sites. What had been billed as a new and exciting conservative site was turning into a glorified news feed. Behind the scenes, there were editorial issues, primarily to do with content. What few writers were turning in content were quickly finding out that Cox wasn't letting the Rare editors do their job - there were "taboo" topics, like anything on homosexuality, or against Obama. Given the time frame, with all the debates over marriage equality, this was quickly noticed. It was also noted that there was a mass exodus of sorts, by the primary editorial staff that Cox had initially recruited for the site.

By the time The Daily Caller posited that Rare wasn't really conservative at all earlier this week, it arguably was old news anyway. While the site is still online, Cox's attempt at shifting the conservative narrative to the left of center has failed. While it might be an interesting mental exercise to try to figure out exactly how and why this experiment in media fell apart, it's far more useful to get the insight of an insider. Former Deputy Editor, James S. Robbins, offers the following explanation:

The upper managers at Rare had a palpable sense of discomfort discussing conservative issues and values. There were a number of topics we were not allowed to write about from a conservative perspective, particularly regarding social issues, or criticism of President Obama. And every time upper management overrode [Editor in Chief] Brett [Decker] on a story, they moved Rare to the left.

Brett brought in some of the biggest names in conservatism -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Judge Napolitano, Ted Nugent -- and got nothing but grief. One piece by Ted Nugent was heading for a million web hits and they wanted us to take it down because they said the tone was too raucous. It's the Motor City Madman, what do you expect? But even record-setting traffic did not convince them.

That was back in July 2013 when Rare could pull a million and a half hits a week. After most of Brett's team resigned, conservative heavy hitters abandoned Rare, and traffic dropped 90%.

If Rare was an attempt by liberals to hijack the conservative narrative they did a very poor job of it. If their objective was to spend a ton of money to launch a failed web site then it was mission accomplished.

Rare was an excellent idea, and has essentially failed at this point only because corporate decisions cut it off at the knees. Cox could have had a very valuable piece in its corporate puzzle, if only it had let the people they picked to lead it do their jobs. It's not unreasonable to assume that there were political agendas in the background, but it could simply be a matter of corporate management not knowing how to deal with a different kind of media property. Liberals can't understand how conservatives think, and vice versa. Either way, it can be taken as an important lesson learned. Money can't buy loyalty or acquiescence when personal beliefs and reputations are on the line.

Robbins and Decker both left Rare late last summer - Robbins went on to finish work on his upcoming book, The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero. Personally, I got the message much sooner. After having a small item about George Takei - arguably the most agreeable gay man on the net, that never seems to be bothered with anyone picking on him - turned away because of the Cox editorial policy, I decided it wasn't worth the time or effort.

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