“I guess I was hungrier than I thought,” says Jon Ralston. He’s just devoured a personal pizza at a recent lunch — in the same way he can devour a flip-flopping politician on his TV gabfest: in a flurry of compulsive piranha bites.
Or maybe it’s nervous eating. Because, after 12 years as a political columnist at the Las Vegas Sun, Ralston has left his perch at the paper and taken his platform solo. On Sept. 19, he launched ralstonreports.com. He’s also changed the name of his daily show on KSNV-Channel 3 to “Ralston Reports.” The vervy brand name-iness of it (his name! a verb!) is not accidental.
“This is a leap of faith for me,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve built my brand as the politics guy. Now the question is: Is that worth something to people? Trying to monetize a brand is a gamble. But it’s a gamble to try to monetize anything on the Internet.”
It’ll be especially interesting in the case of Ralston, a media stalwart in Las Vegas since the mid ’80s. He’s long touted his fierce and independent journalist’s mind; now he’s doing a stint as independent businessman. With no staff and no investors — and no Greenspun backing — he’s flying ralstonreports.com by himself. His split from Greenspun is widely believed to be tied to the departure of former “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” Executive Producer and Sun reporter Dana Gentry, who resigned from the Sun after being yanked from covering an ongoing story about investor lawsuits against Aspen Financial Services — but says that wasn’t the only reason he left. (Las Vegas Sun Publisher and Editor Brian Greenspun declined to comment on “personnel issues.”)
But Ralston’s new venture is not exactly a blind cliff dive. He inherited from the Sun his 750-1,000 Flash newsletter subscribers, who pay $350 a year for email scoops and breaking news from Ralston. (The premium package is $600 a year, $1,200 for corporate accounts). But in an age when free punditry is just a click away on the Internet, can a site like ralstonreports.com thrive? Even as we eat, he’s restlessly brainstorming about hiring help to grow subscribers, setting up a corporation, the trials of learning HTML …
Gentry is upbeat about the prospects. She isn’t involved in the website, but she’s worked with Ralston long enough to trust his instincts — whether political, journalistic or business.
“Ralston is practically a household name in national press circles,” she says, citing his frequent name-checks on shows such as “Morning Joe” and “The Rachel Maddow Show.” As far as making quality content profitable? “That’s the conundrum,” she says. “Smarter people than me are trying to figure that out.”