Punchbowl’s Anna Palmer on building a new media brand

Narrower brands are winning

If you’re heading to Cannes next week, sign up for the events we’re holding, including The New Attention Economy, presented with Kerv Interactive. We also have a live podcast and cocktails with Dotdash Meredith on Thursday afternoon from 4pm-6pm.

Tonight, I’m participating in an AI + Media salon with Joe Marchese of Human Ventures, Vox’s Peter Kafka and Sara Fischer from Axios. I hope to do more of these in the fall. Sign up for information on upcoming events from The Rebooting.

First up, a message from Burt.

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Punchbowl’s Anna Palmer on building a new media brand

Anna Palmer is a journalist turned startup CEO. Along with Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan, she founded Punchbowl in January 2021, just in time for the assault on the Capitol. Punchbowl’s obsessive focus on the Capitol, and business model that combines subscriptions with high-value issue advocacy ads led it to sprint out of the gates with $10 million in revenue by its first year.

What Punchbowl is doing is working in a media environment that's shifted favor from mass and ad-supported to narrower brands focused on high-value audience segments, backed by direct connections and diversified business models.

“I've been in Washington journalism for almost 20 years, and I always laugh when everyone talks about Substack and the rise of newsletters,” Anna said on this week’s episode of The Rebooting Show. “It's the new hot thing. I've literally been doing newsletters for that entire time.”

Some things that stand out to me about Punchbowl:

  1. It is reporter focused. I believe journalists who start media businesses create different products. Punchbowl is journalism-driven, relying on the daily grind of uncovering new information vs playing SEO or social traffic games.
  2. It has a rich niche. Issues advocacy ads are a lucrative ad category, and one where you not only mostly don’t compete with Google and Facebook, but they’re also your biggest clients. If only more media was like this.
  3. It has stayed lean. Punchbowl started with funding from Liontree, and it has grown quickly, but it has also resisted the temptation to expand quickly by, say, springing up operations in state capitols around the country or joining the fray at the White House. Instead it has focused on high-value areas like its expansion in financial services vertical with The Vault.
  4. It has managed to be a publication about politics without being a political publication. Many aspire to non-partisan news. Easier said than done. See the Chris Licht experiment at CNN for evidence. Punchbowl has managed to thread the needle for the most part with not being pulled into the inevitable political Rorschach test, mostly because they’re obsessed with the legislative process vs the posturing of politics.

Hope you enjoy this conversation with Anna.

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Introducing The Rebooting Cannes Edition

This weekend, I’m heading to Cannes for what is probably my 15th edition of the Cannes Lions. Yes, it’s a week of ridiculous excess, always especially awkward in times of economic uncertainty. And yet, Cannes continues to be the epicenter of the media world, where all sides congregate and you can be in enterprise sales for a data broker but still be on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

I’m writing a daily newsletter from Cannes that you’ll be receiving next week. With the help of Next in Media’s Mike Shields and sponsorship of Kerv Interactive, The Rebooting Cannes Edition will focus on the important conversations happening at Cannes that point to what comes next for the media business. Each day will also feature a podcast from The New Attention Economy, the three-day event we are holding at the Kerv Cafe and another from the cocktails and conversation event we’re putting on with Dotdash Meredith.

Thanks to The Rebooting’s partners in Cannes, including Kerv, Sovrn and Ex.co.


Freedom to monetize: Life is full of tradeoffs, and making money passively from viewership on platforms means sacrificing both margin and control. The Daily Wire has an interesting business that’s largely driven by subscription fees, but it also has some of the most popular political programming on YouTube with stars like Ben Shapiro. The Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boehring claims the company keeps getting its monetization throttled with other penalties from YouTube on account of its opposition to trans rights. The freedom of speech doesn’t mean the freedom to monetize. Platforms will set their own business rules, so a publisher like The Daily Wire would be wise to treat it as mostly promotion. (Jeremy Boreing)

Individuals over institutions: Lionel Messi’s deal with Inter Milan shows how “labor” can exert leverage over capital in new ways. Messi will not just get gobs of money in the deal but equity in Inter MIami after he stops playing. Sports is an odd business in that the players create tremendous equity value but do not share in the long-term upside. Thanks to the backing of both Apple and Adidas, points to a new model for the sports business. (NYT)

Independent is the new objective: The long-held journalistic ideal has been “objectivity,” which gets derided as both sidesism. Bad actors use the convention to position “alternative facts” as legitimate. But then, partisanship throughout society and activism around specific causes has seeped into news coverage and dented trust. New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger is advocating for “the role of journalists to independently follow the truth and try to arm the public with the facts and the context and the understanding it needs for this giant, diverse democracy to come together and self-govern.” I suppose, although no journalist is truly independent working for a big brand, much less The New York Times. (The New Yorker)

RIP brand journalism: There are few safe havens in most professions, perhaps fewer in the news writing business. Brands interest in spinning up content operations gave hope for a new type of content that could lend expertise to specific areas. The do-direct mantra emanated from Silicon Valley to skip the  media gatekeepers. That turns out to be more attractive when interest rates are near zero. For a company like Morning Consult, its small news operation would stand to reason as an extension of its data and research business that’s valued the company at $1 billion. After all, Bloomberg has a sprawling news operation to front its data business. Still, in tough economic times, these kinds of side projects that aren’t tied to the company’s core business tend to get whacked, as is the case at Morning Consult. (Jeremy Barr)

The pivot to advertising: Pendulums swing back and forth. What is in fashion goes out of fashion and what is out of fashion comes back in fashion. How else to explain the hankering for the homepage? Amazon is the latest tech giant to discover that people more often will opt to sit through ads than pay money directly for entertainment, as it plans an ad tier for its Prime video service. This follows in the footsteps of Netflix starting an ad tier, which attracted 1 million signups in its first two months and is expected to attract 31 million. Everyone needs to relearn the same lessons of media: make money a bunch of different ways. (WSJ)

Labor unrest: Expect waves of labor discontent at publishers as they struggle with a soft ad market and existential threats like AI as companies in all sectors face off with an exceedingly grumpy workforce. Staff at the LA Times aren’t happy after layoffs.  Insider’s contentious battle with its union is turning ugly. Insider journalists are striking and going after management on LinkedIn and Twitter.  (Teamsters, take note.) I don’t know how you go back working together productively after this ends. There’s the possibility if it lasts long enough we’ll see a return of Classic BI slideshows in the name of expediency. The New York Post reports “complaints from managers about the punishing workload, which includes churning out multiple stories a day, repurposing old stories — and in at least one case — publishing a rough draft of a reporter’s story in a desperate bid to keep web traffic from plummeting.” (New York Post)

Thanks for reading. Send me your feedback by hitting reply, and share this newsletter with anyone you think would find it valuable.

We’ve been lucky enough to work with over a dozen great partners this year. We’re working on partnership programs for the fall – and have some summer inventory available – so get in touch to discuss those. My email is brian@therebooting.com.