Why I left a dream job to start The Writ
And why I hope you'll come along for the ride
So, today’s a big day.
Nearly 13 years ago, I was a struggling freelance writer with few prospects and a hope of turning an interest in elections into, well, something. Inspired by the work of Nate Silver during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I launched ThreeHundredEight.com.
And then I continued to be a struggling freelance writer.
Things turned around after a couple years, though, and I was fortunate enough to write for a few newspapers and media outlets, including The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post Canada. But it wasn’t until I began to work with the CBC as its polls analyst in 2014 that I stopped thinking of myself as a freelance writer and started to consider myself in the midst of an actual career in political journalism.
My focus, though, was always narrow. I don’t particularly like terms like “election junkie” or “election geek”, since it seems a little judgmental. But, it is a pretty good description of me. And here was the CBC, willing to pay me to write and talk about polls and politics for a living.
For a very specific kind of person (i.e. me), it was a dream job.
So, I must be crazy to now be re-joining the struggling ranks of independent writers, right?
Maybe. Let me explain myself.
I’ve loved working with my colleagues at the CBC’s parliamentary bureau for the last seven years. I got to cover two federal elections, two U.S. presidential elections, four federal leadership races and more than a dozen provincial elections. Every day, I was in awe of the professionalism, dedication and curiosity of the journalists I was lucky enough to call my co-workers.
But it became clear to me that something was missing: I just didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the work that I once had. Though it pained me to leave behind my friends, it was time for a change.
Why I’m excited about The Writ
Here’s the thing: the CBC is a massive organization with a big audience. That is mostly a good thing. But it makes you only a small part of a very large machine that has disparate and competing priorities largely aimed at serving the broadest audience possible. I came to miss working for the niche audience made up of people who are “election geeks” just like me.
People like you.
There’s a natural expectation that the next thing must always be bigger and shinier but, for me, there’s a great deal of attraction in going after something smaller, freer and more focused.
That’s what excites me about this new project. With Substack’s platform, I can have a closer relationship with the audience and delve deeply into the topics that most interest me (and you!): the contours of Canada’s electoral landscape, the history of its elections and all the contests that range from byelections in the smallest provincial ridings to national campaigns that can re-shape the country — written for my fellow election nerds.
But also, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. The gravitas of a national newspaper or a public broadcaster imposes a lot of weight on everything it publishes or airs, and I felt that weight every time I thought about writing a new piece. At The Writ, I can let my hair down a little bit (if I still had some, that is).
I’ve long had an entrepreneurial and independent bent. I watched my father run his own business from our home when I was younger. A little later, I designed and sold board games to help defray the costs of my university studies. I wrote articles for history magazines as a freelancer and, while it was rarely very profitable, ThreeHundredEight.com was a business venture of sorts as well.
The Writ gives me the chance to be an independent entrepreneur once again and an opportunity to build something new from the ground-up. Honestly, that’s thrilling.
In addition, it’s a venue in which to experiment and try different things. The bedrock foundation of The Writ will, of course, be what’s written here. But the medium means I can try different styles and formats — hell, I can even use a first person pronoun and a word like “hell” without fear of an editor (Doug, if you’re reading this: sorry).
Beyond the site, the sky’s the limit. Those who, like me, lamented the death of The Pollcast — the CBC podcast I hosted from 2015 to 2019 — will be happy to know that it is being resurrected, if not in name at least in spirit. Over the next months (and years?) I hope to try other things as the site evolves and together we’ll see what works and what doesn’t.
In short: I can’t wait to focus on the topics that interest me the most, to experiment with new styles and platforms. And, if I’m excited, I’m hoping you’ll get carried away, too.
What to expect from The Writ
The focus of The Writ is evoked right there in the name: elections. This site is first and foremost about Canadian elections at both the federal and provincial levels.
As a reader, you’ll encounter articles that fall into four categories:
Quick hits on news of the day, be it about a new poll, a floor-crossing, new fundraising data, etc.
Deeper analyses on electoral issues, such as broad polling trends, demographic shifts or revealing patterns in election data.
In-depth seat ratings for upcoming federal and provincial elections.
Histories of elections past, as part of my #EveryElectionProject (more on this later!).
The pace of these articles will vary from week to week along with the pace of news. Some weeks might only feature one or two articles. Other weeks, such as during election campaigns, could see five or six articles being published.
You might have noticed an omission from the four categories above: poll aggregation. That’s no mistake. I’m getting out of the poll aggregation and seat modelling business (at least here on The Writ and longer term, but for the immediate future I’ve agreed to continue to run the CBC Poll Tracker through to the next federal election).
Instead, I’m planning to use polls as just one part of my analyses, rather than as numbers input into a spreadsheet — a move to a more qualitative rather than purely quantitative approach. I think last year’s U.S. presidential election is just the latest example of the limitations of relying on polls alone and how more of a balance between the quantitative and the qualitative is needed.
There will also be a podcast that I will aim to put out once per week (and perhaps more often during a campaign) covering the latest developments in electoral politics. The format isn’t set in stone just yet — it is one of the things I’m hoping will evolve with your input.
Where you fit in
That’s because, in the end, this isn’t just my project. I want this to be a collaborative effort. What kind of content do you want to see on The Writ? What do you want to hear on The Writ podcast? What other platforms or content would you find interesting — YouTube livestreams on election nights, live Q&A sessions on Clubhouse, funny dance moves on TikTok (not happening)?
I want to know, because I want The Writ to be something that both you and I can have fun with.
Most importantly, I am asking for something else: subscribe. This site will only be sustained by subscribers. As a subscriber, you will have exclusive access to all the content on The Writ and get every new article directly in your inbox. You’ll also have a big influence on what you’ll get out of the site — I’ll be constantly looking for input from subscribers on what you want to see.
(Some articles will be unlocked from time to time and for the next few weeks to give people a taste of what the site’s about — but most of the content will always be subscribers-only).
The cost of a monthly subscription will be at the reduced rate of 15% off (roughly $5.94/month) for the next 30 days — after that new subscribers will only have access to the site at the increased rate of $6.99/month. Lock in that lower price!
You also have the option of subscribing annually for a better per-month rate. And, if you’re feeling generous, you can chip in a little more to be deemed a “Founding Member” (no pressure!). I don’t know just yet what the perks of being a Founding Member might be, but I’m open to suggestions!
To subscribe, just click on the yellow “Get 15% off forever” button above to get the process started, or click here.
I’ll be launching the podcast later this week, as well as posting my first analysis article, to get things rolling. I’m excited about the launch of this new project — and if you made it this far, I hope that means you are, too.
The Writ has dropped!
(Okay, I know that’s lame, but I had to say it at least once.)
Very interesting..can't wait to read more of your insights!!
I’ve been following you since pretty near the time you started threehundredeight and I’m not about to stop now. Carry on.