A digital media company’s willingness to dive deep into local policy and politics shows not all news consumers are ruled by short attention spans.
Upstream Ideas launched two years ago with the goal of using short- and long-form content in various formats to engage people and influence the political landscape. Its projects ranged from short videos that summed up the Chicago pension crisis to a nearly one-hour-long discussion with a former president of the National Rifle Association about how to scale back big government.
Dan Proft, entrepreneur, radio host and political commentator, wanted to bring together thought leaders and contributors to offer content that includes a variety of voices that aren’t available elsewhere. He calls it "value-added information." Upstream focuses on the decisions and ideologies that shape the Chicago metro area and Illinois, with a smattering of national issues framed to highlight the local impact, Proft told Illinois Business Daily.
The site adds to what Proft covers in radio interviews and commentary. While morning radio offers room for brief conversations, Upstream makes time for more in-depth interviews.
“When you do 45 minutes or so, you’re able to get beyond some of the top-line to a deeper, more textured understanding of some of the issues,” Proft said. “I think the whole challenge is not just throwing a bunch of information at people. It’s about engagement. It’s not just about a quick hit.”
Proft co-hosts “The Morning Answer” with Amy Jacobson weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Off the air, he’s a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank in Chicago, and a co-owner of Local Government Information Services. He also co-founded Illinois Opportunity Project, a free-market public policy advocacy group, and he leads the Liberty Principles political action committee to financially support political candidates and policies.
In its first two years, Upstream has varied its approach, introducing new series and letting ideas unfold over a number of segments as new people weigh in.
Proft hopes to introduce a series of discussions between women on different political issues. These will be peer-to-peer discussions driven by the participants.
It’s clear to Proft that viewers and readers value the content. He said the audience doubled between the first and second year and other news outlets report on the conversations Upstream publishes.
Ultimately, he sees Upstream as a chance to change people’s minds. Proft likes “Follow the Logic,” an Upstream man-on-the-street interview series, for this reason. Upstream approaches individuals in public to talk about a single idea or issue. In one recent installment, Upstream talked to college students about higher education funding in Illinois.
“You see their opinion go from one thing to something almost 180 degrees different three minutes later,” he said. “People can be persuaded. If you give them more information, if you engage, you can see their opinion change. It reminds people that everyone can be an opinion leader if you have value-added information.”