Exclusive -- Fox Nation at Five: Editor Jesse Watters Drew Inspiration from Drudge, Breitbart
Fox Nation, the website that was "created for people who believe in the United States of America," is turning five years old this week. Jesse Watters, Fox Nation's editor, spoke to Breitbart News about his website's past and its future on this fifth anniversary.
Fox Nation first powered up in April of 2009 promising to, as Fox News' then Senior Vice President Joel Cheatwood said on its debut, give people "a real destination to go and express themselves" and to "give them a feeling of belonging."
The site has become a daily destination for millions since 2009, and editor Watters says the best is yet to come. But Watters, who is also well known as a producer and interviewer for The O'Reilly Factor, has been with the site since day one. The site has been a labor of love and necessity, he said in an exclusive interview with Breitbart News.
When asked why he and Fox started Fox Nation, Watters said the site was partly born out of necessity. "Years ago when I was an O’Reilly Factor assistant producer," Watters said, "I would send our senior producers an email each morning with dozens of headlines and links to stories from all over the Internet--political, cultural, tabloid, video--anything I thought was compelling and controversial enough to air on The Factor that day. After my morning emails gained wider distribution within the company, we believed a larger platform was necessary."
But the site wasn't just started to fit a merely utilitarian need. Watters said he had inspirations that also came into play. "Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart were inspirations. Their ability to tap into the pulse of the country and influence public opinion fascinated me," he said.
The first five years is only the first step for the website, though. "Fox Nation is just getting started. 5 years old is just in kindergarten," he said.
Watters is also proud at how well the site has turned out.
"We exceed our expectations every day," Watters said. "Fox Nation doesn’t have any full-time staff. Each one of us, and there are just a few, have our primary jobs producing for opinion shows or prime-time and contribute to Fox Nation whenever we possibly can during the day and night. So in a sense, Fox Nation, for all of our early success, still has incredible potential."
The site chief said that going from his TV comfort zone to running a website offered a bit of a learning curve.
Technology can be incredibly powerful, but for a website it has limits. The team who launched Fox Nation, we’re all TV people. On TV, you can roll out graphics, move things around, engage with guests and the audience, go live, be creative with sound and video on the fly, your canvas is more flexible. I’d like to be able to have the website look differently every day sometimes, mold the site around with my fingers, turn around a sound bite in seconds, really set the screen on fire like you do on TV. Not having total creative control over the medium can be frustrating.
Watters celebrated the fact that his website serves as an incubator for young talent migrating from the popular website to the TV side to become top producers and writers. He was also happy that Fox Nation served as fodder for so many stories on Fox News.
"I’m proud the site is a resource for my colleagues and helps make their jobs easier," Watters said.
Getting linked by the Drudge Report so often was also a source of pride. "We’ve had the top story on Drudge a few times. It feels like you just drained a 40 foot putt to win The Masters," he said.
If there were any stories his Fox Nation promoted that turned out to be less than factual, Watters won't dwell on such things. "Everyone has regrets about things that are posted. You learn from mistakes and move on," he said.
Noting that being a website that caters to politics, Watters admitted that Fox Nation's traffic ebbs and flows with the news cycle. But he was happy to report that traffic has been strong. "Last election we were doing almost 4 million monthly uniques and over 20 million monthly page views. That leveled off last year, but we expect monthly uniques for the fall midterms to be strong, like usual."
He also said that growth in other areas is strong, too. "We've experienced strong growth with social media, especially this year. We have 150k followers on Twitter and 180k Facebook fans and are in awe of their daily passion and engagement."
When asked about the recent re-design of the website, Watters said he loves re-designs. "It's like leasing a new car," he joked.
There have been three such makeovers, and Watters and crew are already planning a fourth. "For the next redesign expect to see more content, more video, and some geography-based community-linking features that will have a powerful impact on political decision-making the way those town halls did a few summers back."
But the Fox Nation members are always one of his favorite parts of his job, Watters said.
"Our Fox Nation members, followers and fans are vibrant, engaged and fiercely loyal. The community that we’ve built here will grow as we grow, online, on-air or anywhere."
Breitbart asked if Watters' growing presence on the TV side might lead him away from running the website. With his Watters' World man-on-the-street interviews doing so well on O'Reilly, the question of just how long he may be with Fox Nation was an obvious one to ask. But Watters said he was in it for the long term, though.
"I'm a Fox Nation founding father. Unless they deport me I'm staying," he insisted. "Striking a balance between Watters’ World and Fox Nation is a challenge. But both projects are a lot of fun, so it works out," he added.
Watters insisted that many more years are to come for Fox Nation. So, we at Breitbart News wish a happy fifth birthday to Fox Nation.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.