Tucked away in a third-floor Culver City studio, behind a blue curtain, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian are discussing whether a Las Vegas man with a 100-pound scrotum should have taken Dr. Oz’s offer for corrective surgery in exchange for an exclusive interview.
Kasparian says, “I feel horrible for him, but it also says something about our health care system; another story about our health care system where we allow someone with a horrible condition to live his life this way.”
While bizarre stories like the man with the enlarged scrotum are usually the domain of publications like the National Enquirer, for The Young Turks (TYT), the story leads into talking about the state of American politics and society, topics that are their bread and butter.
With more than 300,000 subscribers and over a million views daily, TYT is one of the most watched news and politics channels on YouTube. It dubs itself as “The Largest News Site Network In The World.” The main personalities on TYT, Uygur and Kasparian, pride themselves on their independence from the more dominant established media.
Kasparian, who is Uygur’s main co-host on the live show weekdays 12pm-2pm PT, originally started her career at TYT in 2007 behind the scenes as a fill-in producer. She said that the network offers its own views on news stories based on its own research.
She told NMR:
“What we try to do is figure out what the reality is. If we have a stance on a specific story, we’ll look for actual data that reinforces what the truth is. You just have to dig deeper and not rely on the mainstream media and old media to tell you what the reality is.”
“It’s interesting to see that Americans really aren’t as uninformed and uninterested in the news as you would think. Look at our numbers; so many people watch us. They are craving news from a factual standpoint as opposed to CNN saying, ‘Hey, Party A says this, and Party B says that. You figure it out yourself.’ We try to figure it out for the audience to give them the facts.”
From Public Access Television to YouTube Sensation
Of course, their success was no short walk in the park; it was more like a 10-year walk in the park. TYT’s humble roots began in 2002 as a radio show, but Uygur’s first taste as a host happened in the 1990s when he hosted a show on public access television in Arlington, Virginia.
Uygur told NMR:
“We had tremendous difficulties in building TYT into what it is now. It was 10 years of very hard work. In the beginning, we had no money, no audience, no infrastructure, no marketing and no help whatsoever. We built the show into an online news empire that has 750 million views through blood, sweat and tears.”
Over the years, TYT survived nearly going out of business and outlets like Air America exiting the industry. However, those difficulties did not deter them from expanding its reach on the Internet.
“We figured out our strength was our audience. Nobody was ever going to hand us anything; we had to build this show and this network brick by brick together with our audience.”
Since its inception in 2002, TYT has grown from broadcasting in a small crowded office building in Los Angeles to its current third floor state-of-the-art studio with panoramic views of Culver City and the Westside on its rooftop.
Uygur said, “Their cost structure is untenable in the long run. They don’t know how to get lean and when we erode their audience they are screwed. Our cost structure is built to last, and our audience is growing. I’d hate to be them because we’re coming for them. The handwriting is already on the wall.”
“We have a staff of producers from the online show and the TV show that work together to find all of our material from every imaginable outlet. We do a lengthy morning meeting where everyone pitches stories from their own specialties, including me. Then we decide together what goes in the TV show and what goes online. We also have to decide on guests and production elements in that meeting. The real work is behind the scenes, before we get on-air.”
Tom Hanc, New Media, Outreach and Programs Director for TYT, says that having creative freedom is important to the channel.
He told NMR, “Any creator wants to enjoy the freedom to do what they want, but I think it’s particularly important for when you’re doing news politics and commentary. If you’re on the radio or the old media establishment, you have to play within their rules, and you have other people making decisions for you. The great thing about YouTube and the Internet that we’ve found is that we get to make our own decisions. There is no editorial control.”
Uygur knows firsthand about editorial independence. He previously worked as a commentator for MSNBC, but the top-down approach at the cable network was not a right fit for him.
“They offered me a lot of money and a very good show after I had done [a 6 p.m. show] for them,” he said. “But I had the sense that it came with strings attached and that they wanted me to take it easy on the establishment. I wouldn’t do that, so I went back to our bread and butter–the online show.”
Although he said that TYT doesn’t need television and “that way of thinking is the old days,” their collaboration with Current TV on a one-hour show has worked for them because they retained their total independence on content while still reaching that cable audience.
Looking forward, Uygur wants TYT to become the largest online news video network in the world. He says that they’ve already reached their goal as the largest online news show in the world despite people dismissing them as “unrealistic.”
“If you don’t think we could do it, buckle up. We’ve done the undoable before, and we’ll do it again.”