Yes, they’re as young as they look (28 and 29), and yep, one really goes by “Bubba,” but that’s not stopping Alex Skatell and Bert (Bubba) Atkinson from kicking up dust in the Wild West that is the new media landscape. The two native Charlestonians (Skatell grew up in Mount Pleasant and graduated from Bishop England and Clemson; Atkinson grew up on James Island, graduated from Porter-Gaud and College of Charleston) are the masterminds behind Independent Journal (IJ.com). Recently rebranded from Independent Journal Review, it’s consistently a top-60 most trafficked website in the country and one that’s neck-and-neck with big dogs like The New York Times, CNN, and USA Today in unique views. Maybe you were one of the 33.5 million people who saw Senator Lindsey Graham’s hilarious “How to Destroy Your Cell Phone” video after The Donald released his personal number? That was the IJ.com team—clever, fresh, and quick out of the gate. “We’re looking at what’s driving society and culture, not just politics, and creating highly shareable content that reaches an independent audience,” says Skatell.
And contrary to his family’s business motto, “Ska-tell her…” (of Skatell’s jewelry store fame), “we aim to show, not tell,” he adds. “We want conversation starters; we’re making political coverage more accessible outside the Beltway and shareable on social media,” says Atkinson, who was blogging at “Bubba Finds a Job”—and working as a waiter and musician—before Skatell gave him one.
Now in its third year and headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, Independent Journal is growing in wingspan and stature, with a staff of 100-plus; reporters around the country; and recent head-turning hires such as Michelle Jaconi, a veteran journalist from Meet the Press and CNN, and Hunter Schwarz, a political reporter from The Washington Post and BuzzFeed. On February 6, when ABC News sponsors the seventh Republican presidential debate, its media partner will be none other than IJ.com. “BuzzFeed, Vox, and Vice haven’t yet been a part of a presidential debate,” says Skatell, who got his political feet wet after college as director of new media and technology for the Republican Governors Association. “That’s when I saw what was happening with social media and how news distribution was changing,” he says. “I wanted to build the newsroom of the future.”
Watch Independent Journal's "How to Destroy Your Cell Phone with Lindsey Graham:”