In just two years, 1819 News has grown to reach millions of readers and impact state policy with its breaking news and investigative reporting. Much of that success is due to president and CEO Bryan Dawson, whose own life journey is nothing short of a miracle.
Dawson was recently featured on "Success Stories," a program of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University that recognizes the accomplishments of distinguished Alabamians. The show is hosted by Allen Mendenhall, associate dean and Grady Rosier Professor at Sorrell College and executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy.
Dawson began the show by telling how he went from being a convict in Colorado to becoming a Christian CEO in Alabama.
"I also participate in a lot of fundraising as you do, and you sit down with someone, and they're used to the normal niceties or whatever, and then I'm like, 'Well, when I was 23 years old, I was facing 384 years in prison for attempted murder, aggravated robbery, and extortion," Dawson said. "That changes the mood of the room a little bit."
After many run-ins with the law in Colorado Springs, Dawson said he was sent to county jail, where God finally got his attention.
"That's really when God began to work on me," he continued. "He thumped me on the head and said, This is your fault.' To normal people, well, of course, this is your fault, Bryan, you know. But for me, up to that point, it was my mom's fault, it was my dad's fault, it was the cop's fault, it was the judge's fault, it was District Attorney's fault, it was everybody's fault. It was a broken system. I was a victim. Why couldn't anybody see that? And I really believed that, but when God opened my eyes to the fact it was my fault, that was when change really began to happen in my life. I realized that if my bad decisions created these bad circumstances I was free to make good decisions that would create good circumstances."
Dawson was given a plea bargain deal of 32 years in prison but, through a mediation hearing, got that down to 16. While in prison, he met Charles Frederick, who shared the gospel with him and eventually led him to Christ.
Dawson was later released to a halfway house where he continued to grow in Christ and married his high school crush, whom he reconnected with via letter correspondence while in jail. After graduating from the program, he was able to transfer his parole to Alabama, where his wife was living.
A friend of Dawson's helped him get an affiliate relations manager job with USA Radio Networks, which syndicated several big-name talk show hosts such as Steve Deace. Dawson helped market the network's news segments to stations across the country.
"I was the new guy. I didn't know the rules, and so you know, I was told that this would never work when I originally pitched it to the team, but I thought it would, and it did," Dawson said.
His success led him to work for Lee Habeeb on expanding "Our American Stories," which gave Dawson the experience and skills he would soon use to help launch 1819 News.
Dawson said after the 2020 election, he turned his focus away from national news to the local level. That's when Caleb Crosby with the Alabama Policy Institute called him about starting a state-focused radio show.
"At the end of the call, he says, 'You know what we need more than a radio show in one market is a statewide, state-focused news and multimedia company to take out AL(dot).com.' I said I'll do it, and so that was the impetus of it."
1819 News launched in 2021 "bigger, better and badder" than expected, Dawson said.
"It's basically a newspaper online. But then you have to have alternate means of dissemination and distribution. So, we have an email newsletter that has 20,000 people with a 41% open rate. We've got podcasts. We've got a radio show. "We've actually got the number one news talk radio show in the Montgomery market right now on Bluewater Broadcasting, 'Alabama Unfiltered Radio.' It's incredible. We've got a magazine. We've got people doing TikTok videos. You name it we, we have [it]."
Dawson said 1819 News set itself apart from other news outlets in Alabama by not falling into the "shamed and shielded" paradigm and being an outlet truly for the people.
"On one hand, you're being shamed for your way of life and what you believe by the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the media outlet of record, AL(dot)com. 'You no-good rednecks, how dare you;' that's kind of their content that they're putting out. And then over here you have these other groups that, while they might not be radical leftists telling you how stupid you are for what you believe, it's really, it's PR for what I would say is the problem. You have these big corporations that pay these media outlets to write nice things about Republican leadership, and Republican leadership does things for the corporations… It's PR; it's not journalism."
He added, "I think the chief distinction is that we have real reporters, muckrakers at heart that are out there beating the pavement pressing the flesh, asking real questions of real people about things that really matter to the average Alabamian, and by our rapid growth, you can see there was a hunger for it."
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