3 Arkansas Names, Living the Stream

3 Arkansas Names, Living the Stream
The current lineup of SourceStream show hosts includes the network's executive brass, shown in the top row. From left, Editor-in-Chief Blake Rutherford, President Wade Murphy and CEO Khalid Jones.

Blake Rutherford, son of Skip, friend of Bill and husband of CNN’s Jessica Dean, can thank some other old Arkansas connections for his new enterprise, SourceStream. He’s selling it as an interconnected politics outlet for the live-streaming generation.

He and his partners in the interactive network, which premiered on opening day of the virtual Democratic National Convention, forged a bond as elite teens from Arkansas: Rutherford as the son of Bill Clinton ally Skip Rutherford; Khalid Jones as Rutherford’s high-achieving friend at Little Rock Central High School, and Wade Murphy as a scion of the Murphy Oil Corp. family of El Dorado.

“Khalid and I went to Central together,” Rutherford told Arkansas Business, charting the connections. “Then Khalid went to Wake Forest University and met Wade, who had graduated from El Dorado High School. They were the only two guys from Arkansas in their class.”

Jones graduated to law school at Stanford, counseled startups and political causes, and eventually co-founded SourceRock Partners, an investment firm and family office where he ventured into the esports streaming industry. Murphy became EVP of Marmik Oil of Denver, a Murphy Oil offshoot that Charles Murphy Jr. began in El Dorado in 1952, and COO of Archetype Distilling, a craft distillery in Colorado.

Rutherford, Jones and Murphy, all age 42, reconnected virtually early this year, brainstorming on a project to take advantage of their collective strengths in politics, streaming and media. Rutherford and Jones, decidedly left of center, are veterans of campaigns from local races to the presidential stage. Murphy was an energy and international trade adviser to the George W. Bush administration.

The three cobbled together their live-streaming network during the pandemic without ever meeting face to face. Murphy is based in Denver, Jones in Los Angeles and New York. Rutherford moved to Washington in 2018 with Dean, a former KATV and KARK reporter and anchor who has been covering Joe Biden’s campaign for CNN.

Under the banner of “all politics is social,” the network went live last Monday on SourceStreamLive.com and Twitch.tv, the streaming platform. SourceStream — a name that nods to the platform as well as a devotion to reliable sourcing — plans 40 hours a week of programming, including individual shows by the three Arkansans and a collective weekly overview, “Just the Facts.” Jones is CEO, Murphy is president and Rutherford is editor in chief.

“Our content will attract people from across the spectrum; we’re casting a wide net,” Rutherford said. But the projected audience is younger, “definitely that 18-to-45 demographic” of digital natives, Rutherford said, proposing a direct link between the growing popularity of esports streaming and the potential for his new network. He also says issues beyond the politics of the moment, including Black Lives Matter and climate change, are riveting to the young. “One of our hosts [Sekou Cisse, the voice of ‘All Black Everything’] is a Wake Forest junior who grew up in Harlem.”

Audiences will find spirited discussion, but SourceStream aspires to offer “debate without rancor,” a concept Murphy and Jones embraced long ago. Jones’ program, “Full Ride,” will examine the politics of sports. Murphy’s show, “Below the Fold,” will highlight stories overlooked in the rushed daily news cycle, and Rutherford’s, “Go Back to Bed,” is billed as a thorough and sometimes irreverent look at the topics of the day. Other programs will examine feminist views globally, conservative perspectives on politics and LGBTQ matters.

“Excited people are going to be passionate on issues,” Rutherford said. “But we expect to attract people who won’t be talking over each other or constantly interrupting, and certainly not yelling.”

The startup required only a nominal initial investment, basically buying home-studio streaming equipment for its half-dozen outside hosts, Rutherford said. He and his partners run the operation with some contracted technical and digital marketing help.

Rutherford called his business model reliable, but he wasn’t ready to discuss it. “We’ll be rolling that out once we’ve had a little time in the marketplace. We’re not working with outside investors or anything like that.”

And while the kickoff’s timing was good — in the stretch run of a bitter presidential race — the network is looking far beyond November. “We didn’t launch this as an Election 2020 platform, not at all,” Rutherford said. “After November, if there’s a new administration, there’ll be new priorities and new things to debate. If the president is re-elected, that brings its own set of new priorities and challenges.”