D.C.’s Early Risers on the Import of Info

But Times report lacking a lot of its own

A piece on page A14 of this morning’s Times details the pre-dawn “information wars” raging every morning in Washington D.C.—or, less interestingly put, the activities of twenty-somethings who wake up before 6 a.m. to summarize the news for their bosses. The title is a brave one considering the current debate: “Where News Is Power, a Fight to Be Well-Armed.”

For any young’ns in communications hoping to one day make it big in the nation’s capital, it’s something of a depressing read. We meet Bobby Maldonado, twenty-six, who wakes at 4 a.m. to the chirps of three alarms, to get to his office at the Chamber of Commerce by 5.30 a.m. and condense the day’s news into a memo shot off to his boss by 8 a.m. We meet Andrew Bates, twenty-four, with the WH Communications office, who rises at 4 a.m. and prepares news clips to send to “the top ranks of the Obama administration.” And we meet Megan Leary at the Treasury Department, who once a week arrives at her office at 5 a.m. to put together a morning briefing for the Treasury Secretary. Your own intrepid correspondent could not help but elicit an empathetic yawn or two—I thought getting in at 8 a.m. was medal-worthy.

The report is entertaining enough—full of bright, over-ambitious characters, soaked in a kind of pre-coffee daze, and brimming with the kind of quotes that will have you spitting out your Morning Blend, like “Information is the capital market of Washington,” and “the information wars are won before work.”

But for a story about information trafficking, there’s a bunch of information it seems to be missing.

Firstly, as fascinating as these stories and characters are—X, who is Y years old, wakes up at Z o’clock to go to P office—the reader is given almost zero sense of the kind of news and information they’re culling for their bosses from the net. What exactly is Thomas J. Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, looking to read in the morning? We’re told he and others there need the “most powerful information” and the “most up-to-date nuggets” from polls, ideological websites, and all the big newspapers, but there are no examples of what those might be or how exactly they might be used.

Ditto for Bates, who works at the WH Communications office. He scours the net and watches television news for “relevant news clips” but there’s no insight here into what might be the most relevant might be as far as the WH is concerned. Dan Pfeiffer, WH Communications director is quoted as saying, “During our biggest fights, from health care to the Supreme Court confirmations, Andrew repeatedly spotted potential problems in the farthest reaches of the Internet before anyone else. That information was essential to our success.” Example, anyone?

I would have loved to have seen what one of these memos looked like, or, at the least, the material these “armed” young guns are hunting for, and then, how they prioritize it—do they front-end their memos with polls? Excerpt from the nation’s top op-ed folks? To whom do they give more credence, a Times columnist or a cable pundit? Do they keep fringe blog posts in a separate section of their memos? Is there a kind of news—a Glenn Beck segment, perhaps—which they don’t even bother to include or are instructed not to? And how widely or closely read are their memos?

Outside of the content of these memos, I’m also curious: do these early birds ever rely on each other’s work? Does Mr. 4 a.m. head over to Mr. 5 a.m.’s blog to see what he should be looking for? (I can tell you Mr. 8 a.m. is not averse to checking in on all of their work.) And, finally, the most obvious question missing from this piece: when are their bedtimes?

That’s a lot of questions. But information is the capital market of the news game. Or something like that.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , ,