In a way the New York Sun was great training. [Sun editor] Seth [Lipsky] had me filing like five stories a day; they were sort of like blog items. I would make calls and calls and calls. He had this great sense of the power of reporting, and that you weren’t just a foreign correspondent writing about something, you were much more an active player, of necessity, if you were doing it well. Political reporting is like that no matter what; the press is so much part of the fabric, more than other beats. Lipsky once told me when he was mad that I had an instinct for the capillaries. I’ve been trying since then to not have an instinct for the capillaries.
I’m very scoop-driven and always have been. At the Sun, even though it was a very ideological place, it was a real news place where scoops trumped everything else. I think the rule was you were really supposed to have a scoop a day, certainly a major scoop every week. They were really trying to drive stuff. And so while I like the analytical side of blogging that Andrew Sullivan is absolutely the best at, I also love scoops. And that conversation is the way to get them. Because people know you like information and send it to you.
The most satisfying anecdote like that was in the summer of 2008, this law student in Michigan e-mails me and says, “I just had this really weird experience at an Obama rally and I think it’s the sort of thing you’d be interested in because I read your blog.” He, his friend, and his friend’s sister had gone to a rally, and his friend and sister were Muslim. The sister had worn a headscarf. A volunteer, an Obama organizer, had seen him and his friend in business suits and said, “Can you sit in the backdrop behind the camera?” Then the sister pops up with the headscarf and the volunteer was like, “Actually, please don’t sit in the backdrop.” And then one of her friends at the event who was also wearing a headscarf had a very similar experience, was told, “We don’t want anyone who looks Muslim in the shot.” It became this huge thing. Obama had to call them up and apologize. It was a really interesting moment, I thought. It really was just an ordinary person who read my blog who was peripherally involved in an event. It was the sort of story that wouldn’t necessarily have been told at all. That’s all changing as everyone sort of gets their own voice and sources express themselves directly.
The news cycle now is about these tiny segments, and I think my stuff is what people are talking about in any given segment reasonably often. Scoops speak for themselves. If you have some new piece of information, it gets passed around and it’s fun to see people discovering something because you broke it. It’s one of the basic rewards of journalism in some way, I think. To tell people stuff they didn’t know.
Mistakes Are Made
It’s the total dream job for me to be able to move a story forward by taking a lot of little bites at it, which is what the blog is perfect for. Often you can’t get the whole thing in one story: you have an inkling about something, but it can take fifty or more bites, you just keep poking at something until what’s actually there comes out.
You make mistakes all the time. I will definitely have situations where I will write a blog item and then I will get an e-mail and I will be like, oh man, that guy is totally right and I was totally wrong. And then I’ll just post the email and say, this guy has a point. I have no problem reversing myself. You sort of have to allow your analysis to move or else you get really shrill and stuck in defending. I definitely allow myself to swerve and detour.