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.
The absolute worst thing I ever did—this was sort of in that way of taking a small bite at a larger story—was when presidential candidate John Edwards was scheduled to make a big announcement in spring 2007, and an hour before I wrote a blog post based on a tip from an inside source saying Edwards would announce he was suspending his campaign, possibly even announce he was dropping out, because his wife’s cancer had recurred. Edwards announced he was staying in the race.
It was such a terrible moment. Actually, a little bracket to that, I’ve always hated working from home. At that point I didn’t have an office in Brooklyn and some days I was working from home and I did feel that my judgment was worse if I wasn’t sitting at a desk surrounded by other reporters. Because it was definitely bad judgment. I had one very good source, a genuine Edwards insider whom Edwards had told—the details are little fuzzy—I think Edwards had told that morning that he was going to drop out. And either he changed his mind or had never meant it, or who knows. This guy was a totally legit source, but it was only one source. I misread the signals I was getting from the campaign where basically friendly people were saying, “Don’t write this, we can’t say anything but don’t write this.”