Following a Romenesko tweet, I read a MediaBistro interview today with Richard Lawson, a Senior Writer for The Atlantic Wire who used to write for Gawker. After reading the interview, which had some resonant thoughts for me on seeking “a new, different opportunity” in online writing, I swam through Media Bistro’s “So What Do You Do” interview archives a bit and came across a 2009 interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper.
Particularly interesting to me was Tapper’s take on the differences between writing for Salon and for ABC:
Your writing at Salon was more opinionated in tone. Was it an adjustment to move to your quote-unquote unbiased role at ABC?
No, because I’m not a particularly dogmatic person. I have not found it difficult. In fact, I’ve found it much easier — even when I was at Salon, but certainly much more so since, — to try to be as politically agnostic as possible. It’s much more interesting anyway if you don’t think you know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics. And that’s not to say there are not rights and wrongs, but just that they are not dictated by any one particular point of view. So no, actually it suits me much better. I never felt completely comfortable; I never fit in perfectly at Salon, as much as I loved writing for Salon. I never fit in perfectly because I didn’t have an established point of view, and I didn’t view the world as automatically ‘so-and-so should be elected and such-and-such a view is wrong.’
In general, I’m OK with reporters acknowledging that they embrace certain premises, but I think the case that Tapper makes for the benefits of humility in one’s own ability to “know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics” is well-taken. Too many digital scribblers seem to write with more confidence than their experiences and knowledge can likely support. Maybe it’s because I often lack that confidence, but the belief that you don’t know the answer can be an important catalyst for finding answers that are closer to the quote-unquote truth.
This is something I like about political science. You are pushed to take notions and beliefs about how politics works (theories, if you will) and then translate them into testable hypotheses. By bringing data to bear, you can, at the very least, separate some of the assumptions from the actuality.
UPDATE: Unrelated, but worth noting just for interest’s sake is Tapper’s description of his old boss, David Carr:
Alright, last thing. In your first newspaper job, your editor was New York Times media guru David Carr. Can you close us out with a good Carr story from that era?
If you’ve ever met David Carr you know he’s not just a columnist and reporter, he is a force of nature. Even calling him a force of nature does a disservice to him, because there are some very minor hurricanes that are forces of nature and Carr is certainly beyond that. You become enveloped in his dialogue, his world view, his enthusiasm for journalism. I’d never met anyone like him. It was our first meeting after I had written a few stories for the Washington City Paper on a freelance basis, he basically convinced me to do what I wanted to do but hadn’t had the guts to do — to take a substantial pay cut and become a journalist. And then for that year-plus I worked for him, he was a one man J-school. I often tell young people seeking to break into the business, ‘Before you go to journalism school, I recommend you start at a small local newspaper.’ That probably overestimates editors in general out there, but I was really lucky that I had this guy who was in the process of becoming a legend as my first editor. I remember the triumphs we shared and I remember the times he yelled at me. I remember what he yelled at me about. It’s all there. And I’m a lucky guy that I fell into his world when I did, because he wasn’t really at City Paper all that long, and neither was I. But I invited him to my wedding. He’s a very important figure in my life.