Paul Kiel, reporter/blogger at Talking Points Memo, has worked at Harper's Magazine, and written for The L Magazine, In These Times, and The Washington Monthly. He's now an Internet-age scribe at Talking Points Memo, the first blog to win the George Polk Award. He talks with PRWeek about the highs and lows of being a professional blogger.
PRWeek: How did you get interested in blogging, especially political blogging?
Paul Kiel: Actually, through reading Josh [Micah Marshall, Talking Points Memo editor]. I'd been reading [Marshall] since about 2003, and when he was starting up TPMMuckraker, it was the end of 2005, and he wanted the site to follow the congressional corruption stories that where exploding at the time, like [former US Rep.] Duke Cunningham (R-CA) and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. There were so many details out there, he just wanted one site that clarified the details and did original reporting. I really liked the way he wrote and did journalism, so I applied, and that site started up in March, 2006.
PRWeek: What is the biggest difference between traditional reporting and blogging? Is it that you can use a little more opinion at times?
Kiel: Well I think the major thing is that we rely a lot on our readers because of tips and feedback, and we get somewhere between 200-300 e-mails a day from our readers and that plays a big part in what stories we are able to pick up and hear about. We have beltway people who have that expertise and also concerned citizens around the country who see things that other people might not have caught. We do write a certain way and call ourselves reporter/bloggers because we do try to incorporate a blogger style into what we do, which allows us to be a little more conversational. And we try to be very transparent in terms of the way we cover things, or as much as we can be. We don't adopt the ubiquitous third-person tone in all of our reporting, and try to be a little more direct in the way we approach stuff.
PRWeek: You also use multi-media applications, such as video?
Kiel: Yeah, if we cover a congressional hearing, we try to give a view of it to readers, because a lot of it is not so much what [congressmen are] saying but the way they're saying it, so it's very important to see, and a lot of these things aren't picked up by these networks. Or it might be a hearing that isn't getting a lot of play on the cable networks, but our readers are interested, so we'll put up the video. And Josh obviously does his video show every day, so that's something we'll try to incorporate.
PRWeek: TPM has the distinction of being the first politics blog to win the prestigious George Polk Award. Did you have any idea you might win?
Kiel: No, no idea. I was surprised, yeah. We had gotten a lot of close coverage for the way we'd been on that story [about possibly politically motivated firings of US attorneys], so we found it very gratifying. But we didn't submit our names for this and we were delighted.
PRWeek: How have things changed for the blog? More pitches? Has readership gone up?
Kiel: There was a New York Times story on us, and that maybe brought a couple of new readers, but the bulk of the readership has built up over time. It has more to do with word of mouth as far as where our readership comes from.
PRWeek: How has this changed your view of the overall media landscape?
Kiel: I don't know that I would say I have a very revolutionary way of [looking at] things. One thing we realized is that we read the traditional media outlets very closely, and we can't cover everything, so we try to not only do original reporting but explain to readers or give readers context that aren't in the major papers. So we don't think of ourselves as displacing traditional media establishments. We think of ourselves as an important compliment to that. Coming from professional journalism is a good point, but we're approaching it from a slightly different way.
PRWeek: Do you find that PR professionals address you differently than they would address traditional media?
Kiel: As for PR people, I can't say I have so much of interaction with them…I would say that people in [Washington] DC tend to know who we are – particularly on the Democratic side of the isle. Over the last year or so, more and more people know who we are. When contacting people nationally, I think that there is a different approach and a different reaction from people when I say I work for a political blog or when I say I work for an online publication.
PRWeek: What is your experience with PR professionals overall?
Kiel: I would say that I've been getting a lot more stuff sent our way in the past four to five months. And I would say that 90 percent has very little to do with what we cover generally. I think the only time we get approached by PR people and find it useful is from non-profits who find there's an issue that they're not being heard, and sometimes that will be useful. But a lot of it has to do with new Web sites that people are pitching, and that's not really something we cover.
Name: Paul Kiel
Title: Deputy editor of Talking Points Memo and reporter/blogger for TPMmuckraker.com
Outlet: Talking Points Memo
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com