Journalist Q&A: Charles Green, editor, 'National Journal'

Charles Green, editor of the National Journal, speaks with Jaimy Lee about how the politics magazine plans to cover the health bill passage, how social networks play into campaign stories, and how the DC community is using the Web

Name: Charles Green
Title: Editor
Outlet: National Journal
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Charles Green, editor of the National Journal, speaks with Jaimy Lee about how the magazine plans to cover the passage of the health bill, what days the Web site gets the most traffic, and how social networks help tell a campaign story

What are the main issues the National Journal will be following this year?

Green: One big issue will be the midterm elections coming up, with control of Congress at stake. That will be coloring all of the legislative developments throughout the year. In terms of legislation, the implementation of healthcare reform will be a big issue for us.

In terms of action that Congress may take, financial regulation, energy, jobs and the economy are some of the issues that there may be action on this year. In the background is how the White House is doing and how President [Barack] Obama is doing with his agenda and popularity, and how he performs this year in advance of his reelection effort in 2012.

Specifically looking at follow-up coverage to the health bill, what do you see as the primary stories the National Journal should be chasing?

Green: A lot of it will be looking at what's in the bill, taking a deeper look at what impact it will have on the health reform system, the uninsured, on costs, on quality of care. And, then looking at how it's likely to be implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services and by private industry.

What would you say differentiates your coverage of Washington, compared to the other weeklies and dailies reporting on the region?

Green: We can go into a little more depth than other publications can because of the nature of our audience, [which is] a fairly elite audience that's hyper-interested in policy and politics. We have the luxury of being able to go into more detail than some other more general interest publications can.

We also place a high premium on analysis and insight so we're not a publication that is reporting what happened yesterday or the day before in the same way that a newspaper might. We need to bring something extra to the coverage and try to tell people what things mean, what's coming up, helping them look around the corner. The depth and the quality of our analysis, I think, distinguishes us from many other publications.

Has the magazine's audience changed at all in recent years?

Green: It's pretty stable. It's people with a professional interest in politics or policy and it ranges from the 23-year old staffer on Capital Hill who's fresh out of college to a member of Congress to a White House senior administration official to a head of trade association or a senior lobbyist. Unlike a lot of publications in our competitive set, we do very well among all age groups and we take a lot of pride in that. With most of our competitors, the readership drops off fairly significantly as readers get older but with us, we maintain a high readership across all groups.

What are the most read areas of the magazine, either in print or online?

Green: Our cover story is extremely well-read. Charlie Cook, one of our political columnists, is extremely well-read and well-respected. We have something called the Insider's Poll, where we survey regularly about 300 to 400 political insiders and 100 to 150 members of Congress and ask them about the issues of the day and their take on them. That is very popular feature, as well. We do a lot of original content online and a lot of our columns, both from the magazine and the original ones we do online, get a lot of referral traffic from other sites like RealClearPolitics, Huffington Post, and occasionally Drudge Report.

What day of the week gets the highest number of visitors for your site?

Green: For our subscribers, Tuesday is one of our highest days. People are back in the swing of things at work and looking at the week. Congress tends to work on a compressed Tuesday through Thursday schedule. With non-subscribers, Friday is one of our best days. That's the day we put a lot of our magazine content online. Referral traffic to columns and other magazine content that we make free tends to spike on Fridays.

Now, looking at the way the National Journal is reporting on campaigns and grassroots, how have social networks changed the types of stories you're covering?

Green: You look at the success and the visibility of the Tea Party movement this year. Social networks have definitely contributed to that. You look at the way the Obama campaign in 2008 utilized social networks to organize volunteers and supports and get its message across. It's definitely having more of an impact. Any coverage of these kinds of movements or political campaigns needs to take into account social networking, just in the ways that in the past if you were covering a political campaign you would look at advertising buys and direct mail.

The National Journal recently conducted a survey looking at Internet usage in Washington. What findings stood out to you?

Green: We surveyed about 1,000 professionals, primarily in Washington. We asked them a number of questions about their media consumption. A lot of folks are using social media for personal reasons; they're not necessarily using it professionally. We asked how many are using Facebook or other social networking sites. Fifty percent said they were using it for personal reasons but only 14% for professionals. The numbers are even lower for Twitter – only 13% for personal and 8% were using Twitter for professional.

When we gave people a list about a dozen different characterizations of Twitter, they picked the most negative ones. The one they picked the most was “pointless babble,” followed by “self-promotion” and “passing fad.”

Were those results surprising to you or did it seem on par with what you're hearing from people in Washington?

Green: I was a little surprised that Facebook and Twitter aren't being used more widely professionally. People here are still a little bit skeptical and cautious about social media, in contrast to other cities where you may see folks be early adopters of things. Typically, in Washington, it takes a little while for things to take root. People are more conservative in that respect.

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