Sep 272011
 

Over the past several weeks, Washington Post blogger/columnist/reporter Ezra Klein has both hired three reporters to work under him and rebranded his blog. It’s now called Wonkblog, and here’s what Ezra has to say about it:

The idea for Wonkblog came out of another group project: Wonkbook, the morning policy e-mail that I write alongside Dylan Matthews. Every morning, I wake up to a half-dozen stories that are clearly important and that any policy site should be trying to follow in some detail. Stories about the troubled implementation of the health-care and financial reform bills, stories about the wrangling over infrastructure spending and energy regulations, stories about the unusual power a bureaucrat or backbencher is exerting over an issue that affects us all. Stories that matter, but that I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to cover.

A few months ago, I went to my editors with a proposal to hire three reporters who could help cover those stories. At the time, I didn’t think it likely that they would say yes. But they did. I also didn’t think it possible that we could get journalists as good as Brad Plumer, Suzy Khimm and Sarah Kliff, and I wasn’t willing to go forward with the project if we couldn’t find the right people. But we did.

The first thing that’s exciting here is that the Post is willing to continue to invest in Ezra’s success focusing squarely on policy over politics. With some notable exceptions, much of my favorite policy writing happens outside of the mainstream media, on the blogs of academics or think tank fellows. Too much “Politics” coverage either fixates on the horse-race of campaigns and political strategy, or covers policy from a useless “view from nowhere.” (Another pet peeve of mine is that much of the best policy journalism takes place in the “Business” section… Leonhardt, Ezra, Derek Thompson.) So it’s good that the Post feels financially comfortable expanding Ezra’s resources.

The second thing I like about this is that Ezra is referring in his initial post to “reporting” rather than opinion. I think Ezra (and from what I’ve seen so far, his staff as well) represents the blog-reporter ethos which I discussed here. Part of why political journalists get sucked into the he-said-she-said “view from nowhere” trap is because they aren’t comfortable applying any measure of their own analysis to policy questions.

Anyone who reads Ezra knows he doesn’t suffer from that. At the same time, I wouldn’t classify most of what he does as opinion. Much of his best work is what I’d call reported analysis. It’s akin to the News Analysis that Jackie Calmes and others at NYT do, but with more voice and personality (Ezra’s blogging roots show).

I mean all this in the best possible way. I think Ezra does an admirable job of keeping his opinions rather muted. He clearly has a worldview that informs his writing, but he’s doing his best to portray the facts of the matter as accurately as possible. And when he is interjecting pure opinion, he tends to caveat it as such.

The blog-reporter ethos, also known as the magazine-reporter ethos, is as follows:

* original reporting on first-hand sources
* a frankly stated point-of-view
* tempered by a scrupulous concern for fact
* an effort to include a fair account of differing perspectives
* ending in a willingness to plainly state conclusions about the subject

I believe this sort of approach is necessary to do good policy journalism. I think Ezra’s at the top of his field because he embraces this kind of ethic. That he’s able to hire three new reporters to do this kind of reporting and analysis is encouraging.

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