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Sun Jan 12, 2020, 06:10 PM

Bill Greider (RIP 12/26/2019) advice for political journalists in 2013


In 1980s, Greider left WaPo asst managing editor job to work for Rolling Stone. Later, was columnist for The Nation and a long time political editor.

Here's a snip from Dan Froomkin on presswatch:

Greider died on Christmas Day, at age 83. In the obituary in the New York Times, his son wonderfully captured the combination of cynicism and idealism that fuels so many of the political writers I admire the most: “He was disaffected from the day-to-day mechanics of politics,” Cameron Greider said, “but he was never disaffected from the notion that America could live up to its promise.”

Just today, I stumbled across the notes I had taken of our 2013 interview, and I wanted to share them.

What’s the best, most fearless, most honest way to write about politics and national security, I asked him.

He said the key is to write for the general public, nor for sources.

“Talk straight out to the people instead of to the assholes who are in power,” he told me.

“The elite Beltway media believes that governing can really only be understood by certain elites, and therefore you have to speak to them if you want influence,” he said. Even worse, the “media elite see itself as part of the governing elite. The press no longer identifies with the people. They identify with the people in power.”

Writing for ordinary people can be challenging, though. “How do you speak in language that ordinary people can understand, and use, but not talk down to them?” he asked.

At Rolling Stone, he told me, he “built into every story context and history, without talking down.” He wrote “authoritatively, without apology, or burying the lede.”

Doing that also requires expertise: “It actually takes deep reporting to be able to write about things like the Federal Reserve in plain English,” he said. It’s always much easier to use the elite’s “opaque phrasings.”

As for how journalists can stay close to the people when they so often choose to live in rarefied urban environments, Greider suggested being in frequent touch with community groups that are intentionally disconnected from the political apparatus, and that focus on community concerns.

And the message to the public should be clear: “We’re the troublemakers standing with the people and we don’t take any position beyond that,” he said."

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