Anyone who was wondering what Buzzfeed's first big post-election beat-sweetener would look like probably won't be surprised to find out that it is -- guess what? -- a listicle.
Yes, Rebecca Berg and Zeke Miller have really delivered precisely what I should have expected: a giant, 24-name list of various Capitol Hill denizens -- 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans. I am legitimately in awe of this thing. It fills me with wonder. One thing I wonder about, in fact, is why a 24 person listicle has the headline, "23 People Who Will Be Running Washington Next Year." Is that a mistake? Or is this some cool mystery? Like, I am supposed to figure out what person on the list won't be running Washington next year? (Maybe 23 is a better SEO term than 24?)
Beat-sweeteners, of course, are a fairly traditional feature of political journalism. We have our own sneaky way of doing it. Along with the beat-sweetener tradition comes the tradition of hand-wringing over it, because these journalistic overtures typically come off as fawning and cozy and corrupt. The argument for beat-sweeteners is that they are really quite harmless, and better sourcing for reporters is better for everybody, including readers. It's essentially a slippery slope, on which some fall farther than others. Personally speaking, I don't see a strong correlation between "source greasing" and "quality journalism," because it seems to me that lots of people have access to Alan Simpson and butter him up like a Paula Deen Thanksgiving buffet and yet nobody ever gets the "Simpson-Bowles plan" right.
But let's give some credit to Buzzfeed, because their beat-sweetener is absolutely, utterly honest about what it's trying to do:
And they're more plugged into new technologies than ever before, obsessed with how they and their bosses communicate, and are communicated about, on -- most of all -- Twitter, but they also have more than a passing familiarity with everything from Facebook to Reddit, and Pinterest is on their to-do lists. (And if they weren't talking to BuzzFeed before they made this list, and most were, we're expecting their gchats today.)
Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but I read your Twitter bio, please give us an interview over GChat.
This will probably work, actually. Maybe the last person on the list to reach out will get dropped, thus bringing it in line with the headline?
Now, there are a few things about this piece -- and the 23 or 24 people on it who are said to be preparing to run Washington -- that give me some misgivings. Like the fact that all of the people on this list are described as a "new crop" and "next generation of communicators and agenda setters." Such a list would, indeed, be pretty exciting. This one, unfortunately, goes on to include people like Brad Dayspring, Michael Steel, Jen Psaki, Ben LaBolt, Kristie Greco, Brian Fallon and Tommy Vietor -- who all seem to have snuck on this list from the one that didn't run in 2008.
That's the other major misgiving I have, actually -- the part where the authors of this beat-sweetener describe this passel of ersatz power-brokers as "almost all message-obsessed." That's a bad sign. First, this very badly confuses "people who spin stuff at reporters all day" with "people who run Washington."
The list, frankly, is a murder of flack-types. For instance, we have Adam Jentleson, who flacks for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. His inclusion sort of makes sense? He will, as the listicle suggests, "be at the forefront of crafting Senate Democrats' message." But Jentleson doesn't actually "run Washington." Both Reid and Reid's Chief of Staff David Krone do more "running Washington" than Jentleson. Jentleson will be the guy "running" to the Capitol Hill press to tell them what his boss is doing.
This all makes me worry that what Buzzfeed wants to do is -- as Alex Pareene has already postulated -- "become Politico," which is already ridiculously hyper-obsessed with "messaging" and often has some funny ideas about how power in Washington is actually wielded all the same.
Remember that Politico article that claimed lobbyists were going to enjoy a "comeback" under a Mitt Romney administration, that somehow accepted the premise that the Obama administration had successfully staved off the wit and wiles of K Street for the past four years? Remember how Tim Carney totally destroyed it, after he was done laughing at it? Well, that's the sort of thing that happens when you listen too hard to everyone's "message" -- you slowly start to believe their sweet, Siren song of bullshit. The wink that eventually becomes the twitch that eventually becomes the inner disturbance is a list of Washington flacks whom you flatter by telling them they "run Washington."
It's actually well-connected influence-peddlers -- like, say, Liz Fowler -- who "run" Washington. What Buzzfeed has put together is a list of the people who will be running Buzzfeed if they are not careful.
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