“Can Newspapers Be Saved?” Kit Seelye Isn’t Hanging Around To Find Out


Webward, ho! Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times

For the last couple years, the byline Katharine Q. Seelye usually preceded some grim update on newspapers’ slow strangling at the hands of the Web. Now The New York Times media reporter’s byline will itself be moving largely to cyberspace as she becomes the paper’s—um,newsgathering
organization’s—first Web political correspondent.

The announcement of her new assignment said her focus would be on webby things like breaking news and live blogging during debates—a digital trail she stylishly blazed for The Times during the 2004 presidential campaign. After two years of covering the covering of things, the “battle-hardened reporter” who rode on the campaign bus with Bill Clinton in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996 and Al Gore in 2000 discusses getting back into the political ring.

VV: How has the Web changed politics?

KS: It’s given candidates the purest way yet to reach voters without being filtered. Online, you can present yourself exactly as you want to be presented, without a reporter shaping it or talking heads butting in. So Hillary announced online. Obama announced online. Of course it’s much less expensive, too, than staging a big announcement event. Another big change is in the way candidates raise money. Howard Dean proved you could go online and reach regular people, not just big donors. Now everybody is tapping into that in a huge way. Also, things happen more quickly, and when something bad happens, it just races around and you can’t do much to stop it. Just ask George Allen. It’s up there on YouTube, and you can see it for yourself instantly. So everyone’s a critic.

VV: And how has it changed political journalism?

KS: Maybe the biggest way is that it’s given more of a voice to voters. People can weigh in, and interest groups too, and their comments can appear right on the story, so that lets them share the megaphone with the journalist. It creates more of a conversation than a one-way street. But
that’s true of all journalism now, not just political journalism.

VV: What will you miss most about your old beat?

KS: I feel like I’m leaving in the middle of a story where you’re not sure of the ending. There’s been a lot of drama in the newspaper industry the last couple of years, and now it seems it’s in a kind of Perils of Pauline
situation. It’s a cliffhanger. Can newspapers be saved? But even though I won’t be covering it myself, I think I’ll hear how it comes out.

VV: Is there anyone who you think is doing a particularly good job at your new one?

KS: In the MSM? I think Dana Milbank at the Washington Post has a really great conversational voice, and Dick Polman at The Philadelphia Inquirer. They’re good reporters and they’re good at seizing a moment. And they’re funny.

VV: Any chance you’ll be hamming it up in front of the camera a la
David Carr’s Carpetbagger

KS: No one else can do what David does.


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