Political media madness in Washington DC

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Political media may be in its infancy in Hong Kong, but is huge and growing in Washington DC. HT was visited by prolific DC writer Tim Mak of FrumForum, POLITICO, the Washington Examiner and soon The Daily Beast. Look into the future.

There is no place on Earth more politically obsessed than Washington DC, US. The size and complexity of the government presiding over the world’s largest economy, largest military, largest media market and possibly most complex tax code has given rise to a huge politics-government industry centred in DC and its surrounding areas.

In this 1st anniversary issue, HT was visited by Tim Mak, a prolific political journalist in Washington DC. The political-media nexus is completely different from anything experienced in Hong Kong. The political media market is huge, demanding, and growing.

Young and old

Tim, 26, has worked in DC for five years. Following his graduation from McGill University, Tim worked for Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. Later, he went to DC joined FrumForum. Run by storied political operator, commentator and George Bush speechwriter David Frum, it wound down in 2012 as Frum went on to work for The Daily Beast – Tim’s next workplace when he returns to DC next week.

Later, he joined , POLITICO then the Washington Examiner. “I mainly covered Congress, politics, and national security – the Pentagon”, said Tim in an interview with HT.

He spoke about the massive market that demanded political minutiae instantly. He worked on a morning update for POLITICO where he would write to midnight and be back up at 4am to have updates for paid clients by 5:30am, for the general public at 8:30am. They would be in narrow verticals examining, for example, finance regulations, transport or the military. Every journalist is on Twitter and is expected to report everything they see, instantly. People in this politics-obsessed city love it.

He waxed poetic about the chronic addiction to a steady stream of political news that people were happy to receive – and pay handsomely for. Political journals are proliferating in number and hiring staff. POLITICO has been described, in its seven year life, as “a prolonged hiring spree.” In 2013 it had 156 editorial staff – and kept climbing.

Covering the Chief

The degree of transparency in government and media scrutiny of politicians is intense. “One peculiar thing about Washington is that we get what we call the presidential pool report.” Media outlets ‘pool’ their resources to support a journalist to shadow the President. At least one reporter from different news organization follows the President all day. “Every time, the president does anything, whether it is leaving the White House to a place, or meeting with fundraiser, whatever else – reporters have to give excruciating details on what the president up to,” to the whole media community. HT immediately wondered if this could work in Hong Kong. “Could we do the same in HK? Would CY let us follow him around?”

Tim has handled some odd stories over the years, many while working with The Washington Examiner, a weekly publication catering to the political class. That publication has over 180 stories on their site produced by him during his 1 year there. The weekly timeline meant he could do longer-term stories including more personal profiles.

“I wrote about a congressman [Roscoe Bartlett]. He was in congress for 20 years, won elections 10 times in a row. In 2012, he lost. I think for him, he was shaken. So much time as a member of Congress, so he went to live in a cabin off the grid.” With no running water, no electricity, the ‘lost’ Congressman was living in the woods of West Virginia. Tim tracked the congressman down and went out to see him. In the middle of nowhere, the congressman built a cabin, complete with solar panels. HT asked if he had lost his mind: “No! He is a really intelligent guy. And I think there is something that a lot of people in urban society admire and crave — just being like, ‘screw it! I’m out of here.’”

Tim’s reportage was not only confined to the US. While at FrumForum, “there was some stabbing in the settlement called Itamar in Israel. It was my first exposure to serious violence in politics.” Neighbouring Palestinians allegedly stabbed and brutally murdered a family in Itamar. Only a 12 year daughter survived due to her absence. She came home to find her parents and siblings, aged 11, 3, and 3 months brutally slaughtered. Tim was on the scene speaking to the armed forces that had to deal with the aftermath of the breach in security.

Print and politics

Apart from sharing his experience, Tim updated HT with the media situation in the US Even though print media is said to be losing its popularity, Tim believes “print has an enduring power”. He said print was alive in DC was because many of the politicians are older, “they prefer to have hard copy in their hands”. Tim joined media outlets similar to HT that target niche political communities. He said these media outlets were popular in the US as they reached “the audience that is most concerned with it.”

Hong Kong’s political development is underway along with its political media class. Tim’s look into the DC experience may show how a smaller version could develop in Hong Kong. Stay tuned. cc@archive.harbourtimes.com