Daniel Lippman: POLITICO

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we are talking with political journalist Daniel Lippman. Daniel works for Politico covering the White House and administration. He was previously co-author of Politico’s Playbook and still writes Playbook’s “Great Weekend Reads” on Saturdays and Sundays, and the Social Data section of Politico, New York Playbook. Before joining Politico, he was a fellow covering environmental news for E&E Publishing, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Hello, Daniel, thank you so much for being a guest on our podcast.

 

Daniel Lippman  00:56

Thanks for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  00:57

I’m excited to talk with you today. I would love to know more about how you got into journalism.

 

Daniel Lippman  01:04

So I guess I had a pretty circuitous route. I, in high school and college, I was very interested in the news. And so I’d read lots of articles. And so actually started noticing typos and errors and stories. And so that led me to email a bunch of reporters and a number of top publications, pointing them out. And so that was pretty funny. And so I got I did that 1000s of times during high school in college, and that led me to meet a lot of these journalists, and helped me get connections and internships.

 

Angela Tuell  01:46

I know you had nine internships and temporary journalism jobs right before landing at Politico. What was the most exciting and what did you learn along the way?

 

Daniel Lippman  01:55

Well, I think the exciting one that I really liked the best was McClatchy Newspapers, which is the country’s third-largest newspaper chain. They own, you know, places like the Sacramento Bee and the Miami Herald. And that was during the summer in college. And, what I liked about that is I really got to dig deep into investigative articles and feature stories. And so I, you know, wrote a ton during that summer. So even, you know, from pieces about the repression of Muslims in Bahrain to the unemployment, the mental health effects of long-term unemployment, it kind of spanned the gamut. And that made me a better writer and reporter and helped me land future jobs because I had all those clips that are really important in journalism.

 

Angela Tuell  02:47

I’m sure. For those who aren’t super familiar with Politico, you tell us a little bit about Politico’s focus and what makes it different than other media outlets in Washington that cover politics.

 

Daniel Lippman  02:57

So Politico is about 14 years old. And it really started as the first outlet to just focus on the decision-makers in Washington, so the chiefs of staff on the Hill, the senior White House officials, the cabinet members, and also people who care about these issues for a living like lobbyists, and government affairs and communications folks. And really provide behind-the-scenes coverage of what’s really going down in the halls of power so in both Congress and the White House and the executive branch. And we kind of distinguished ourselves by being a little bit more fun than the rest of the competition. And so I think we prioritize speed and also scoops. And, initially, we’ve kept true to that. And so it’s basically insider journalism, but you don’t have to be an insider to read it and appreciate it, because we have tons of readers all around the country in the world, who like kind of reading what the, the powerful and the politically connected and influential are reading. Because obviously, they’re not it’s not just, you know, wire service copy in terms of this happened today. It’s really breaking down why it happened, and also breaking news, and writing long pieces as well, since we really prioritize features, too.

 

Angela Tuell  04:29

Yeah. So for Politico, you cover the White House and its administration and you’ve been on that beat since around July 2019. Right?

 

Daniel Lippman  04:37

Yep.

 

Angela Tuell  04:37

What is your typical day like for you?

 

Daniel Lippman  04:39

Well, a typical day is it before COVID it was a lot of source coffees and drinks and dinners, and I’m still doing it a bunch of those but it you know, has quieted down a little bit and so, a typical day is me being on the phone a lot, talking to sources and getting kind of a lowdown on what’s going on. And once I get tips than I check with my editor to see if we’re interested. And so it’s, you know, you have to kind of do the drudgery as well in terms of transcribing interviews, and getting those exact quotes right. And then, you know, copy editing your own stories, even though we have editors and copy editors, but, you know, it’s always important to get as many eyes on a story as possible. And it’s also monitoring the news. And, you know, once sources reach out be responsive to them. a lot of people, you know want to get mentioned in Politico and very our various newsletters, yeah. And so it’s sometimes source maintenance.

 

Angela Tuell  05:47

Sure, you mentioned sources. And I’m sure finding trusted sources is a big part of your job. How have you network to create those sources once you got on that beat?

 

Daniel Lippman  05:57

I think it’s a matter of meeting the right people, but also just establishing trust, where they know that you’re not going to burn them and that they can come to you if they have a scoop for a story that they want you to consider writing. And it’s just staying in touch with them. And, I’m often sending links to folks in Washington, people I know, and I’m friends with. And so you don’t want to get too close to your sources, because you don’t want to get biased. But also you have to get familiar with them enough that you’re not just a stranger. And because I think the strength of one’s Rolodex as reporters, one of the most important things, that’s what I tell all journalism students is, it’s journalism is not for the faint of heart, because you’re going to be having battles with people frequently in terms of if you’re doing your job, right. And in terms of holding power accountable, people are not going to be happy sometimes, obviously. And so that is, you know, being me being calm and collected, not losing your temper. That is, you know, I kind of, you know, a journey that’s very important. And so, I’m very, you know, I’m a pretty calm person. But if I didn’t like conflict, then I probably would not be in journalism. Because it you know, you know, that, you know, the term bleeds, leads and that kind of, right, but it’s not just about violence.

 

Angela Tuell  07:36

Right? That actual blood always right, yes.

 

Daniel Lippman  07:39

Emotional blood sometimes.

 

Angela Tuell  07:41

Right? You know, how do you know, fact-checking in facts is a huge part, you know, probably number one of what you do. How do you, when you have these sources, and some of them not being able to be identified, and that sort of thing, how do you make sure you have the facts straight?

 

Daniel Lippman  07:56

So it’s a matter of making sure that you have source confirmation. And so if someone telling you something, unless they’re, you know, with the White House, and even if they’re with like a White House Press Office, then you have to really check it out and get to sources and to go to anyone involved, and get comment and run stuff by other people in if they have equity in the issue. And so, that is, you know, trying to see who would know about a certain issue. And so, because if you get something wrong, you don’t want to have to retract it, or you actually, you would have to reject it, but you don’t want to have to retract anything. I’ve had corrections. Because, obviously, you know, sometimes you spell someone’s name wrong, you go to you got a slight small fact, wrong. But I don’t think journalism really tolerates people who get stuff repeatedly wrong because then if you can’t even get the little things right, then what about the big things?

 

Angela Tuell  09:02

Right? What have been some of your most memorable scoops or stories since you’ve been with Politico?

 

Daniel Lippman  09:07

I think that’s a good question. You know, a couple of years ago, I did a political magazine story about how young Trump officials were having trouble dating. And so that kind of state, a lot of people had shot in froideur there is they were, you know, kind of viewing it as just deserts where you couldn’t have a better group of people ones. That kind of was also about how lots of people had moved to a neighborhood in DC called Navy Yard. People worked in the Trump administration. And so that got a good deal of attention. Did you know, I’m pretty proud of a piece I did last summer? We interviewed a lot of ancestors who are descendants of civil war. Confederate generals whose names are, you know, who, whose base, you know, a lot of their names are on these army bases, and trying to get and trying to get their thoughts on whether they should be taken down and what they think about their family history. And so that, you know, I’m pretty proud of that piece that turned out pretty well. But it’s a lot of these like more incremental stories where I did stories last year about how the White House, the Trump White House, had hired all these college students to be staffers. And that was a pretty, you know, fun series because that’s kind of, reminded me of Veep.

 

Angela Tuell  10:40

Yeah. So as you mentioned earlier, you were previously the co-author of Politico’s Playbook. What were some of your favorite or craziest spottings that you wrote about?

 

Daniel Lippman  10:48

Well, it’s really fun to write Playbook because you get to kind of have as part of your job to be out on the town and trying to see people. And so a lot of the spotted were Trump folks at the Trump hotel or, you know, Cabinet Secretaries like Stephen Minuchin. at Cafe Milano. We, you know, I used to, when I, when I did that newsletter I used to do with my friend Ben Shreckinger, called the Lippman loop, where I would, if I was at a fancy restaurant, I would walk around the entire restaurant to see if there are any senators and congressmen, there. And so, but we’ve had spotted the people, you know, on a million different planes on, you know, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. And so we have kind of when you have like, you know, like 250,000 readers, there is a lot of those people want to be your sources, too. And they are often seen, folks, I remember AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she shopped at this Whole Foods in Navy Yard. And some people have spotted her there. And so it’s kind of hard to remember five years of spotted-ins into this going into the best ones. But those are some ones that I think kind of add a lighter touch and lighter side of politics.

 

Angela Tuell  12:12

Yes, yes. Which we all need sometimes, you know. And much of what you write is for a digital audience. But I know you’ve also been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, and BBC. Is broadcasting something you like to do?

 

Daniel Lippman  12:26

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s a way to get your journalism out there. And, frankly, to build your personal brand, a little bit. And so I’ve had friends from college who see me on the BBC in India, and CNN, around the world. And so it’s, you know, I’ve gotten better at those interviews, and it’s fun for my parents and friends to tune in and to see me on TV. And so, you know, when you’re writing a story, it’s obviously you see the tweets about it. And, but it’s, it’s cool to be in different mediums. And, you know, these places like CNN and MSNBC, they’ve, you know, hundreds of 1000s of viewers, and so that, you know, it’s always fun to go into the studio and to get makeup on. And to kind of enjoy that part. But of course, the most important thing is giving people and viewers, and readers the information they need so that they can be as informed citizens as possible. And to really, you know, you’re kind of one of the beacons of democracy, because without journalism, then politicians could get away with lots of things.

 

Angela Tuell  13:39

Yeah. So you’ve seen that we see that in countries across the world.

 

Daniel Lippman  13:43

Totally. If you look at Afghanistan, then, you know, they’re, they’re beating up journalists right now and whipping them. And so, you know, so far, if that, you know, I’m just very lucky to live in a country with a First Amendment where, you know, the worst that could happen is someone sues you, and, but we have pretty tough laws on that. But I’ve never felt in danger. You know, you get the stray mean, comments on Twitter or email, or, you know, my cell phone, which is on my Twitter bio so people can reach out, but it’s nothing compared to people in the free and countries and dictatorships.

 

Angela Tuell  14:27

Yes, as you said, journalism sustains our democracy. And, you know, how has what some are calling the attack on journalists affected your work or has it?

 

Daniel Lippman  14:37

It hasn’t really affected it that much. We’ve actually, you know, a lot of mainstream news outlets have gotten surges of readers and subscribers. And so I think it’s, you know, Politico is, you know, we’re lucky to be a place where, you know, we’re trusted across the political spectrum both by conservatives and liberals and people who are more moderates and independents so that is, you know, I’m pretty fortunate that we’re not identified as, you know, one is in the camp of one or the other. And so I haven’t, you know, obviously, it was not good that Trump was calling the press the enemy of the people, but it didn’t really have an effect on my daily life. I just mean, he continued, just do the job, enjoy your life, and not worry too much about the attacks.

 

Angela Tuell  15:27

Yeah. What’s your favorite part of working at Politico?

 

Daniel Lippman  15:31

I guess my favorite part is that I get to write about a wide variety of topics. And so one day I’m writing about firings in the White House or in the administration, or new people they’re hiring, and then the next, it’s looking at Amazon, or, or the power of tech, or the Defense Department and the Afghanistan withdrawal. And so it kind of gives me the opportunity to learn about lots of different subjects and to pass along that knowledge to readers.

 

Angela Tuell  15:58

Yeah, going back to sources really quickly, I’m sure a good number of them are probably PR professionals, how about sources and PR professionals in general, what can they do to help you do your job?

 

Daniel Lippman  16:11

Well, I think it’s, you know, everyone has a job to do. And so obviously, they will want to get their clients to get mentioned in different outlets, I think it’s kind of knowing your audience. So, you know, since I’m a cover reporter, covering the White House in Washington, it’s, I’m not gonna write about random topics in Texas or Nebraska because it’s just not my beat. And so there are outlets that will cover, you know, tons of different things. And I think it’s, you know, being, you know, friendly is important for PR people, I think a lot of them are and so you kind of have to be in the job, but also, you know, providing context of senior executives, and setting up conversations or coffees with them. And also, you know, providing good tips, which can be a scoop or a story that, that journalists, bosses or editors would be interested in, in running. That’s, I think that’s important too, as well.

 

Angela Tuell  17:20

Good advice. Before we go, I have to ask about some freelance work you did around eight years ago. As a freelancer in 2013, you traveled to the Turkish Syrian border to cover the impact of the Syrian civil war for Huffington Post and CNN. How did that come about? And we’d love to hear about your experience with that work.

 

Daniel Lippman  17:39

Yeah, so that came about because I, frankly, was unemployed and needed something to do and so I was freelancing, but not writing every day. And so I read about a city called Antakya in Turkey, which is a city on the border, and felt like we and I’ve always wanted to do foreign correspondents and, you know, conflict reporting and, and thought that I could actually make a go of it, at least for the week that I was there. And so I just kind of flew to Europe, it was only a $150 ticket from London to Istanbul then took another flight to the border area, hired a translator, interviewed, you know, did three different stories for those outlets. So one on, you know, Syrian refugees, the other on the injured civilians, the other on a Syrian rebel leader. And so you, you kind of realize you feel lucky to be an American, but also, you know, some of the fights about the debt ceiling and all of that where they seem very unimportant when you have when you’re kind of covering history. And so that I went to I didn’t write the stories in Turkey, it kind of took notes and recordings. And then I spent a week at a hotel in Madrid, my girlfriend at the time was studying abroad in Spain and so I just hung out with her and then wrote up the stories that are during the day and so that was, you know, I’ll never forget that time that was pretty fun. But also, you know, it’s so serious and you don’t want to minimize or you know, make light of it, but it is exciting and interesting to you know, a 20-something in those in that area.

 

Angela Tuell  19:44

Yeah. Is it something you want to do more of?

 

Daniel Lippman  19:47

I think at the you know, the right opportunity, I’d love to do it again. So I think I would be probably doing it for whatever outlet that I was working for at the time instead of being a freelancer, but there’s unfortunately not going to be with us for a while. And so, you know, there are conflicts going on every day, even if they’re, they’re smaller ones, not the higher profile ones that have transpired in last 20 years.

 

Angela Tuell  20:14

Yeah. Well, what’s next for you?

 

Daniel Lippman  20:17

Well, I really like my job and, you know, sticking with Politico and, you know, we’ve had some, you know, our CEO leave or editor in chief and executive editor, but it’s, you know, it’s a very strong place we just got bought by or we’re in the process of getting bought by a German media company global one called Axel Springer. And so I’m interested to see how they handle things. But it’s, you know, I kind of feel very blessed that I’m in a place that really encourages original reporting and, you know, career development, and so no plans. I have no plans to leave anytime soon.

 

Angela Tuell  20:59

Well, thank you so much. Thank you for talking with us today.

 

Daniel Lippman  21:02

Thank you for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  21:04

You can find Daniel on Twitter at DLippman L-I-P-P-M-A-N and follow his work at politico.com. We’ll include information on how to contact Daniel with tips in our show notes. That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined.  Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.