This might seem like post-Internet apostasy, but it amounts to gospel coming from Vargas, the Washington Post’s resident expert on the Internet.
He’s 26, he’s sought by the New York Times, he’s covering the 2008 presidential campaign—and he’s on to the next new thing: a vlog, or video log, in which an individual records himself talking into a camera and posts it on the Internet.
“Blogs seem so yesterday,” he says. “So I started a vlog.”
The vlog—called JoseIsWriting—made its debut on YouTube. Look for it soon on Washingtonpost.com.
Vargas is the first Post reporter to create a vlog; he might be the first “vlogger” from the traditional media. He’s certainly the only reporter on the campaign trail who might flip up his laptop and vlog to Post readers, though political reporters Dan Balz, Anne Kornblut, and others send in video dispatches from the trail.
“What a brave new world this is,” Ellen Miller writes of the Vargas vlog on the Web site of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that encourages openness between the government and media.
It might be a strange new world for the Post brand names who sit around the national desk with Vargas. The desk from which he vlogs faces political writer Balz, White House correspondent Peter Baker, and columnist Al Kamen.
Says Vargas: “Nothing about me screams ‘Washington Post political reporter.’ ”
So how did a Filipino-American kid from California wind up covering presidential politics for the Post?
Vargas was raised by his grandmother, a food-service worker, and grandfather, a security guard. No way could they afford college. At Mountain View High, his principal and superintendent found a venture capitalist who helped send him to San Francisco State.
In high school, Vargas wrote for the weekly Mountain View Voice. He got a job as a copy boy at the San Francisco Chronicle and started reporting on the city desk while in college. His first shot at the Post came as an intern. Style hired him in 2004 and had him cover the video-game boom—“even though I told them I knew nothing about it.”
But he did know how to report. Vargas’s stories started showing up on the front page, his features about local Washington showed a gift for setting scenes and capturing voices, and his series on AIDS in DC walked readers into a changing but often devastating world.
This spring he made his pitch to Post political editors: “You need someone to cover the presidential campaign who has a Facebook account and who looks at YouTube every day.”
They put Vargas on the trail.
“Campaigns are so choreographed and all about having control,” he says. “The Internet is about transparency. People don’t want to be talked down to. They want to be let in.”
So Vargas stands in two worlds: His article on Democrats dominating Republicans on the Internet gets his byline on the Post’s front page; his vlog about being Jose Vargas and reporting on the race gets his face on YouTube.
“It’s a level of intimacy a news paper can’t give you,” he says.
But is it too close for comfort in the eyes of such old-line Post editors as Len Downie? Is it journalism?
Downie declined to comment, but Washingtonpost.com editor Jim Brady says Vargas’s vlog breaks new ground, and “I like the gritty feel of it.”