News & Politics

Over a Beer With the Washington Independent

The nonprofit news site may be small, but it’s making an impact by drilling deep on stories—and providing a pipeline of reporters for other publications.

With an escalating arms race among Washington’s political publications, sometimes the Washington Independent gets lost in the debate over whether a revamped National Journal will outperform Politico, whether Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller will survive its first year, and what dividends the Washington Post’s reorganization of its politics coverage might pay out. But the small, nonprofit online newspaper is proud of its record of digging deep on important stories and developing sought-after reporters, and it celebrated that record at Cafe Citron Thursday night.

The turnout was proof of managing editor Aaron Wiener’s assertion that one of the Independent’s assets—especially as the paper works to boost its profile—is its staff’s strong connections to the blogosphere. Ezra Klein, the Washington Post blogger—and significant other of the Independent’s economics-and-financial-regulation reporter Annie Lowrey—chatted with the Nation’s Chris Hayes. Independent alum Dave Weigel, who followed Klein to the Post arrived shortly before by a not-inconsequential percentage of the American Prospect’s staff, including Web editors Phoebe Connolly and Alexandra Gutierrez and writers Monica Potts and Adam Serwer.

Wiener noted that people like Weigel and Mike Lillis, who’s heading over to the Hill next month (his absence creates an opening on the Independent’s staff, for job-hunters out there), help build the Independent’s brand even as they leave the organization.

“One of the consequences of moving into the mainstream of DC journalism is people start to get poached by other publications,” Wiener said. But creating reporters who are in demand is “a good reputation to have.”

But he also emphasized the importance of reporters such as national-security correspondent Spencer Ackerman, who serves as the Independent’s (admittedly short) institutional memory, and helps the paper distinguish itself journalistically from larger outlets. Reporters such as Ackerman, he noted, help define the paper’s reputation for following the full narrative of news stories, something the Independent is doing with its ongoing coverage of the disaster at Upper Big Branch Mine. A small publication can’t cover everything, he noted, but it’s worth picking and choosing, especially given the alternative.

“The real difference [between the Independent and larger political outlets] is this: a lot of those publications are necessarily following the big new- cycle soundbites,” Wiener said. “There’s real value in following these stories to their logical conclusions.” 

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