Here’s a line you rarely hear in a town where the media scramble for every morsel of news and notoriety: “I would rather be poor and unknown than uninspired.”
Thoreau? Sir Thomas More? I.F. Stone?
Try Andrea Seabrook, veteran congressional reporter and anchor for NPR. After a distinguished 14-year run, she left a secure job there to start DecodeDC, her own website and attempt at truth-telling.
“NPR has access to an engaged audience of people who can change things,” she says over tea at the Mayflower Hotel. “They are smart, they have money, they vote. They are a wildly fabulous audience to report to.”
Why kiss them off?
“I felt that reporting the news at NPR anymore would amount to a kind of collusion in the broken process of Washington politics,” she says. “Recording the quotes of congressmen made me a mouthpiece for the very problems we have in this country rather than a mouthpiece for the solutions.”
On DecodeDC, Seabrook plans to seek solutions through a weekly podcast and original, daily blog posts with links. “I hope it will be a redefinition of the news,” she says.
Seabrook, 38, is at a point in life when most journalists hunker down in a job and hope the online tsunami doesn’t wipe out their livelihood. Recently remarried, she’s raising her six-year-old daughter and living in Cheverly. Why risk all that to tilt at windmills?
She blames her parents, who reared her and her brother in Annapolis. Her father, Richard, recently retired after teaching computer science for 28 years at Anne Arundel Community College. “He was courted by Johns Hopkins,” she says, “but he loved teaching people in the community who needed computer skills.” Her mother, Elizabeth, is a nurse practitioner. “She treated people for free if they needed care.”
So public service is in Seabrook’s genes. And she’s angry—at the system and what she calls the lies that come from politicians. “The House of Representatives does a terrible job of representing the American people,” she says. Women make up 51 percent of the country but only 17 percent of Congress. Seabrook also notes that the Constitution calls for one House member for every 30,000 citizens; that number is now up to more than 700,000.
“We need more members of Congress,” she says with a hearty laugh. “I’m not saying we need 6,000, but the ratio is off.”
Lying in Congress? “All day, every day.”
She’s starting DecodeDC with her own money, a fellowship grant from the audio-sharing website SoundCloud, and funds she hopes to raise, in part through Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site. Says Seabrook: “I’m good at begging.”
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.