Andy Kroll: Washington Is “Its Own Story” Right Now

Five questions with Rolling Stone's new DC bureau chief.
Andy Kroll: Washington Is “Its Own Story” Right Now

Mother Jones investigative reporter Andy Kroll announced Wednesday that he’s the new DC bureau chief for Rolling Stone. His hire reflects new Rolling Stone owner Jay Penske’s plan to inject millions of dollars into refocusing the venerable counterculture publication’s coverage, which he described to the New York Post as “staying in three lanes: music in all the genres that matter, politics and pop culture.” Kroll, 32, will be the New York-based magazine’s only DC employee at first, filling a position previously held by William Greider and Hunter S. Thompson. We caught up with the displaced Michigander, who wrote a fun story about Terry McAuliffe for us in 2016, to ask him what his new job will entail.

Washingtonian: So…are you the sum total of the DC bureau right now?

I am the DC bureau right now. My hope is to eventually grow that. The hope of the bureau is to cover Washington from all sorts of angles, to tackle the stories coming out of Washington that are playing out in real time and the ones that are created by the reporting that I do. The goal is to do investigative reporting. It is to do smart analysis. I think there’s a real hunger and a real opening to to do reporting that takes one step back from the crowd at an event and takes in the mood and the atmosphere to write stories about Washington as well as stories that are in Washington. Washington itself is its own story.

There’s an opening for Rolling Stone-style reporting on just what it’s like to be in Washington in the age of Donald Trump. Who the players are and how the power works. That’s the stuff that you don’t see in newspaper stories. 

Do you have any models for how you want to do this job?

I think it’s drawing bits and pieces of a lot of folks who are doing work right now. I will read everything that Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker. She is the master of the investigative profile. When I write for the magazine I want to write pieces that are Jane Mayer-style pieces. I want to write scene pieces that are like stuff that Olivia Nuzzi writes. Mark Leibovich gets at some of the absurdities and the circus of Washington in a way that I’ve always liked. If I could try to compete with some of the great reporters wring about Trump right now, that’s the goal, that’s my north star.

Will you attend White House briefings, that kind of thing?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if being a regular attendee makes a lot of sense. That’s another one of those great scenes, the world of the press briefing room.

This is obviously not an undercovered administration. Do you have any ideas about how to break through all the coverage?

Yeah. One is breaking news, investigative stories. That’s something that I cut my teeth on at at Mother Jones, whether I was covering Cambridge Analytica or Scott Pruitt and the EPA. There’s not as many people taking stock of the larger picture of whats going on. I still think that writing about the media, we need more of it on a whole bunch of levels. I always thought that one of the great Rolling Stone political stories, “The Boys on the Bus,” could be rebooted in the Trump age and you’d find fascinating things.

I really do think that there is a Rolling Stone style of journalism that has a voice and is hard-hitting and is a longform piece that other magazines just don’t do. And there really is an audience for it. I say that because I’d like to think I did some of that at Mother Jones and was always heartened that those stories found an audience. Even in an age of social media, people still want to read a 5,000-word story. 

In Washington, applying a sort of sociological or anthropological eye before Trump was interesting. Now with Trump it’s even more so.

That means covering the mid-terms and the 2020 election, and you’re the only DC-based employee. When will you sleep or take time off?

Yeah, I was talking to my girlfriend about this.  She’s 100 percent supportive. I feel like I’m at this really exciting point in my career where I’ve been given this really great opportunity in a really fascinating and troubling point in American history, and all I want to do is cover it wall-to-wall, as smart as I can. You just hit that point in your life where you feel so focused on doing your really best work, and sleep and vacation be damned because you want to go at it it with everything you’ve got.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited. 

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.