Andrew Malcolm’s media career began when he was introduced to a Foreign Correspondent at his Prep School in the late 1950s. Since then, he has been able to surmount multiple media platforms from his print media days as an Editor, Columnist, National Correspondent, Foreign Correspondent and Bureau Chief in Tokyo, Toronto and Chicago for The New York Times, Press Secretary for First Lady Laura Bush, writing ten books and then blogging for the Los Angeles Times and finally at Investor’s Business Daily. Andrew is also widely known on Twitter and other social media platforms and is the Tuesday Co-host of the “Ed Morrissey Show.”
Politisite Politics and Entertainment writer, Jennifer Williams, had a chance to speak with Mr. Malcolm for an extensive interview covering a wide range of topics including his start in Journalism, covers his print and multimedia career, his political outlook and his advice to beginning bloggers and journalists.
We believe this interview to be the quintessential guidebook of sorts for anyone interested in new media, journalism and political blogging.
Jennifer Williams: How did your upbringing influence your interest in Politics and History?
Andrew Malcolm: Well in 10th Grade, I was not your prime student. But, a foreign correspondent name Robert St. John came and spoke at my Prep School. This is back at the end of the 50s. He was covering all the emerging revolutions in Africa. It was an explosion in my head. I thought, “you get to travel around the world on someone else’s money to see exciting things in history and then write about them in a newspaper with your name on top of it?” I thought that was just the most exciting thing and I called my parents collect that very night and said, “I’m going to be a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.” Because my English teacher said that was the best newspaper.
My father was shocked, but pleasantly so… ten years later I worked for The New York Times for twenty-six years in Asia and Canada and several places across the U.S. as Bureau Chief and Correspondent. Then I was an Editor in New York City for a while, [before] I ended up doing the “Our Towns” column for a couple of years. Then Marc Racicot, a man I had interviewed some years before was elected Governor of Montana in 1992. He probably shouldn’t have been. It was a Clinton Landslide, but he was a Republican and he said, “you know… you’ve been talking politics when we’ve gotten together all this time and how criminal it was. Why don’t you put your ass on the line, come out here and try to make it better by being my Communications Director?” I had never thought of going into Government and Politics, but the challenge was just absolutely wonderful. Exactly what I needed after twenty-six years of the same old-same old. I went out there and was his Communications Director. Basically, his “body man.” Traveling with him most places and then sort of overseeing the Executive Branch’s Communications efforts and speechwriting and so forth. Then, near the end of his second-term. George W. Bush called him and asked if he could talk to me and Marc said “yes.” So, long-story short, I went down to join Governor Bush’s Staff in Texas as the Deputy Communications Manager for the Campaign in 1999 and then through the Election and up to the Inauguration. Much of it as Laura Bush’s Press Secretary.
After the Inauguration, the Los Angeles Times called and hired me to be on their Editorial Board. Which is strange because I just came off working with a Republican. But, what the heck! I really enjoyed it. I was a Pulitzer nominee two or three times and I was a Finalist one time and then in 2007, one of the Editors said “I just discovered your political background and we should use that. Why don’t you design a Politics blog? A Politics blog that you would like to write. And then, let’s talk about it.” So, I spent some weeks looking around. This is the early days of political blogging (not the pioneer days) and so I came up with a three-page memo. It outlined the kind of blog that we would do and I went into a meeting with about ten Senior Editors. I thought that this isn’t going to fly because it’s a newspaper and I was proposing that the Blog have an attitude. It sailed right through! The only thing I didn’t talk about is the name of it. Which ended up being, “Top Of The Ticket” [which was the Times’ main concern] and that was fine by me. I didn’t care.
Jennifer Williams: As long as they kept the content?
Andrew Malcolm: Yes. I had a partner in Washington for a while. Then as things evolved and the cutbacks continued, it ended up basically being me and the National Editor I worked for. A great man name Roger Smith said well, “Instead of doing both sides, why don’t you make it more Conservative?” Which of course was a radical thought on the L.A. Times’ part and it wasn’t received well by some colleagues. But they weren’t in charge and he was. So I thought “Okay. Let’s give it a shot!” Well, the disparity between the Los Angeles Times’ reputation and then its having a relatively outspoken, Conservative blog on Politics was a great quirk actually. We did “Box-office” business and this is the early days of blogging at the L.A. Times. We did extremely well. When I started, the most they ever had for a month on a blog was 400,000 hits for the Lakers during the Playoffs. We took it in up over time into the multi-millions. Last I heard, they have forty-four blogs and many of them are doing really well.
I had a wonderful time. They were very good to me and very protective. Because as you can imagine… with its reputation and devoted readers, a number of them and a number of Liberal institutions complained about what I would write. But I got in NO trouble because I was accurate. And the headline said, “News and Commentary from Andrew Malcolm” and the “Commentary” part pretty much covered it. So, that worked well and then in the middle of 2011, the Chief Strategy Officer and the Executive Editor for Investor’s Business Daily contacted me and made me an offer that no sane person would refuse. I went there in September of 2011 and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been working hard on my Twitter account, Facebook and Google + too, but… on the Twitter accounts, I have about 118,000 Followers there and we have a pretty good conversation going most days. What’s not to like?
A lot of my colleagues in Journalism were accustomed to the Business model of you decide what you are going to write. You do the reporting, you write the story, you answer Editor’s questions and then it goes into the newspaper. It’s what I call the “Pharmacy Model” of Journalism. In those days it worked. It was the monopoly days before the Internet. People would line up at the “Pharmacy Counter” and the newspeople in their official white coats would line up and hand out the news that they had decided was news that morning and people took it and went away. Well, things changed and now there are hundreds of millions of sources of news and opinion on-line and the mainstream media is going through the painful process and I hope they work out a new financial model.
Meanwhile, in terms of being a writer, it’s Heaven for me. I love the give-and-take with readers and their commenting. I mean, there are people on Twitter keeping track of my vacations and my birthday. It’s amazing. You feel like you have a relationship with these readers and you think about them as you write as opposed to being some kind of an omniscient observer like in a novel.
Jennifer Williams: Sounds like an artist-type of relationship in some ways.
Andrew Malcolm: Yes and by now my Following is pretty much comfortable with what I write. The L.A. Times has more people from the Liberal side and there were probably more arguments. But, there’s still plenty of arguments on the Conservative side of the Blogosphere. It’s fun. I make arrangements with late-night shows (Like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno) to get their jokes after the taping (but before broadcast) so I can tweet out some political ones each night. That seems to be a very popular feature.
Jennifer Williams: I follow you on Twitter and it has definitely gotten me to watch, particularly Jay Leno, when I would not have stayed up having kids!
Andrew Malcolm: Exactly! And this is my argument for the Shows. It reminds people to watch with something that will intrigue them or whets their appetite and it also looks good if people know they can get some early advance stuff by coming to me. So it’s win-win. Now the comedians are doing it themselves on their own Twitter pages. But, I started doing this before they did that.
Jennifer Williams: Do you think blogs are almost taking on the stature of newspaper columns, yet we are still using print terms like in a “dying” language kind of sense?
Andrew Malcolm: Well, blogs always are columns. I think there is more than 100,000,000 blogs now, for God’s sake. At one point, the Top of the Ticket blog was ranked 19th by Technorati, which is pretty good for a news-oriented site because people wouldn’t think that it would be an on-line environment. Blogs are columns, but when I studied them… there was a lot of well… crap. Stuff like people’s talking about their experiences of going to the grocery store. And not liking this movie and so on. And that’s perfectly legitimate. There is a place for all kinds of writing if it’s what people want to read… If not, then you’re just writing for yourself and your family. You’ll get ten or twelve clicks a day. So, it’s free enterprise of ideas and intellectual thought and especially in my case, story-telling. I don’t mind competing.
Andrew Malcolm on the Writing Process
Jennifer Williams: I have a couple of questions about the writing process…
Andrew Malcolm: I try to write what I’d like to read which is “behind-the-news.” When I go on-line, I generally know that the President has given a speech somewhere. I mean he is ALWAYS giving a speech somewhere and so I want to know what is really behind it or how it is different. God help me, I read most of them. And so you begin to pick up on the nuances and the changes. Like years ago, Obama stopped using the word “Victory” when he talked about Afghanistan. So that was the subject of an entire column one day. How the President of the United States was selling us a troop surge in Afghanistan without using the word, “Victory.” It’s an indicator to me and you can say that it’s sneaky, clever or whatever, but it is an indicator to me of a sort of “inside politics.” What’s really going on?
Jennifer Williams: I think more and more people want to find out what is really going on and are reading people such as yourself. Let’s face it, the mainstream media and particularly the cable channels… we’re not getting much beyond sound bites. So, there’s no analysis, just talking points.
Andrew Malcolm: Exactly! Back in my childhood, there was no TV so when TV came in; there was a great consternation in newspapers that by broadcasting sports…. It was going to kill the sports pages. But of course, what it did was a precursor to what happened on-line. It whetted everybody’s appetite, because they could see the sports and then they wanted to share the experience of sports. The sportswriters had to change from writing stories about who won and who lost to writing stories about what the experience was really like, what the strategies were inside. The passing game, successes and losses and that changed the experience. But people who had seen the game wanted to talk about it, wanted to read more about. It was counter-intuitive. It wasn’t that TV took away the audience, it helped broaden the audience. And the same thing is happening to me. There are a lot of places where you can read about politics. People can come or not come to experience my style of story-telling… it’s not standing up in the balcony telling the crowd below what’s going on with a political event inside. It’s like sitting at a café with a whole bunch of people and telling them what the experience was like inside, like people did in days past.
Jennifer Williams: You came to blogging from a very experienced Journalistic background based in “traditional media.” Going forward, our news media may come from citizen journalists or journalists who’ve never have seen their work in newsprint such as you have. Should American news consumers be concerned about this going forward?
Andrew Malcolm: I don’t know about being concerned. It’s a free marketplace. If somebody wants to come up with something and there is a market for it, it’ll work. If there isn’t, it won’t.
Jennifer Williams: So as long as you’re accurate?
Andrew Malcolm: Well as long as you’re accurate and as long as it is not a sermon. I don’t think sermons work. People go to Church, they get sermons, homilies, reminders, but I think people go on-line for this experience. For me, I go on-line because it’s like what I call “beach-combing.” You never know what you’re going to find. And as you are wandering around on-line, you will find places that you will like and you bookmark them. I hope people bookmark mine. (Investors.com/andrewmalcolm) and I hope they come back to see what I write this day and that… and I hope they follow me on Twitter because there is a lot of stuff on Twitter. Not all of which appears in the column. The jokes and observations and of course, I’ll recommend stories from other journalists. I do so much reading every day. It’s not really a Drudge Report page, but it’s sort of a tip-place and most days I tell them what C-SPAN is going to broadcast live the next day. So if they want to see Obama’s speech in Phoenix live – they can do it. I may or may not be writing about it, but I’ll tweet about it or I’ll tweet what is on the “Jay Leno Show.” So it is eclectic in a way, hopefully its intelligent. I hope that it is unpredictable. You know that I’m going to come down on the Conservative side more often than not. But you don’t know what I’m going to say or what I’m going to write about and I hope that is an intriguing experience. That’s my style. Other people’s style is a rant or two a day. And if there are people who want to see that, that’s fine. They wouldn’t approve of me, but I’m not jealous. There are millions of people on-line. I’ve got many Followers on Twitter, even a guy who runs a floating grocery store in a river in Borneo!
Jennifer Williams: That is world-wide!
Andrew Malcolm: And I’ve got people in China. We started the analytics and the biggest time zone for my readers is the Eastern Time Zone. Second biggest is the Pacific Time Zone, which makes sense. And the third biggest is the Greenwich Mean Time Zone. Which is the British Isles and then, straight-down to the West Coast of Africa which is English-speaking to South Africa,
Jennifer Williams: And all the ships at sea…!
Andrew Malcolm: Yes! And to me that is really exciting. I have played around and posted things at two in the morning and you can see the certain links, you can see where the hits come from. And you can see that they are coming from England where people are just getting to work and coming from Singapore, where people are just getting ready to go home. But they speak English and so… it is very exciting!
I dominated “Show And Tell” in 6th grade and I would go on telling stories and I loved it. And the Teacher didn’t stop me, so I thought I must be doing okay. And so I do it and so far it has worked out. I enjoy it. I can’t wait to get to work every day!