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Writing for a Newsweekly

Karen Tumulty on writing for Time.

By January 2008Comments

Photograph by Sean McCormick

NAME: Karen Tumulty | AGE: 52 | HOMETOWN: San Antonio | QUALIFICATIONS: Thirteen years at Time, the past six as a senior writer and national political correspondent.

• Washington has a tendency to be an echo chamber. If you don’t talk to people outside the city, you can miss what it is they really care about. Sometimes you can lose the real emotion of an issue.

• Covering the White House is the most prestigious bad job in journalism. You’re completely at the mercy of whoever deigns to return your phone calls. It’s not like Capitol Hill, where people can’t get away from you. If the Speaker wants to go from his office to the floor of the House, he has to walk past whichever reporters care to plant themselves in his way.

• The competitive environment is so much worse. It used to be that if you were with the Los Angeles Times, you worried about the New York Times and the Washington Post, and if you were with Time, you worried about Newsweek. Now you have to keep an eye not only on other magazines and other newspapers but on every stray blogger.

• In the old days, the week would start slow and hit a crescendo right on deadline, but that’s not the way it is now. Anytime there’s breaking news, we don’t sit on it. It goes right on the Web site.

• I’m really surprised at how closely people at the campaigns pay attention. I’ve had, quite literally, the Clinton campaign and the Edwards campaign screaming at me within two minutes of something hitting the blog.

• There’s so much aggregation of news stories on the Internet. I’m dying for somebody to tell me what I don’t have to pay attention to—youcanignorethis.com.

• The most fun I’ve ever had covering a politician was with Newt Gingrich, because, unlike at the White House, where the president is in Saran Wrap and held at a distance, I was actually there to watch his rise from complete bomb thrower to remarkably powerful figure. And then it was sort of like watching what happens when the dog catches the car.

• People remember things. Often they’ll give you a lot more leeway for having written a negative story that at least got their point of view in. You may not have found it persuasive, but you gave them a shot. If you deal with the material fairly, they’ll be fine fifteen years later. That’s the difference between the pros and the people who shouldn’t be in politics.

• Every time I report a story that I think is going to be the biggest story of my entire life, something else comes along. I thought that about Iran-Contra, and a few years later I was covering [Bill] Clinton’s impeachment. I thought that about impeachment, and a few years later I was covering the Florida recount. I thought that about the Florida recount, and a few years later I was covering 9/11. You think, “Things just don’t get bigger than this,” and something always does.

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