Having skipped our weekly Wednesday lunch last week, we were all set to jump back into the fray today. Despite the oppressive and depressing weather (Hello, Summer? Where art thou?) the joint was jumping with returning players (Eliot Spitzer holding court at Table One) and the usual scrum of media folks and the occasional mogul and mogul-in-training (Henry Schleiff, Gus Wenner).
I was joined today by David Ellis, chief content officer of CQ Roll Call. PR maven extraordinaire Lisa Linden, CEO of LAK PR and the quietly brilliant media strategist behind more political power brokers than you can imagine, arranged our tête-à-tête.
David arrived at the stroke of noon and upon surveying the room told me, “The first time I was here was when I was a junior reporter at Time. Walter Isaacson brought me. It was quite a mind-blowing experience as a twentysomething to have Tom Brokaw come to the table to talk to Walter about getting on a plane to head into a war zone.”
I was delighted to discover we had something in common–we are both ‘Former People People’ (which has its own very active Facebook page) and we traded war stories over lunch about what it was like to work as a writer-reporter during the Carol Wallace era in the ’90s. During David’s Time Inc. days he was a correspondent for both People and Time magazines, where he covered a cross section of pop culture and politics. His stories of spending time when President Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelley, during her son’s run for the White House (and the morning after his win) was classic. His time at People was also memorable for a very personal reason. It was during a business lunch (no, it wasn’t at Michael’s) that he met his wife, then Jane Lloyd (now Ellis), a publicist for Dutton, when David was a contributor to People’s all-important Picks & Pans section.
Today, David was in town for some big doings. Immediately after our lunch, he was heading to the New York Foreign Press Center of the U.S. Department of State to address the assembled foreign press on the inner workings of Congress–a topic he pretty much knows inside and out. In his current position, he oversees coverage for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill campus newspaper, the CQ legislative news service and CQ Weekly, managing more than 150 reporters, editors and researchers. David’s passion for his work was clearly evident as he covered a head-spinning array of topics during our 90-minute lunch, including the current underreported (except by his new outlets) “brief moment of bipartisanship” in Congress. These moments, observed David, have resulted in the $200 million ‘Doc Fix’ bill signed by President Obama in April, the passage of the Energy Efficiency bill and the Trade Deal which “basically aligned Democrats with Republicans,” much to the dismay of the unions. “No one wants to do stories on Congress working together.”
CQ Roll Call covers it all—and then some. As David explained it, there are two brands: CQ News, with its weekly magazine and exclusive paywall protected website, and Roll Call newspaper, which has free online content and reaches both ends of the political spectrum on the Hill. “CQ Roll Call has the respect and attention of those who make or are attempting to share policy,” said David, who noted they have a “Senate-wide deal with the paywall” and hand-deliver the magazine to “60 to 70 percent of offices on the Hill.” Roll Call, explained David, is for the “young legislative aide” and is something of a “campus newspaper,” offering the inside track on career advancement and DC nightlife. Simply put, “Roll Call is about the pursuit of power and CQ is about the wielding of power.”
David learned early on in his tenure about the collective influence of the CQ Roll Call brand. Prior to joining CQRC in 2014, David was Washington editor at large at Bloomberg News and spent nine years as a London-based editor (“It was such an exciting time to be in London during a transformational decade”) handling features from Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the news wire. “I was at [CQRC] nine weeks when Walter Isaacson introduced me to [then Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi and she told me, ‘You’re the boss of the people that run at my heels every day.’ In the nine years I was at Bloomberg, I didn’t have that kind of recognition.”
With David at the helm, CQ Weekly has churned out must-read issues like the recent Power Issue, which named the 25 Most Influential Women in Congress. The issue was kicked off with an event at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, attended by the power players and spun it off as an e-book. Other recent eye-catching covers include The War Over Space and the timely The Fear Factor issue with the coverline: “Congress sees threats everywhere.” Indeed.
The outlets’ exhaustive and all-encompassing coverage of Washington’s power players and policy makers takes a staff at the top of their game and David can’t say enough about his editors and reporters. He reeled off so many names for shout outs I could barely keep up. Among them: David gave high marks to Matt Mansfield, CQ Roll Call’s director of digital content and news director Steve Komarow for their redesign which is “creating a new unified look and synergy between the two brands” as they gear up for the 2016 election. Like a proud father, David also reeled off a number of staffers who, having built formidable reputations at CQ Roll Call, are now moving on to greener pastures. “Roll Call has always been a great place to develop talent.” Politics editor Shira Center is now heading up The Boston Globe’s election coverage. Roll Call’s “media savvy” editor in chief Christina Bellantoni will be leaving later this summer for the position of assistant managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, heading up their political coverage.
Funny enough, as we were finishing up, I realized David had buried the lede for today’s lunch. The imminent departure of Roll Call’s EIC has created a critically important job opening and he wants to get the word out to prospective candidates. “I am in the fourth day of searching for a replacement for Roll Call’s editor in chief,” David told me. “This is a great job which gives the right person the chance to reshape Roll Call and do it during an election year. I would love this job myself. It’s better than the one I have because it’s more journalism and less meetings. I’m tempted to demote myself and take it.” So if you’re interested—and qualified—I’d polish up that resume and send it over pronto.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Eliot Spitzer presiding over a squadron of suits.
2. Peter Brown
3. Andrew Stein
4. Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff and Ed Adler
5. Rich Gelfond
6. The Robb Report’s David Arnold
7. Tracey Jackson
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia
9. Patrick Murphy and his sister, the busier than ever documentary filmmaker Mary Murphy, who wrote the bestseller Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird (HarperCollins) and now finds herself caught up in the media whirlwind doing interview after interview about the release of Harper Lee’s previously undiscovered book, Go Set a Watchman. As for the outcry due to what has been characterized as Atticus Finch’s racism, Mary told me, “I think the book is being misread. Atticus is a creation of his time who has been, over time, turned into this civil rights icon when, in fact, he was a court appointed lawyer [in Mockingbird].” But perhaps the most important fact that is being overlooked, she said is “He’s a fictional character!” Her comments brought to mind James Wolcott‘s brilliant column in the new Vanity Fair, where he calls out our collective ‘narcissistic’ behavior and over-identification with pop culture figures when media events like this occur. A fascinating observation. Let’s lighten up, people.
11. Marie Claire’s Nancy Cardone
12. Michael Kassan
14. BDA Partners’ Euan Rellie who was kind enough to introduce me to his guest, Mike Vilensky, who covers politics and philanthropy for The Wall Street Journal.
15. Doug McCormick
16. The Wall Street Journal’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein, who were joined today by David’s boss and friend Jason Anders. Jason, deputy editor of page one since 2011, was promoted to business editor of the paper earlier this week. Congrats!
17. Gus Wenner (who, we think, bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Joaquin Phoenix) and Milos Raonic, who, in case you were wondering, is the highest ranked tennis player in Canadian history and helms his own foundation to help children with disabilities. Well done.
18. Travel agent Alexandre Chemla
20. Vanity Fair’s Vicky Ward
21. Gerald Joseph
22. Tom Moore
23. Marshall Cogan
24. Nick E. Rubinstein
27. David Ellis, Lisa Linden and yours truly
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.