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First Mover: McKay Coppins

The BuzzFeed editor on getting out of the campaign bubble

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman


Specs
Age 25
New gig Political editor, BuzzFeed
Old gig Political reporter, BuzzFeed

What’s your role as BuzzFeed’s political editor?
It’s to build on the momentum the politics section gained in 2012. Which is a harder task than it would seem. 2012 was a great year for us. We went from something that D.C. hadn’t heard of to driving some of the conversation on the campaign trail for a good part of the year.

Are you making any changes in editorial style?
We’re trying to use Twitter as our filing system for big breaking stories. When we have reporters out on the Hill, like with the fiscal cliff and there are big developments and our reporters don’t have time to get to a laptop that minute, they’re tweeting. Now, because our goal is to win Twitter, they’ll put all the info they’d have in a series of tweets and then ask me to quickly make a story from this. We pull it together, post it and we’re simultaneously winning Twitter and getting news up. Stories are living, breathing things. It doesn’t make sense to write one story and leave it; it makes sense to be transparent and constantly updating.

How has your style changed in the year or so you’ve been at BuzzFeed?
I was not fast when I started here. I came from Newsweek and felt like a dinosaur. I’d take three days to write a story that should have taken three hours. We’re willing to give months to a story that deserves months, but so much of what happens throughout the day deserves only minutes. I eventually became fluent in the social Web and understanding that if you have an interesting bit of information that will advance the political conversation on Twitter, you don’t make it vague and bury it 17 paragraphs down—you make it the tweet or the headline. When I started out I was nervous about doing the list-type posts and thought, are people going to take me seriously? But in politics, sources take you seriously when people are reading what you do. It doesn’t really matter if it’s presented in a list or meme post or GIFs.

You were on the campaign trail and saw it all in 2012. What needs to change in campaign reporting in the next cycle?
Every news org will have to grapple with whether it makes sense at all financially, journalistically, ethically and quality-wise to get on a bus and follow a candidate for 18 months every single step of the way to the election. There’s tremendous value in going into the bubble enough that the staff, advisors and reporters know you so you can get information. But it’s like getting into a really hot hot tub. It’s good for a few minutes at a time, but if you sit for hours and hours, you will be boiled or end up dead. I think that’s what happens when these people get in the bubble and stay there for over a year. You end up writing for 60 people on the bus and nobody else because you don’t know what anyone else cares about.

The big story in a non-election year is the future of the Republican party. How do you get the average BuzzFeed reader interested in a story like that?
By exploring the issue through personalities and issues that they care about. People may not care about a party’s brand, but maybe they are really interested in gay marriage because of their gay friends. It’s a project of mine to see how I can make my friends who don’t care about politics on Facebook this year care about my stories. I want to write stories my college friends on Facebook want to click on. It’s a taller order, but it’s one that is really important to BuzzFeed Politics’ future. 



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