Fishbowl Five with CNN’s Rachel Smolkin

Rachel SmolkinIn July, CNN announced the hire of Rachel Smolkin as executive editor of CNN Politics Digital. Smolkin came to CNN from POLITICO where she served as managing editor of news.

At the time of her hire, managing editor of CNN Digital Meredith Artley said that Smolkin was brought on to make its work “bolder, buzzier and more essential to audiences in and outside of the beltway.”

FishbowlDC recently chatted with Smolkin, who’s almost two months in, on CNN’s latest hires, coverage for the midterm elections, and of course, her CNN work crush.

FishbowlDC: You’re on a hiring spree at CNN – what key journalistic qualities are you looking for in building your digital politics team?

Rachel Smolkin: “I am so excited to build this great team. We’ve made terrific hires already, with many more to come. I’m looking for smart, original thinkers who want to create memorable work and experiment with their storytelling; for beautiful writers and sharp editors of both text and video; for journalists who can spot news but also know how to separate themselves from the pack. I want to bring together people who are eager to work as a team and to take full advantage of the amazing platform that CNN offers.”

FishbowlDC: We’re headed into midterms and you were with POLITICO, one of the biggest names in political news. What drew you to CNN?

Rachel Smolkin: “I loved the idea of creating something new — a political news start-up, backed by the incredible talent and resources of CNN. The digital space is getting more crowded, and that’s challenging us as journalists to keep innovating. The most powerful, most beautifully told stories are still able to break through the clutter — and those should be a combination of the best traditional and emerging storytelling techniques in text, video and social media. In just a few weeks, we’ve already launched Peter Hamby’s Hambycast, and we’re looking forward to more exciting coverage in the weeks and months ahead.”

FishbowlDC: What is the biggest difference between political news coverage for consumers inside the Beltway compared to the rest of the country?

Rachel Smolkin: “I’m a big believer in the idea that a smart, well-crafted story will do well both inside and outside the Beltway. I’ve worked for USA Today — which has a huge, general audience — and POLITICO, which has a smaller but highly engaged and influential group of readers. A great story transcends the specific platform, particularly in the digital era.”

“The digital space is a great equalizer — some of the most politically active and engaged people live thousands of miles from Washington and are keeping up with the latest political news and trends on their tablets, mobile devices, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. We want to speak to that audience by providing sharply framed pieces that take our readers behind the scenes — but we also want to keep our storytelling accessible for less politically engaged readers who look to CNN when they get interested in breaking news or a particular story.”

FishbowlDC: What’s something you realized about CNN since joining that you didn’t expect?

Rachel Smolkin: “I was told before I came that our new digital politics project was a high priority at the network. But I’ve still been amazed by and deeply appreciative of the interest and support from the very top of the CNN — from Jeff Zucker and Andrew Morse to my direct bosses, Ed O’Keefe and Meredith Artley. There’s a real culture here of creativity, candor and commitment to change. The leadership understands where the industry is headed — and is determined to lead the way.”

FishbowlDC: Who’s your CNN work crush?

Rachel Smolkin: “Tough question! So many options here, but I’ll go with Dana Bash and Brianna Keilar, two television stars who have also been fabulously welcoming, and are eager to help us create and experiment as we embark on our new digital adventure.”