I've written about American politics for over a decade now, starting as a city desk reporter in Washington DC. I've written about the Republican National Committee, big data, and the Koch brothers for over a year now. Here's the latest story: https://www.yahoo.com/politics/the-koch-brothers-and-the-republican-party-go-to-121193159491.html. You can follow me on Twitter @jonward11.

Let's get started!


Comments: 1458 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

IKingJeremy138 karma

What are the biggest problems facing journalists in the digital age?

jonward11170 karma

That's a really great question. There a multitude of them and I could fill the page with thoughts on that. But I also think there's a lot to be optimistic about since we are in an age of innovation and because the hyper competitiveness of the market now means we as journalists are being forced to really up our game to stand out.

But I do encourage younger journalists to try to have a long view. Build a life, not a career (that's more just life advice I guess). But in view of that, I want more young journalists to fight against the urge to do stuff that's quick, cute or clever and to dig deeper and do work that might take a little longer, but is thoughtful, or makes a serious point, or helps readers understand things about the world that actually help them or enlighten them or raise their spirits in a meaningful way.

We do need to have more investigative journalism, and I'm encouraged by what Ben Smith at Buzzfeed is doing in that space, as well as places like ProPublica. But we need many more folks to get into that space, and there's no question that the business side is still a puzzle.

Blarglephish48 karma

we are in an age of innovation and because the hyper competitiveness of the market now means we as journalists are being forced to really up our game to stand out.

As a follow-up: What do you consider to be "upping your game" for journalists to stand out?

When I was at college, I remember one j-school professor joking that in today's age it was better to be inflammatory versus correct. Given how I've seen the rise of media aggregators like Buzzfeed, HuffPo, Gawker, and how wanna-be bloggers sensationalize and inject personality into their postings - I wonder if it wasn't a joke at all. Do you think that journalists will need to rely more and more on making a sensational story to stand out, or is there room for more traditional, hard-hitting investigative journalists to stand out in today's modern journalism?

jonward1167 karma

upping our game means doing quality work in a way that is also easy to read, interesting and relevant. there is inherent tension between the sort of purist attitude of 'this is important/really good/etc so people should read it' and 'make it palatable to the largest possible audience.'

but journalists do have an obligation to serve the reader, and inflaming them is not that.

neddypiemaker15 karma

Thanks for this great answer. I agree and it is somewhat disheartening for me when my university looks down upon features and lengthy journalism and instead constantly pushes us to write BBC-style, quick and snappy articles.

For me, context is very important and it's very hard for a 300 word news piece to provide adequate context to a very complex issue. This is very inspiring to read, so thank you!

jonward1120 karma

yeah and I think there's a hunger for that kind of work. we've just got to figure out how to make it work financially (I think), and I think we will

jonward1144 karma

I also think the headline on this New Yorker piece sums up the challenge facing journalists. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/a-new-theory-of-distraction?mbid=social_twitter We are in an age of distraction and a huge challenge for journalists is to reach an audience and get our material in front of people with anything other than ephemera. People are busy, they're stressed, and they're distracted. It's a business problem but also a creator problem. We're all still figuring it out.

ThatisPunny56 karma

I heard the Koch Brothers were more libertarian than republican anyway. Will this schism cause them to back more libertarian candidates? Or even libertarian leaning republicans, like Rand Paul?

jonward1193 karma

their roots are in Libertarianism but they've become much more involved in the Republican Party over the last decade or so. "Sons of Kansas" by Daniel Schulman is a book about the brothers that's actually been recommended to me by people inside the Koch empire as pretty accurate.

they haven't shown any affinity for Rand Paul. their most positive mentions have been of Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. They're pragmatists at the end of the day i think

jstrong44 karma

if the Kochs and the RNC are at war, who do you expect to win?

jonward1153 karma

hello jstrong! :) the Kochs, ie i360, are much better funded obviously, and among Republican campaign folks, they just want to win. they don't care about stupid philosophical questions. but by going public with the philosophical, more big picture question about who is the more responsible guardian of the Republican party's master voter file, the RNC may be able to rally some folks in the GOP to their side. a big moment will be what the eventual GOP presidential nominee does and how they lead the party on this question of data

polioperativeAMA9 karma

among Republican campaign folks, they just want to win. they don't care about stupid philosophical questions.

I'm in the "everyone needs to take a breath camp" in your article.

jonward1114 karma

just to be clear, i don't think the philosophical question is stupid. i was channeling some operatives I've spoken too

Chic7838 karma

Over the last 30 years how would you describe the evolution of the GOP?

jonward1166 karma

since Goldwater in 64 they've become pretty conservative, and have had a pretty consistent internal tension between the hard right and the establishment/elite more moderate wing. Reagan united them and so did Bush for a while but they've struggled without a national leader, as any party does. Democrats were in the same position in the 80's before Clinton came along, and could be there after Obama, depending on how HRC does

capitoltrill20 karma

Do you have a sense of the long term goals of the Koch network? Some of the RNC officials you quote seem to think the Kochs want to "supplant" the GOP. Do you think that's the case? And I guess, if so, why? What can't they get out of current GOP that they'd need to supplant it? (and is that supplanting just in terms of data capabilities or a more wholesale supplanting?) Thanks for doing this, Jon!

jonward1145 karma

reporting on this topic has introduced me to a new level of smoke and mirrors. as one of the many people I spoke with said, 'you can't trust anyone' on this topic because everyone has an agenda. that's usually the case in political journalism, but here, there are other factors at play: a lot of money and a technical element to the story that gives those with expertise the ability to run circles around those who don't understand the mechanics, and which makes it hard to know who actually understands the process and who doesn't.

an example of the smoke and mirrors. more than one person on team RNC said they think the Koch's political arm actually wants to become, in some part, a shadow party. but you have to consider that some of this may be posturing, an attempt to alarm others so that they rally to the cause.

but the alarm did seem sincere, and I don't think the RNC would be going public with their confrontation with the Kochs unless they were concerned about losing control of data and relevance.

as to Koch world, I don't know how Charles and David Koch feel about this issue. it may be that the direction taken by Freedom Partners and i360 is not something they're aware of or in favor of, or it may be that they've blessed it. it's actually probably neither, ie not as black and white. I would guess that with the RNC's decision to take this fight public the brothers have started paying closer attention to the issue.

capitoltrill7 karma

awesome and fascinating answer, thanks again!

jonward116 karma

thanks. my pleasure!

AltairsFarewell17 karma

Two questions, one about journalism and one on topic:

I saw that you started working in journalism in 2001. As a person who was an insider, how has the transition from print to digital media affected news organizations you've worked for?


Money is an integral part of our political lives. Whether it is political parties (I.E. the Koch brothers), how news organizations cover different people and parties, or exceptions tailored for specific interests. So, my questions is how do we divorce big money from our politics?

jonward1115 karma

digital has obviously upended the newspaper business and completely undone much of the publishing industry. i came along just at the time that papers were going online, so I've never felt surprised by the way things have gone, or uncomfortable with it.

as for money in politics, I'm gonna claim to be a bit of an agnostic, which is always my answer on a topic that is highly complex and nuanced. i think there are big questions there that need to be asked and considered, and i think it's going to be a big issue in 2016

lovelyemmalee17 karma

What do you think would change, if anything at all, if more people from the 18-24 age group voted consistently in elections?

jonward1145 karma

more Democrats would get elected?

capitoltrill16 karma

Have you gotten any pushback from Koch world about the story? Did they react (other than the Palmer email) to Katie Walsh going on the record with some fairly strong language aimed at them?

Has covering politics made you more or less optimistic about the future than you were before you started in journalism?

jonward1147 karma

no pushback. i spent a lot of time on the story making sure it was right.

i am more optimistic now than I was 10 years ago. reading history helps. my faith helps. my wife and kids are a big help. optimism is a form of leadership imo

ScottAtOSU27 karma

Jon: no question really. I just wanted to say I read "optimism is a form of leadership," and it made me stop and think for a bit. That's a great way to look at it, so thanks for that.

jonward1114 karma

awesome. thanks man

mistershmi15 karma

What are your thoughts on Rand Paul? Have you ever met him in person?

jonward1118 karma

i have a few times. I interviewed him in Iowa in February. http://news.yahoo.com/in-iowa--a-tale-of-two-rand-pauls-182905616.html

I think he is, as time put it, a very interesting political figure (they said he was most interesting man in politics), and I think he's had an amazing knack for drafting off hot button issues to raise his political profile. right now it's a little unclear whether he's had his best days as a presidential hopeful or whether he's got another surge in him. how he performs in iowa looks like it's gonna be pretty important, but then again, New Hampshire has a lot of libertarians, so maybe he can get a boost there.

RevDrWigglebottom14 karma

What would you say is your greatest public records find?

jonward1114 karma

honestly I can't think of a ton. but i do remember that somehow I came across an internal memo back in 2002 I think that law enforcement in the DC Metro area had put out alerting police to the fact that MS-13 members were looking to take out police officers or something.

KingAturo14 karma

What are some things that annoy you most about the current journalism climate? Does it ever get frustrating to know that a large part of the American population don't seem to be actively interested in what you may deem important?

jonward1148 karma

i love this question. i'll admit, I love the movie "Idiocracy." I think it's absolute genius. I'm a huge Neil Postman fan, especially because of "Amusing Ourselves to Death." So if you've watched that movie or read that book or both, you know a lot about where my head's at on this question. I think TV has ruined us in many ways, not because of the people in it but because of the way the medium works. Add on top of that the schizophrenic distraction of the digital age and it's not the greatest recipe for an informed, thoughtful electorate.

But I try not to gripe about it. And I definitely don't want to think or act like what I'm doing every day is somehow more important than what people who don't follow politics are doing, because it's not. People running restaurants or doing maintenance on our infrastructure or teaching our kids or serving in our military or cleaning our hotels or whatever are all doing amazing things every day.

So yeah it's important that people be informed. But again, people are busy and they don't always have time to be up to date on stuff. My only real plea is that people read more than they watch TV. I'm not against TV - it's great for some things - but don't think it should be the primary way people educate themselves about the world.

mrmyst3rious10 karma

Good morning Jon, do you watch House of Cards? If so, what journalist on there do you most closely relate to?

jonward1114 karma

i watched season 1 and started 2 but didn't get far. i like the guy who was Zoe's boyfriend (I looked it up: Lucas), bc he reminded me of a former colleague at the Washington Times: Stephen Dinan, who is one of the best reporters on Capitol Hill

mrmyst3rious5 karma

Thanks for the reply. You should keep going, I thought the journalist centric story lines was the best part of season 3.

jonward112 karma

maybe i will. thx!

capitoltrill8 karma

With politicians who might have split allegiances to the RNC vs. the Koch network, like Sens. Ernst or Cotton, if they're forced to pick a side (so to speak) how do you see that breaking down?

jonward115 karma

i think most politicians are trying to straddle the middle and not take sides, even if they're using i360 more than the RNC's voter contact tools. their defense is, we have to do what's best to win. and the RNC has acknowledged that they haven't done a good enough job, so while there are behind the scenes conversations where the RNC is not happy with folks who are using i360, it's hard for the RNC to publicly castigate anyone

dreamcasting8 karma

What is your take on conspiracies in politics? Do you believe there is an "elite" who view it as their duty to manage "the masses"?

jonward1143 karma

there is an elite because elites have existed as long as people have. i'm definitely not a personality type that gravitates toward conspiracy theories: they usually require an outsize faith in the cleverness, effectiveness and efficiency of whoever is supposedly conspiring

jonward1129 karma

but seriously, who did shoot JFK

yrxs6 karma

Would you ever dare to write about the influence people like Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and George Soros have?

jonward116 karma


russianfistingdoll5 karma

Has anyone ever said "jonward to victory" to you?

jonward113 karma

i don't think so?

katherineleigh4 karma

How do you feel about the number of presidential candidates in the upcoming election? Job secutiry?

jonward117 karma

ha, good point. i think the debate format is ripe for some disruption. change it up, flip the script. try new things. i liked what Ben Domenech proposed (http://thefederalist.com/2015/05/18/fix-the-gop-presidential-debates-with-this-one-simple-trick/): get rid of the moderator. maybe not for all debates, but why not do at least one that way?

jonward114 karma

i misread your question. thought you asked about debates. as for the number of candidates, it's remarkable, historic and sometimes confounding. but it's going to be fun to cover

MrCT013 karma

Are you still using Meerkat?

jonward117 karma

that's funny, I was just in Miami on Monday at Jeb Bush's announcement speech, and I saw Mark Halperin, who was another early adapter on Meerkat. I asked him if he was still using it, and he said he wasn't. I'm not either. I think it was a fad that will probably have a moment or two more in the sun, but I think it's hard to exist as an app that you only use occasionally, bc those are the apps you delete when you're freeing up space on your phone!

IKingJeremy3 karma

What made you want to become a journalist?

jonward115 karma

it wasn't all that thought out. i was a lit major at the university of Maryland (go terps!), I taught high school lit for two years after college, and then decided I want to write for a living, somehow, some way. I got a bunch of advice, and people I talked to said that the best way to build a writing career of any kind was to go into newspapers (this was the summer of 2001). so i started looking for work and got an unpaid internship at the Washington Times on the city desk

HeKickedOut2 karma

I've been hearing rumors that the Koch brothers are planning on throwing their support behind Scott Walker in the Republican primaries. Any insight into whether this is true or not? If it isn't then any insight into whom they plan on supporting?

jonward114 karma

here's the piece that started that rumor, I think: http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/04/20/koch-brothers-signal-support-for-scott-walker/

don't think they'll get involved in the primary

schoolsbelly1 karma

Does Ranch Prius know how funny his name is?

jonward113 karma

is that a salad dressing?

baconair1 karma

What do you think ultimately motivates the Kochs to manipulate the system as they do?

In turn, what do you feel is motivating those who are resisting?

jonward113 karma

motivations: something I try to resist speculating on a whole lot.

CaptCurmudgeon0 karma

Why does the right only try to inform the population through very antagonistic sites like Drudge or Fox News? It seems that a bunch of moderate voters lament these organizations, which can't lead to an objective interpretation.

jonward119 karma

if you're looking for conservative intellectual though, there are places to find it: National Affairs, First Things, National Review, Weekly standard, The Federalist, and others