Sara Libby - Associate Editor, Talking Points Memo
By Susan Lanier
Early last week, a Bloomberg News editor tweeted that The Washington Post had reported Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the presidential campaign. A quick glance at The Washington Post’s website for the front page news would reveal that no such report had been made. The Post had not yet confirmed the news. News travels at warped speed. The Santorum story was quickly confirmed by the major media networks and The Washington Post was scooped.
Political news coverage often appears like a dog fight to get the best story and stay on top of the competition. Sara Libby, the new associate editor of Talking Points Memo, is ready to get in on the action, but breaking news is not the only thing that matters. It’s what you do with it.
Her goal is to turn TPM into a must-read for the politically minded public. To do so, Libby wants to refine the site’s political coverage and build up the TPM2012 section which hosts “wall-to-wall” coverage of 2012 presidential and state elections.
“That involves being able to break news, and being able to distill it into smart, valuable analysis,” she said.
Of her new responsibilities Libby added, “I'm a little in awe of them - covering a presidential election means doing a lot of things: juggling events and narratives, and putting reporters and resources in the right places. But it's an awesome responsibility, one I'm excited to have.”
As former deputy editor of POLITICO, Libby has had experience on the politics beat. However, she attributes the transition to a smaller-sized outlet as having its own particular challenges.
“I came from an enormous news organization, and made the leap to a much smaller one. That means doing a little bit of everything. Having a hand in all aspects of producing a story is exciting, but it's also been a learning curve for me,” she said.
Although Libby admits that stepping into multiple roles can be daunting – from generating story ideas, to editing and coordinating photographs – she has one key advantage: Her time spent reporting from outside the Washington, D.C. bubble.
“One of the most valuable experiences for me was getting a start in journalism outside of D.C. It can be such a small, insular town, so it is tremendously useful to be able to take a step back and say, ‘Would anyone on the West Coast care about this? No, let's move on,’" she said.
Libby studied journalism at the University of Southern California, where she edited the college paper and found a mentor in Pulitzer Prize winner Edwin Guthman. While Libby knew even at a young age that she wanted a career in journalism, it was her time at USC studying under Guthman that firmly cemented why she found the job so important.
“His [Guthman’s] work exonerated a professor wrongly accused of being a communist. He served as press secretary to Robert Kennedy. But mostly, he was such a warm and encouraging presence who really believed that journalism was about finding the truth, and using it to help people. I'll always carry that with me, because of him,” she said.
As for shifting media from print to online, aided by social networking sites like Twitter, Libby says the wealth of knowledge can be a blessing but that trying to stay ahead of the game shouldn’t get in the way of actual reporting.
“It [the Internet] is a treasure trove of information, but that's also a curse when it comes to doing real reporting. I think journalists have to work every day to remind themselves to be wary of what they find online. A false bit of information can race around the Internet faster than you'd ever believe - and the desire to have stories before other outlets has to be balanced with being able to step back, make some calls, and make sure what you have is solid before you put it out there,” she said.
Libby said that pitches should be tailored to TPM coverage as much as possible.
“TPM covers politics, and does a good deal of investigative work. Pitches that are far outside that realm will definitely go straight to the trash.”
She added, “If there's some acknowledgment of the work the site does, and the people it reaches, I'm much more likely to take a closer look.”
Follow Libby on Twitter at @SaraLibby.