TP Interview with Kevin Drum of Political Animal
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December 2006
The Different Drum Rules

Michael Neff Interviews Kevin Drum of POLITICAL ANIMAL

Kevin Drum is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly and he has authored their famous blog, POLITICAL ANIMAL, since March 2004. Kevin also writes op-eds for such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. He rose to prominence through the popularity of his independent liberal blog CalPundit. His blog is known for offering original statistical and graphical analysis (unusual for the genre). Kevin's blog is also credited with pioneering the trend of "Friday catblogging". He has a degree in journalism from CSU, Long Beach. During the 90s he was vice president of marketing for a software company in Irvine, California. He now lives with his wife and two cats in Irvine.

NEFF: What persuaded you to start Political Animal? What were your goals? Philosophy?

DRUM: I began reading online political magazines in the summer of 2002 and quickly discovered the blogosphere. I was entranced almost immediately and started up a blog on blogspot about two or three days after I'd read my first blog (kausfiles, I think). I got my own domain in early 2003, and was hired by the Washington Monthly in early 2004. Originally it was a short-term gig, just through the 2004 election, but we were all so happy with how it turned out that it became a permanent job.

I don't write with any specific goals. As for philosophy, I'm not sure I have that either. Politically I'm a fairly ordinary FDR liberal, and my schtick is mostly analysis, with the usual bloggy helpings of snark. But I'm not an activist, I don't stump for candidates, and I don't rant much. I'm fine with people who do, but it's not my thing.

NEFF: Has the blog has lived up to your expectations? Exceeded them? What have you learned since 2004?

DRUM: The blog has wildly exceeded my expectations. When I started it, literally nobody read it because nobody knew it existed. I just figured I'd write into the wilderness and maybe eventually a few hundred people would discover me. An audience of thousands, followed by getting hired full time by the Washington Monthly, wasn't something that had ever occurred to me.

Since 2004? Hard to say. We've all learned that George Bush and Karl Rove aren't as politically invincible as we once thought, and we've also learned that Bush is even more insulated and less open to serious policy analysis than he was in his first term. Hard to believe.

NEFF: How do you go about researching your topic du jour before posting on PA? Do you spend a significant amount of time on the pre-blog discovery process?

DRUM: I have a simple rhythm: I wake up in the morning, read the paper (the Los Angeles Times), and then sit down in front of the computer. If something in the paper caught my eye, I blog about it. If not, I start reading other papers online as well as my daily list of blogs. I skim about a dozen newspapers and magazines each day and around a hundred blogs.

The "discovery process" is just another way of saying "this is how I spend my day." Since I'm a full-time blogger, I literally spend all day searching out bloggable topics. But while I don't spend a lot of time planning out posts ahead of time, I *do* spend time doing at least minimal research before I post something. Given the immense power available to all of us via Google and the Internet, I'm astonished by how little most people seem to think before they post. I look a lot smarter than I am simply because I spend a few minutes boning up on things before I write a post. This provides background and context, and also prevents me from making too many mistakes. There's no way you can be an expert on everything, after all.

NEFF: How does one judge the effectiveness or relevance of the political blogosphere in America? Do you believe it is making a difference in political viewpoint as a whole?

DRUM: Sure, it's making a difference, though mostly by indirection, I think. That is, the bulk of our influence comes because other people (reporters, political staffers, etc.) read blogs and react to them. Our actual direct audience is still fairly small.

One of the most underreported stories of the blogosphere, I think, is its increasing professionalization. I'm an example of that: someone who started as an amateur and then got hired to write full time. Other examples are professionals who start up blogs, or bloggers who manage to grow big enough that they can become full-time bloggers via advertising revenue. In another few years, my guess is that virtually all of the big-name bloggers will be professionals of one kind or another, and the blogosphere will basically be a print version of talk radio. I haven't made up my mind whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

NEFF: Any niche "markets" in the political blogosphere that need filling or are all the bases pretty well covered?

DRUM: Sure, there are niches that are unfilled. How about the Christian right? I don't think there's a single high-traffic blog that really represents the Christian right. Or how about some major black blogs? There are more women than there used to be, but there ought to be more. And while strident partisanship is everywhere, the political center isn't very well represented either. Maybe there's not much of a market for that, though.

Libertarianism, on the other hand, is a glut on the market. It's *way* overrepresented in the blogosphere compared to the number of actual libertarians in the real world.

NEFF: What kinds of reactions do you get from your readership, especially after a controversial post? Any good stories?

DRUM: I actually get surprisingly little feedback. I think most of it is in comments, so people don't feel a need to write me lots of email. Or maybe they just don't know where my email address is.

This is fine with me. I can't respond to most of my email already, and if I started getting hundreds or thousands of responses to what I write I'd be inundated. Comments are a far better medium for argument anyway.

NEFF: How do your own political viewpoints affect the composition of Political Animal?

DRUM: My political viewpoints *are* Political Animal. It's all me.

NEFF: What is the future of PA? Any large issues you want to address or emphasize going forward?

DRUM: There are no plans to change PA itself, though we're always talking at the magazine about the possibility of adding additional blogs or expanding our web presence in other ways. It takes money, though, and that's in short supply.


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