Danny Glover Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange
Danny Glover Interview
moderated by Paul DiPerna
Danny... How did you know that you wanted to go into journalism?
Journalism was my fallback career of
themes sorts. I loved writing from an early age -- I
interviews index wrote a "Happy Days" play while in the
second grade -- but I never thought of it as a
profession until college.
subscribe to email updates Like many of the students in my small
town, I chose to go to trade school during the
afternoons in my junior and senior years of
high school. My guidance counselor was
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disappointed in that decision because I was
in the top 10 percent of my class and he
wanted me to focus on college-prep
Paul's bio and projects classes, but I wanted to be an electrician. I should have listened to my
Paul's email counselor. I was book smart enough to become a licensed electrician,
but I'm incompetent with tools in my hand.
My next choice was to take my interest in electricity and parlay it
comments policy into an engineering career. Then I took higher math. I deduced that if I
thanks to the generous grading curve of a mediocre teacher, I'd never
survive engineering school. About that time, my cousin said she was
going to go to West Virginia University to become a journalist. That
sounded like a good plan to me.
I became a bit disenchanted with my career choice after a year at
WVU because of professors who told us budding journalists that we'd
have to work like dogs for no money and do menial tasks like writing
obituaries and police reports. My brother invited me to live with him in
Florida for a year while I decided what to do next.
That proved to be a life-changing move. After a few months in
Florida , I landed my first newspaper job as a "copy clerk" with The
Tampa Tribune. (That was back before pagination, and copy clerks
literally ran copies of page layouts back to the production room.)
Within a month, I was promoted to full-time obituary writer, and I knew
I was on my way. I was living on little more than minimum wage as an
obit writer, just like my professors had predicted!
I worked in Tampa in 1988, the year of the first presidential "Super
Tuesday," and that's the day I got hooked on political journalism.
What were some of the most challenging and rewarding
experiences in your early professional days in news reporting, back in
West Virginia or in DC at Congressional Quarterly?
The most challenging part of working at a small newspaper in West
Virginia was being left on my own to develop as a journalist. I received
some good mentoring and feedback during a 10-week internship in
Charleston, W.Va., but most of the editors I had in Morgantown
showed no interest in nurturing and coaching young reporters. Even
worse, they did very little editing, so what I wrote often was exactly
what made it into print.
A good example: When assigned to cover the opening of a new
mall -- not exactly the turf of the government reporter -- I decided to be
"creative" with my lead. I was sure the editors would kill it and rewrite
my sorry attempt at retail poetry into a straight news lead. I never
actually expected a story that began, "'Twas the night before opening
and all through the mall, every creature was stirring, each one having
a ball," to be published. But it was -- and under my byline! The lead
was bad enough that I remember exactly what I wrote without any clip
to remind me.
But being left on my own was rewarding in a sense, too. I liked
being given room to grow as a reporter without an editor constantly
breathing down my neck, and I became a better writer precisely
because my editors were so hands-off with my copy. There was no
greater incentive to improve my work than seeing typos, misplaced
modifiers, redundancies, cliches and all other manner of bad writing
under my name.
The jump from Morgantown to Washington was a big one, and to a
lesser extent, I found myself on my own again. Although I was hired
into an entry-level position at Congressional Quarterly, the editors
there work with so many talented, knowledgeable people that they
expect everyone to know what they're doing from Day One. I didn't --
and I struggled as a daily reporter.
My high point came in 1993-94, when the debates over both health
policy and tobacco regulation were big. Both were huge stories, and I
covered them daily. I hate tobacco -- it killed my grandmother -- and
when I mentioned that to my editor once, she paid me one of the best
compliments of my career: "You couldn't tell it by your balanced
What was it like to work as editor at IntellectualCapital.com?
I was actually the associate editor. The editor, former presidential
candidate and Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and a managing editor
ranked above me in the chain of command. They hired me to bring
some journalistic experience into the publication.
Working at IC was the most rewarding -- and relaxing -- job of my
life. I loved the break from daily deadlines (IC published weekly), and
although I wrote a monthly column on congressional history, I loved
the freedom to write about topics other than Congress other weeks of
the month. I developed interests in technology, media criticism, family
issues and more.
My interests at work often were driven by my life outside work. In
1999, for instance, I wrote about infertility, parenting and adoption -- all
while my wife and I were going through infertility, dreaming of starting a
family and eventually doing so by adopting from Guatemala . While at
IC, I wrote a personal essay about "Our Long Journey To Parenthood",
something I never could have done while at CQ. It's one of my
I also loved the spirit of innovation that infused IC's parent
company, which included Policy.com. The staff met regularly to
brainstorm about new features and publications, but we didn't have
endless meetings and focus groups. When we settled on a good idea
-- like SenateVote.com during the impeachment trial of former
President Clinton -- we implemented it within days.
One idea that I implemented was a weekly feature called "In Your
Backyard." It featured commentary by local experts about policy
controversies in their regions that also had national appeal. The
thinking behind it: Who better to write about "mountaintop removal," for
instance, than the editorial writer from Charleston, W.Va., who opined
on the topic regularly?
One of my bosses at CQ always told me I
needed to "think outside the box," and to the extent
that I now know what that lame catchphrase really
means, I learned it at IC. The mindset I gained there
is behind my personal online projects, including
AirCongress and MisterCritter.com, where I self-
published my children's book, "George Washington Beaver and the
Can you describe for us the motivations behind MisterCritter.com
and publishing "George Washington Beaver and the Cherry Tree"?
Back in the spring of 1999, a family of beavers chose the Tidal
Basin in Washington, D.C., as one of their chewing grounds. That was
bad news for the cherry trees that line the basin -- and for the beavers
because the cherry trees are celebrated every spring for their
blossoms. The beavers made national news as the National Park
Service tried to capture and move them out of the area.
While commuting to work one morning and hearing the latest news
on the beavers, my wife, Kimberly, said I should write a children's
book about the beavers chewing down the cherry trees and connect it
to the myth of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. Thus
was born George Washington Beaver. On my next day off work from
IntellectualCapital.com, I spent about four hours writing a story that
weaved major events and characters from American history into a
book designed for children and parents. The 17-year-old brother of a
friend illustrated the book.
I chose the pen name Mister Critter before I wrote the book, after
meeting an animal specialist whose last name, no kidding, was
"Critter." It was the perfect name for a wannabe author of children's
books with animal characters. I decided to put my book online at
MisterCritter.com after failing to find any interested publishers. I saw it
both as a promotional tool -- I secretly hoped that some publisher
would "discover" me through the Web site -- and later, as a sales
Not long after the site went online, I was discovered -- by the
nonprofit arm of the National Park Service that published books for
stores at parks and monuments (like those near the cherry trees). I
worked with them for a few months but made the rookie mistake of not
getting a contract. After doing rewrites and having my illustrator add
pictures at their request, I insisted on a contract before going further.
The Parks and History Association (now apparently defunct) balked.
A few years later, I had another bad experience with
BookLocker.com, a print-on-demand publishing firm. But I managed to
get the book into e-book format under that agreement and revived
MisterCritter.com to sell both the e-book and a printable coloring book.
How do you go about distributing your children's book?
"George Washington Beaver and the Cherry Tree" is only available
in electronic form. People can place orders online, and I fulfill the
orders. If I could ever get the book into print, I would try to distribute it in
Washington, especially during the National Cherry Blossom Festival
AirCongress is a wonderful website, providing videos and podcasts
covering political matters in the nation's capital. In a recent interview
here, Marshall Poe had expressed that online video (particularly short
videos) should eventually revolutionize journalism and the news
It seems to me AirCongress is the kind of project he was thinking
It seems to me AirCongress is the kind of project he was thinking
about. In contrast to televised C-SPAN, AirCongress is a place where
a visitor (as viewer or listener) has many more options and much
more control over what he or she will consume.
What led you to the creation of AirCongress?
It's interesting that you mention C-SPAN because when I first had
the idea for AirCongress (I called it CapitolPod back then), I thought of
it as C-SPAN for the Internet. But because the Internet does give
people more content control, AirCongress takes the C-SPAN concept
to the next level. Visitors can find audio and video content only by their
congressmen, about their state or based on their favorite issues, for
instance. Or they can just follow the presidential race if that's all that
I had the idea for AirCongress when I realized:
(1) how much audio (and then video) by lawmakers, federal
agencies and more was available online; and
(2) how difficult it was to find that content.
I love that the Internet makes it possible for anyone, including me,
to be a publisher, radio host (see BlogTalkRadio) or video star on
YouTube. But that also means it's easy for the best content to get
buried. The mission of AirCongress is to organize the content in a
user-friendly format and also call attention to the most important
material via features like "Podcast of the Week" and "Producer's
Are you working on this by yourself, or do you have some help?
I currently do all of the work myself -- and I'm exhausted! I'd love to
get more people involved, especially journalism students who want an
introduction to politics and public policy or "citizen journalists" who
might want to interview their congressmen, for instance.
How do you think you might be able to fund AirCongress for the
I imagine that it would be difficult to sustain if you are the one doing
all the work all the time.
AirCongress, like any other blog, is a passion.
Initially, I envisioned it as a nonprofit and even applied for some
small grants to cover the costs of Web design because I wanted
something that would look more professional than what I can create
with my limited skills. I decided to make it a commercial venture when
one design firm I approached expressed an interest in getting a stake
in the business. I ultimately did not hire that firm, but their faith that
AirCongress could be a successful business convinced me to give it a
The primary revenue streams I envision are advertising,
sponsorships, and syndication. I'm a client of Blogads, and
AirCongress had its first buy through that outlet recently. I also signed
a syndication deal with an outfit called Newstex that shares revenue
with bloggers, and I'm actively exploring other opportunities.
Sustaining the site long term -- and expanding it in ways I've been
considering -- certainly would be difficult if I worked solo, but that has
never been my intention. One thing I would like to do is use
AirCongress as a training ground of sorts for budding journalists (or
citizen journalists) who want to gain some experience covering federal
policy and politics.
They could interview their congressmen on behalf of AirCongress,
They could interview their congressmen on behalf of AirCongress,
for instance, or they could take on tasks like doing the summaries of
White House press briefings that I've posted. I just instituted a new
feature called the Monster Media Mash-Up that collects podcasts and
videos by mainstream media organizations into one blog entry for
ease of listening. That also is a task that others could do. For a site
like AirCongress to succeed, it's important to have frequent content,
and so my goal eventually is to make it a group effort.
If anyone is interested, they can contact me by email.
Last week I attended the Politics Online Conference in DC (March
15-16), and I saw that you had some videos posted from the event.
In your opinion, who were some of the more interesting panelists?
I wasn't able to attend the conference. I just posted videos that I
found online and the ones I saw were only excerpts.
I understand you were recently promoted to Editor for National
Journal's Technology Daily. You also blog for National Journal's
Beltway Blogroll (reporting on the political blogosphere) and Tech Daily
Dose (reporting on tech legislation and policy matters).
This must be a ton of work...
How do you manage the contrasting sets of responsibilities? And
then balance with your personal life?
Yes, it's a ton of work, but managing it all is not as great a
challenge to me as it might be to others because of my experience
working in daily journalism. There's nothing better than multiple
deadlines a day to teach you how to multitask!
Professionally, Tech Daily comes first. The few posts I write for Tech
Daily Dose are part of my job as the editor, so that's not much of a
burden. Senior writer Andrew Noyes does most of the blogging for us.
After being promoted to the editor's job last November, furthermore,
I knew I was going to have too much on my plate, so I gave up the
column about blogs I had been writing as a companion to Beltway
Blogroll. I've also cut back significantly on the amount of blogging I do
at Beltway Blogroll and on the number of blogs I read/scan daily. And
my writing has become more blog-like -- more links and block quotes,
shorter blurbs, fewer "deep thoughts."
Had I been promoted a few months earlier, AirCongress might
never have gone online. But by sheer coincidence, I was promoted
from managing editor to editor the same week that my designer was
finalizing AirCongress. By that point, I had invested lots of time and
effort, and a small amount of startup money, into the venture and
wanted to see if there was a market for it. I've been quite pleased with
the response thus far. Although AirCongress still typically only attracts
a couple of thousand visitors a week now, the audience has developed
more quickly than my niche readership at Beltway Blogroll.
The downside to AirCongress is its impact on my free time,
especially with my wife and children. Of course, one of my goals for
years has been to freelance full time so I can work from or near home
and avoid three-hour daily commutes. That was a key, long-term
motivation for starting the site.
What are some of the most interesting stories you've come across
in the past couple of months?
The biggest story, and the one that drove the most traffic to
AirCongress, has been the "Vote Different" YouTube video, aimed at
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thanks to my friend David All, who first
alerted me to the video, AirCongress was one of the first sites to call
attention to it.
Eventually, the story went mainstream, especially once it was
revealed that a tech professional doing consulting work for Sen.
Barack Obama, one of Clinton's rivals, had created the video. I'm glad
that AirCongress played a small role in calling attention to that video,
and my aim is to make AirCongress the place where journalists,
bloggers, government-types and other "influentials" will turn to track
online audio and video in the political and policy realms.
I expect plenty more mash-up mischief in the 2008 campaign.
Other recent examples include videos portraying Mitt Romney as a
flip-flopper and John McCain as a double-talker. This is a revolutionary
time for online audio and video, and AirCongress is here to chronicle it
Why do you think political blogs like Daily Kos, Huffington Post,
Drudge, Daily Dish, etc.. have become so popular?
Do you have any particular favorites?
Political blogs across the spectrum are popular because they bring
a fresh voice to an arena long dominated by the establishment. They
typically are written by people who want to challenge the status quo,
both outside and within their chosen political parties.
American history has been marked by bursts of populist angst and
engagement. This is the latest episode but also arguably the most
powerful because of the technology that the populists have at their
disposal. I suspect that like all movements, the "netroots" and
"rightroots" eventually will lose momentum or be consumed by the
very establishment mindset they despise. But for now, they represent
the promise of political reform.
I read/scan blogs across the political spectrum because the
mission of Beltway Blogroll is to explain their impact on politics and
policy, so I have more favorites than most people. They include
Instapundit, Captain's Quarters, Talking Points Memo,TPMMuckraker,
David All, Ezra Klein, The Huffington Post, Mary Katharine Ham,
Michelle Malkin, and ThinkProgress.
I noticed that Kos, Wonkette, and Daily Dish were not on your list of
favorite blogs, and they tend to be among the most popular.
Any particular reasons for leaving them out?
My blog reading is largely focused on the sites that generate the
most insights for Beltway Blogroll and AirCongress. I subscribe to
more than 100 feeds and periodically change my subscriptions based
on how useful the blogs have been to me professionally over the
years. Among those blogs are ones that I also enjoy reading
personally. When you asked for a list of favorites, I chose from among
the top sites that fit into both categories.
I like Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish and was excited when it
became part of the Atlantic Media/National Journal company earlier
this year. But I didn't list it as a favorite because it doesn't yield much
in terms of content for Beltway Blogroll. The same is true for
Wonkette. I subscribe to Daily Kos and read it almost daily for my
coverage of the blogosphere, but I personally prefer reading sites like
MyDD and TPMMuckraker over Daily Kos.
Recently (back in December, I think), many political bloggers got
upset with you regarding an op-ed piece that you wrote for the New
Can you tell us a little about what you wrote, and why some well-
known bloggers got ticked off?
My New York Times piece actually was a follow-up to one I wrote
earlier in the fall for NationalJournal.com. MSNBC picked up that piece
through National Journal's relationship with that company, and the
Times contacted me after seeing the piece. Both stories focused on
bloggers hired by campaigns, either to blog for them or to advise them
about using the Internet and interacting with online political activists. I
reported their roles with the campaigns, some of the things they said
about their candidates or the opponents, and (based on campaign
finance records) how much the bloggers were paid.
Most of the bloggers angered by the Times piece (and to a lesser
extent my earlier story) were leaders of the "netroots" movement in the
Democratic Party and their friends. Patrick Hynes, the one Republican
blogger who I singled out for not openly disclosing his consulting
relationship with Sen. John McCain's political action committee,
actually e-mailed to tell me he didn't understand why the Democratic
bloggers found the piece so objectionable. I didn't fully understand the
gripes myself -- but my wife had fun telling our friends some of the
names the bloggers called me :)
Among the 2008 presidential candidates right now, who do you
think is using the web most wisely and effectively?
Technology Daily strives to cover the candidates objectively, so I'll
leave the analysis about any in particular to the kinds of observers we
use as sources. But in general, the 2008 candidates as a whole are
more determined than any crop in history to understand and use the
Internet to get elected.
They are trying new tools, hiring more online experts (look at the
four names on this John Edwards list alone) and engaging the Web's
political community every chance they get. McCain even invited a
couple of bloggers to travel on his "Straight Talk Express" bus tour in
The consensus, even
among many Republicans in "the consensus...
the field, is that Democrats are is that Democrats
the innovators in political are the innovators
technology and Republicans
the followers. But both parties in political
have embraced the Web this technology"
There's also Unity '08, an Internet-based movement to create a
"bipartisan presidential ticket." All of which points to 2008 being a
pivotal year for the Internet in presidential politics.
Do you think Unity08 has a chance to make as large an impact as,
say, Ross Perot's 1992 third party bid?
The initiative is very intriguing, but it's hard to see who in either
Democratic or Republican presidential fields would consider running
on a bipartisan ticket. On the other hand, depending on how the
primaries shake out and who wins and loses, there is potential to
capture the imagination of the independent voter core, who may be
feeling a bit unrepresented these days.
What do you think is Unity08's best case scenario next year?
Independent or third-party candidacies rarely win as much of the
vote as Ross Perot did in 1992. No such candidate had done as well
as Perot since Teddy Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose ticket, and
Roosevelt had served almost two full terms as president before then.
I would be surprised -- pleasantly, of course, because I'm a
journalist and love a good story -- if the Unity '08 ticket does that well.
But depending on the nominees for that movement (and for the two
major parties), I think it's possible for the Unity '08 ticket to attract as
many votes as, say, a Ralph Nader in 2000 or a John Anderson in
1980. Nader arguably tipped the election to President Bush and the
electorate remains as divided as it was then, so that is a potentially
I recently saw that Tech Daily launched a Facebook forum for
technology, policy, and politics.
How is it going so far?
What are your expectations and goals for the new online
The Facebook forum has 68 members so far, and I created a
forum for AirCongress that currently has 36 members. My hope is
that the group will spur discussion about technology policy and political
issues and perhaps even a few story leads.
I also see it as a way to foster interactivity with Tech Daily's
readers and perhaps expand our audience. While Tech Daily's core
publications require subscriptions, we have been adding free content -
- like our Tech Daily Dose blog and our Tech Policy Pod
podcasts/blog, plus subscriber-focused content that I republish at
Tech Daily Dose and/or Beltway Blogroll. If more people outside the
Beltway discover Tech Daily through our blogs, podcasts or presence
on social networks, I hope they'll like what they see and consider
Are you looking forward to any particular events, projects, or plans
that happen later this year?
I'm a newshound, so I look forward most to the events that no one
can predict or plan -- the fall of world empires (Soviet
Union/communism); changes of power in Congress; elections
decided by the Electoral College rather than the popular vote; the
creation of a federal department, and one that is very tech-focused, for
the first time in decades (Homeland Security).
All of those developments have happened in my still relatively
young career. And while Homeland Security was an offshoot of
terrorist attacks that any American would change if they could, they
spawned a regular stream of intriguing storylines for publications of all
kinds, even niche ones like Tech Daily.
April 23, 2007
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