Tuesday, July 27, 2021

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    The Election Work Diary of a Reporter With 2.5 Million Subscribers

    Peter Hamby has found a way to be a political journalist for a new generation.

    After covering two presidential campaigns at CNN, he made an unusual career move in 2015: joining the social media app Snapchat. As the host of the platform’s first original series, “Good Luck America,” Mr. Hamby, 39, breaks down the political landscape and coming election for the millions of young people who scroll through the app every day.

    “Politics feels existential to them,” Mr. Hamby said. “Climate change feels existential. Going to high school every day with the threat of gun violence is life or death.”

    It’s an audience that is most likely not tuning in to cable news bulletins or reading the Sunday New York Times. So he’s meeting these Americans where they are.

    “I’m aware of where I stand at Snapchat, and a lot of people don’t think that’s necessarily an ivory tower of journalism, but we are creating journalism that I think is credible and serious,” Mr. Hamby said. “It is insanely important for media organizations to be way more thoughtful, way more creative about creating formats for people that plug into their lives.”

    Now based in Los Angeles, Mr. Hamby, who is also a contributing writer for Vanity Fair, is a world away from his former life as a roving campaign reporter.

    “I feel like I’ve become smarter about American politics since leaving Washington and leaving the establishment media side of things,” he said.

    Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.

    9 a.m. Reading The Los Angeles Times and listening to Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” For me, Sundays are for reading, cooking and music — trying to turn off as much as possible. That’s obviously close to impossible with two weeks until a presidential election, but I know I won’t be good during the week if I haven’t taken some time to retreat from Twitter and the political news cycle, which can be pretty mindless sometimes.

    10 a.m. Took my dog, Boone, for a walk. He’s a year-and-a-half-old golden retriever. He brought a rock inside. He likes toys, but he loves rocks.

    11:20 a.m. Polished off a piece for Vanity Fair about some of the red states that might tip in a fluky wave election. They’re gracious enough to let me write for them when I can find time. “Good Luck America” is obviously a video format, but writing is my first love, so I need an outlet for it.

    3 p.m. Had a bunch of Amazon deliveries: Halloween decorations. I’m a huge Halloween guy. I do my yard up in a big way. Eric Garcetti is forbidding trick or treating this year, but my house is on a big trick-or-treating street. I bought six feet of PVC piping to slide candy from a distance to any kid who comes by.

    8 p.m. Text my producer, Charles Bay, with story ideas for tomorrow.

    7 a.m. I get up, make coffee, take Boone out and grab the newspaper. I subscribe to The L.A. Times, and The New York Times on the weekends. I’m an evangelist for new journalism formats, but I still think print newspapers might be the best vehicle for news discovery. Online, I read almost exclusively about politics, sports and music. But just by serendipitously paging through the paper, you find stories you would have missed in your feeds.

    8 a.m. By now I’m just catching up on whatever news has already happened on the East Coast, and looking for story ideas. I’m also listening to NPR on KPCC. Did I mention I love local news?

    9 a.m. My producer and I always text around this time, identifying our story for the day. We produce the show for 6 a.m. E.T. the following morning, sort of like The Times’s “The Daily.” We don’t bother living in the immediate news cycle. News is just ambient for our audience — sometimes politics is just background noise — and they’re coming to us for quick clarity and authority on something important. We have about 2.5 million subscribers, and the vast majority of them are under 25. They aren’t watching cable news or looking at Twitter all day.

    10 a.m. Charles and I riff on a script in a Google doc for about an hour. The show is short, about three minutes of fast-paced vertical video, and it’s competing for attention with a lot of other stuff on your phone. We rely a lot on humor and quick video clips to keep people engaged. Charles is a ninja at finding obscure clips on YouTube and Twitter.

    11:10 a.m. Because I prefer to travel rather than doing the show from a studio, we had already developed an easy way to film from anywhere with professional sound, lighting and a phone. So it was an easy transition to filming from home when the pandemic started. (Why do men still wear a jacket and tie at home when they do a news hit? Everyone knows you’re wearing shorts.)

    11:20 a.m. I upload the raw video for the piece, and Charles spends the next few hours editing from his house.

    Noon Preparing for another Zoom election panel. This one is for a series I’m doing with Warner Music Group. Maybe it’s because Zoom makes everyone more accessible, or maybe it’s because everyone with a pulse is interested in this election, but I’ve done a ton of these election panels the last few months.

    3:22 p.m. Texting media friends about Jeffrey Toobin.

    3:30 p.m. Charles sends me a first cut of tomorrow’s show. I go through it and have a round of notes. Then we collaborate on the headline and what image we should use for the “Good Luck America” tile on Snapchat. It’s like Netflix — that image on the show tile is really important for getting people to tap in.

    8 a.m. Today’s episode will be on the South Carolina Senate race. I didn’t think it would end up this close. This is my fourth presidential election, and normally I’d be in Ohio or North Carolina or Texas right now. But the Biden-Trump race has been so stable and even predictable.

    9:30 a.m. One of my best Democratic sources texts to inform me that he has moved from optimism to terror because of a single Florida poll. It’s that time of year.

    11:30 a.m. My brain is kind of mush around lunchtime, so I try to run errands and work out in the middle of the day.

    1 p.m. Going to the doctor for a checkup. I fractured my right hand tripping off my bike a couple weeks ago, so I have a cast on my typing hand for the full month before the election. I hit my keyboard with one finger like an old man with an iPad.

    Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

    1:55 p.m. The nurse heard I work in politics. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said.

    2:30 p.m. Did an interview about my career with a Georgetown student for his journalism class. Turns out we both worked for one of the undergraduate papers, The Georgetown Voice. I did not tell him that I’m old enough to remember when The Voice had a darkroom.

    4 p.m. Vanity Fair story posts. Dems on Twitter are jumping on some district-level internal polling I got from a swing district in Kansas. It shows Biden is beating Trump in Kansas’ Third Congressional District by 15 points. Clinton won it by a single point. As the saying goes, “So goes Olathe …” Seriously, if Trump is losing 2018 swing districts that badly, especially in Kansas, it’s really hard to see him winning.

    6 p.m. My girlfriend is a Dodgers fan, so we’re having a couple people over to watch the World Series on my deck.

    8 a.m. We’re previewing the last debate for tomorrow’s show. Trump has totally steamrollered the Debate Commission. It’s such a mothballed enterprise. At the same time, it’s hard to see how Trump changes a race that has been static since March.

    9 a.m. When I write my scripts, my North Star is really the low-information news consumer. That’s not an insult. I try to give casual news consumers just a few facts to hang on to, and talk to them like a normal person would, not a blow-dried TV anchor. People talk a lot about the partisan divide in our culture. But to me, one of the biggest divisions is between people who obsess about political news and those who don’t.

    12:30 p.m. Taped a segment about the campaign for “Inside the Issues With Alex Cohen,” a public affairs show here in L.A. I’d rather do local news shows than cable. The topics are usually different. We talked about the youth vote, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going on Twitch as a get-out-the-vote mechanism. We also chatted about how Snapchat has built tools to help register more than one million new voters, which we’re pretty proud of.

    2:45 p.m. Just got off a call with a big-name journalist — I can’t say who — who is leaving a prominent newsroom to start something new and a bit more innovative. I’m psyched to see more of this. I think the stay-at-home element of the pandemic has had this psychological effect of making some entrepreneurial journalists realize they don’t need to be tethered to a newsroom if they can come up with a new plan.

    3:30 p.m. Had a planning call with my production team for election night — or nights. We’re filming “Good Luck America” from our studio in Santa Monica and have some new tricks planned. Ten million people watched our election night coverage in 2018. We want to blow it out this time, especially since we might be in the studio for a few days.

    9 a.m. Today is the final debate. Debate days are kind of like election days, in that you don’t have much to do until prime time. You spend all day on Twitter, make calls, text and just kind of wait around.

    4 p.m. Called my grandma, a lifelong Republican who lives in South Carolina, to ask her about Lindsey Graham and Jaime Harrison. She’s my best source. One time she bought a scanner so she could digitize and email me the direct-mail pieces she gets. I haven’t seen her since the pandemic. It’s the worst.

    6 p.m. Watching debates on the West Coast is like watching sports on the West Coast. It’s so nice to start early and be done early.

    7:45 p.m. Kristen Welker did great. The mute button did great. Biden still has a 10-point lead, like he has since June. Nothing changed it since, and nothing did tonight. That is my boring take.

    8 p.m. Taped and file-transferred my episode. Now it’s on Charles to make it sing. And it’s on me to open a bottle of wine with a broken hand.

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