Thursday, November 5, 2015

A word of friendly advice for Hillary's media surrogates

I'll put this as gently as I can: the only thing that is less likely than a Sanders win is you getting a significant job working for Hillary Clinton.

It's no secret what's going on here. A lot of you have ambitions! This isn't speculation - you've talked about this to your colleagues over coffee or beers, and word gets around. Neither is it uncommon, or even necessarily shameful. Journalists who cover politics are naturally interested in politics, often because they want to do good in the world. Maybe one day you will! Let's hope so, at least.

The past seven years have been pretty good for people on the career track you aspire to. For one thing, digital media has expanded rapidly, and with it whole new fields of opportunity, even within the White House. Additionally, Obama came into office with a professional network that was somewhat sparse compared to his predecessors. 

What this has meant, in practice, is that there has been some minimal room for aspiring public servants to build reputations in journalism as loyal and powerful political allies -- and then cash in. Rarely, this has actually meant a direct role in White House communications, which in turn has meant all the things you'd love to do: meet with important people, develop high-level messaging strategy, and see your name in prestigious publications and on prestigious invitations. Slightly more often, this has meant serving as a private-sector signal-booster in the occasional messaging campaign, which occasionally comes with its own set of perks.

What I want to make clear here is that those days are coming to an end.

First and foremost because all of the positions are already taken. The people who produce content for Hillary Clinton will largely be the people who produced content for Barack Obama. There will be no new Ezra Klein to conduct long-form, widely publicized Vox interviews with the president, because a perfectly good one already exists: his name is Ezra Klein. We recently learned that Jon Stewart has been quietly working as a consultant for Obama over the past several years, but you are not going to take over this role under Hillary because Jon Stewart is already doing it again.

Second, because when the new positions eventually open up, there is going to be a long line of people who are better connected and more qualified than you waiting to fill them. When Jon Favreau leaves the White House as Director of Speechwriting, Lissa Muscatine or whoever is obviously going to have dibs. Do you seriously think, given the decades of powerful loyalists she's accrued, Hillary Clinton is going to make you the next Samantha Power?

This is how it's going to play out. Over the next year or two, a lot of you are going to get one-off "analyst" or "consultant" contracts with no serious obligations, except for the implicit quid-pro-quo that you'll play ball with Clinton's messaging in your writing. If you're persistent enough they'll hint at some long-term full time opportunities with the campaign, but nothing will actually materialize. As a matter of standard practice, the contracts will of course disappear - for many of you as soon as the nomination is secure, since they'll feel confident about your loyalty at that point. For the rest of you, of course, you'll never see any contracts or opportunities at all, since you're already giving Clinton what she wants from you - favorable coverage - for free.

By the time Clinton is elected, the opportunities will have dried up completely, and you will be exactly where you are today - except, of course, a few years older. It's going to be a truly depressing spectacle over the course of this campaign to see so many journalists sell so much of their integrity and their future for so little. My only advice is to anyone who sees Hillary's campaign as a path to upward mobility: get out while you can.