Betsy Rothstein – Editor, The Mirror
Betsy Rothstein is the former editor of FishbowlDC who – in her own words – covers journalists “in a way that inevitably upsets someone.” The widely read and oft feared provoker of D.C.’s mediascape recently moved to The Daily Caller, where she’s started a new blog called The Mirror. Much to our delight, she agreed to chat with CisionNavigator about the project, which still features the unrepentant voice that’s defined her career.
CisionNavigator: Congratulations on your new role! What are your new responsibilities at The Mirror?
Betsy Rothstein: I write The Mirror blog for The Daily Caller. It’s media, gossip and politics all rolled into one. My “responsibilities” are not defined in any concrete way. The subtitle is “Reflections of a self-obsessed city.” In Washington, as you might imagine, self-obsessed is not hard to find. The idea is that I will hold a mirror up to the political and media worlds of Washington and reflect back to readers what I see and what people tell me.
CN: What pulled you away from FishbowlDC?
BR: I had wanted to work for Tucker Carlson for a good while. I nearly went to work for him two years ago. The time was finally right and we made it work. I couldn’t be more pleased to write for The Daily Caller. It feels like the right place for me. The people there are fun, talented and creative and just exactly what I want in a newsroom. I can already tell this newsroom is a unique place and one I’ll value in the days and months to come. I’ll say this – it’s not boring.
CN: How is this blog different from what you’ve done in the past?
BR: The blog is actually a mix of every beat I’ve had for the past eight years. For about five years before I worked at FishbowlDC, I was the features editor and gossip columnist for The Hill newspaper. I started a column there called “In the Know,” which still exists. I also invented a popular summer feature called “The 50 Most Beautiful People of Capitol Hill.” It’s a major pain in the butt to put together, but it was worth the work and people anxiously awaited its arrival.
CN: What are your goals for The Mirror?
BR: I neither have short term or long term goals. I don’t really like the word “goals.” It’s so planned and anal-sounding. There are many new features I want to establish within The Mirror. But you never know what’s going to work and what isn’t. So you try things out. If they work they work, great. If they don’t, you scrap them and don’t worry about it. It’s a little bit of a Zen exercise in feeling your way, not planning your way, through something. That all said, I definitely want to amuse, entertain and inform. If I can do all that and people enjoy the experience, I think I’m set.
CN: Do you foresee any challenges?
BR: The very bizarre thing about being a gossip reporter of sorts is that people tell you their secrets. In some cases, they tell you their secrets as a way of inoculating themselves against me writing about them. And surprisingly, this sometimes works. I can’t really explain this phenomenon; I can just tell you that it exists. You’d think it’d be the opposite, that people wouldn’t spill their dark stuff, but weirdly, they do. The challenge I see is taking breaks and not getting stressed about the beat. There are good and great stories all over the place. I’ve been doing this long enough that if you make a good faith effort building sources and establishing trust, good stories will come your way.
CN: Now a bit about you… How/why did you get into journalism? Who are your mentors, your inspirations?
BR: Why did I get into journalism? Hmmm….who knows? Let’s see….when I was a senior in college I started writing this lifestyle column and covered personalities around campus. People both loved and hated it – much as they do with my work today. But one thing was for sure – they read it. Which was fun. I covered fraternity parties and weird things like a stolen pair of green jeans (I later learned it was a sorority sister with kleptomania issues) or a fall on the ice that resulted in a chipped front tooth and me looking like I’d been in a barroom brawl. I delighted in the writing. And I can’t lie – it was a thrill to have people looking forward to my column each week. Or at least they said they did. Maybe they were just being nice. My mentor is Al Eisele, editor-at-large for The Hill. He’s responsible for me landing my first reporting job in Washington. He’s a great role model in every sense, and he’s a real, old-fashioned newsman.
CN: What do you find particularly exciting or difficult about covering D.C., the media and politics? Any specific trends rousing your attention?
BR: Journalism today is all about that loathsome word “branding.” I don’t find this particularly heartening as I grew up in a journalism that was about contributing to a greater cause, not to just your own. I do largely have that “being a part of something bigger” feeling where I am, and I’m grateful for it. But the “branding” culture is what it is. So you see a lot of self-promotion and self-obsession. And horribly, D.C. is a highly motivated, ambitious place. Ambition can sometimes be grotesque. People like to get ahead, social climb, professionally climb, the whole nine yards. Many people like to feel important and above all, they like to get ahead. This all makes for a pretty fascinating bunch of people to cover.
CN: Are there any misconceptions about covering other journalists and the media?
BR: Indeed. The misconception is that journalists will understand you have a job to do because they do it themselves everyday on their respective beats. But some journalists in Washington don’t want to be covered and don’t believe they ought to be the subjects of stories. Or, if they are covered, they want it to be in nothing less than glowing terms. I would say this is the attitude on the whole. And it certainly makes things challenging. There are major exceptions to all of the above and there are many decent, smart and wonderful journalists in Washington.
CN: What’s your view on the credibility of modern journalism in the free-for-all digital age? What media sources remain your favorite or most trusted?
BR: The Wild West digital age is definitely something that deserves major skepticism. I’ve seen many stories over the past year that are just flat out not true, distorted or otherwise not based in reality. But there’s this strange idea that anyone can be a reporter if they have a website and a URL. It’s simply not true. My favorite media sources are sometimes specific people I trust in the media. Or,publications – The New York Times remains my favorite to read. I also enjoy The Atlantic, Politico and magazines such as New York, The New Yorker, Esquire and Elle. On TV – and I’ll probably get tomatoes thrown at me for this – I enjoy watching everyone from CNN’s Piers Morgan to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Fox News’ “The Five,” 60 Minutes, The Daily Show, The View, David Letterman and E!’s Chelsea Lately. I also enjoy “Hoda and Kathie Lee” but am not sure if they’re still on air.
CN: What’s your personal philosophy about social media in journalism?
BR: I see social media as a necessary evil. If I didn’t need it for work, I’d have nothing to do with it. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s always “on” and in that sense it’s both helpful and utterly irritating.
CN: Are you receptive to PR pitches? If so, how do you prefer to receive them? Any pet peeves?
BR: I like pitches that are short, sweet and to the point. I also like pitches that are exclusive to me. If someone is casting a wide net with something, I’d prefer they let me know that up front so I can either a) do it quickly or b) decide if I can do it differently so I’m not just part of the pack. Pet peeves: I don’t like PR “professionals” who call me and take me through a long, boring pitch that they could’ve written to me instead. I think calling incessantly is unacceptable. I tend not to give out my cell unless I trust and like the person enough. I once had a team of PR “professionals” hijack my days by calling me every hour on the hour, often to dictate to me how to write a story, yell at me or threaten me in a myriad of ways. I won’t work with anyone like this ever again.
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