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FishbowlDC Interview With Knight Kiplinger

Say hello to Knight Kiplinger, Editor in Chief, Kiplinger publishing (Kiplinger Letters, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, Kiplinger.com). We spoke by phone this morning just after he did his ritualistic yoga exercises. He spends 20 minutes each morning doing stretches and poses to put himself in a good frame of mind. “I don’t watch much TV,” he noted quickly into the call, saying the Fishbowl interview wasn’t necessarily ideal for someone who doesn’t watch a lot of TV. (We’ll keep that in mind.) “I’m not older than dirt, but I came up through newspaper journalism and print journalism so that’s kind of my bias in my news diet.” Asked about the current state of journalism, Kiplinger’s thoughts are enlightening. POLITICO reporters, you may want to stop reading now. “I think we’ve seen the decline of careful consideration, the emphasis is on quick response, the immediate reaction,” Kiplinger said. “The best journalism is not always the fast journalism. The first analysis is often not carefully considered. Good journalism takes time. It takes reporting. We’ve seen a decline of in-depth reporting. A newspaper reporter had eight or ten hours to do hard reporting, deep reporting, talking to many, many sources before writing a story. The internet has forced everyone to work faster and that sometimes undercuts journalistic quality. So that is the problem.” Here’s the point where WaPo‘s Ezra Klein should stop reading. “These days a lot of young journalists, they all want to be columnists, giving the world their opinions,” he said. “Journalists try to build themselves into a brand, into a marketable entity that can move from periodical to periodical. Of course, that’s what columnists have always done.” Kiplinger sees danger signs. “With too much emphasis on celebrity, the content of journalism gets short shrift. A bigger threat to quality journalism is the unwillingness of young adults to pay for journalism. Older adults will still pay for content. They comprise the subscription-paying readership.” Kiplinger still gets two newspapers at home: WaPo and TWT. At the office he reads WSJ and NYT. “I look through them very rapidly,” he says of WaPo and TWT, saying he prefers to read them in print than online and can do so faster. He particularly enjoys WaPo‘s Metro section. He’s also a relentless reader of obituaries. “In my next life I am going to be an obit writer,” he says. Moving along, he has grave concerns about the industry: “Revenue on internet is not sustaining high quality journalism,” he said. But on a positive note, he added, “the internet has given everyone [a medium]…that is a powerful force, a positive force. This trend will continue.” On the future of journalism: “There will be fewer jobs in traditional journalism for young journalists who want to be the reporter, who want to tell the story of modern life. I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. We’re in the throws of a great democratization of media. Editing today is a luxury many media feel they can’t afford. You don’t have the level of trust that you once had. Traditional media were gatekeepers to information. They were the mandarins who selected what they thought the public needed to know.” Kiplinger is on Twitter, but he’s not enthralled by it. “Yeah I tweet,” he said. “If you went to my Twitter account you’d see I tweet infrequently. I try to restrain my tweets to kind of broader observations about things going on in the economy. I work very hard to condense and distill. I don’t have a Twitter support staff as a lot of semi-celebrity journalists do.” As an aside, he notes…“There are some people who think I am a celebrity. I just think I’m an ink-stained wretch. I’m not a hyperactive tweeter.” On family…He’s a longtime choral singer and met his wife in the Washington Chorus in 1979. Incidentally, his daughter also met her fiance in the Washington Chorus (a detail reported in WaPo earlier this week). Facebook? “I don’t do Facebook at all. I don’t think the world is that interested in my daily life, and even if they are, I don’t want to share it with them.” Finally, I asked…what one piece of wisdom should every journalist know? He replied, “There’s no substitute for hard reporting.”

If you were a carbonated beverage, which would you be?  

Schweppes Tonic Water (with real quinine), my teenage favorite, even before I started adding gin.

How often do you Google yourself?

Rarely (Just noticed they now have photos of the search subject, too!)

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor/boss (or vice versa)?  

To the owner of the first newspaper I worked for, at 22 years old: “Reporters ought to earn as much as the layout guys with their razor blades and paste pots.”  (He disagreed.)

You have an intriguing name. What is the story behind it?

It was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name (full name: Daphne Knight). No relation to the Knight publishing family, darn it.

Who is your favorite working journalist and why?

David Wessel, economics editor of The Wall Street Journal.  No one explains complex economic issues with more clarity and common sense than Wessel.

Do you have a favorite word?

I’m told I overuse “unconscionable,” so maybe that’s it.

Who would you rather have dinner with – CNN’s Candy Crowley, ABC’s Martha Raddatz or Fox News’ Megyn Kelly? Tell us why.

I’m sure each of them would be a fine dinner companion, but I’d rather dine with Renee Montagne of NPR, co-host of “Morning Edition.”  She’s a brainy journalist (Phi Beta from Berkeley), award-winning correspondent in South Africa and Afghanistan, adept anchor—and she sounds like a very nice person (based on interviews I hear regularly, and ones I’ve done with her while I was in the DC studio and she was at NPR West in California).

The Earth’s human population is dying out and you must save it. You will spend a romantic evening with either Scandal’s Kerry Washington, any of the women from FNC’s “The Five” or MSNBC’s S.E. Cupp. Who will it be? (None is not an option.)

I don’t know any of these women on sight (don’t watch much TV), so you pick one for my blind date, and I’m sure she and I will be able to save the Earth together. [Okay, we'll play your game. We pick Helen Thomas. That's what you get for not answering.]

What swear word do you use most often? “Damn!”…used sparingly.

You’ve just been told the big news: You get to have your own Sunday morning talk show. Who will be on your roundtable? (Pick four journalists or pundits types.)

Cokie Roberts, David Frum, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks. (Back-ups for when someone is traveling or out sick: Peggy Noonan and E. J. Dionne.)

On a serious note for a moment, if you could have dinner with a person who has died, who would it be?

My zany and wise mother, Gogo Kiplinger (1919-2007)

Who is your favorite Boybander and why? (Ezzy, Hazy, Weigel, Attackerman, Beutler)

Haven’t got the slightest idea who any of these guys is, or what they do. Are they like a young Justin Timberlake?

When you pig out, what do you eat?

Sushi, with lots of exotic items…octopus, sea urchin, etc. (If not available, Carolina barbecue is fine…smoked pulled pork, sauce on the side.)

What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. If it’s a certain kind of underwear we don’t want to know about it.

A classic wool glen plaid sports coat (bold dark-red-and-black pattern). Purchased by my late brother, Todd, around 1964 at the now-defunct Georgetown University Shop (36th and Prospect Street, down from the 1789 Restaurant). Expensive in its day, probably $100 or so; house brand, as most of their fine clothing was. Given to me when Todd got a little portly for it.

 Pick one: Mad Men, Scandal or Homeland.

Mad Men is only one of these that I’ve ever sampled…an enjoyable period piece.

Have you ever had a tarot card reading?  No.

Have you ever had a near-death experience? No.

Ever been arrested?  No.

Tell us a secret not many people know about you.

For more than 40 years (from age 18 to almost 60), I cut my own hair. When I no longer had much to cut, my wife took over and did a better job.

 What scares you?

The idea that a large portion of today’s young adults report getting much of their knowledge of current events from cable comedy shows.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment?

My assumption that I, the youngest and newest hire at the newspaper, was also the lowest paid.  To my great embarrassment, I quickly learned—after making a joke in the newsroom about my paltry salary–that I wasn’t.  It was my first experience with why talking about pay with peers is always a bad idea.

Have you ever been fired?  No.  

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes?

An evening of “Borscht Belt” stand-up comedy, performed by aging Jewish comics who once worked the old summer resorts in the Catskills; staged a few years ago at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart, Fla.  Those guys were pros!

When and why did you last lose your temper?

It’s very rare, and I don’t remember.

Breakfast cereal of choice:  Cheerios.

Who would you want to play you in a movie?

George Washington, the greatest president

From TMZ Founder Harvey Levin: You are about to be served your last meal. What will it be?

Roast leg of lamb with mint jelly and oven-browned new potatoes.

From Maynard Institute’s diversity news reporter Richard Prince: Best time you ever had with your clothes on?

Viewing the last Broadway revival of Frank Loesser’s musical Guys and Dolls.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. This one may live on indefinitely. Make it good.

“What should be the number one public policy priority of our nation over the next 10 years?”

Who should be the next FishbowlDC interview? Kathleen Parker would be very interesting.

 

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