Say hello to Politico‘s newly relaunched blogger Ben Smith. Raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan by a lawyer (now judge) for a father and a writer/learning specialist mother, Smith says he’s not sure what specifically drew him to journalism other than a stint at the Jewish Forward. While there he covered a drama-filled state senate race and uncovered news of a candidate taking contributions from a Saudi prince through a shell corporation. That candidate is now New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “I’m basically kind of shy,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I think it’s true of a lot of reporters that it’s an excuse to go out and ask questions you’re interested in.” This week his blog got a makeover as he officially added media to his beat. He says he has always viewed media as part of the political beat. “It seemed like a logical effort,” he said. “I picked it up at the New York Observer that they were part of the same fabric.” Asked if he’s recognized on the street at this point,” he says “never.” Asked what he thinks it means to be successful and he sounds tough on himself. “I tend to be pretty neurotic and basically think I’m as successful as my last story,” he said. “Professional hazard.” Does Smith speak any foreign languages? “I speak a bunch of foreign languages really badly,” he said. “I studied French and I speak some Czech, Russian, Latvian and Spanish. I can read a newspaper in most of those but not conduct an interview at this point.” Does he prefer climbing a mountain or taking a long walk on a beach? “I’m more a mountain person,” he said, remaining calm as I see how many goofy questions it will take to get him riled. By the way, Ben, we’re shipping a few crates of tangerines to your house for your 2-year-old. Enjoy!
If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? I guess Coca Cola, but I don’t really drink carbonated beverages.
How often do you Google yourself? Once every few months; I have to admit it’s kind of satisfying to have clawed my way to the top of the “Ben Smith” Google rankings, which wasn’t easy. I’m competing with a musician and a handful of athletes with that name, but benefit from the fact that football, hockey, and soccer careers seem to be shorter than journalists’.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? The best worst thing an editor every said to me was in my first political reporting job, as City Hall guy for the New York Sun. In the third of fourth story after an expose, I’d gone easy on the target. The editor in chief, Seth Lipsky, said with total disgust, “You’ve got an instinct for the capillaries.”
Who is your favorite working journalist and why? I’m not sure I’m allowed, or required, to go with colleagues, but Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin are two of the best political reporters I’ve ever encountered. They both have savant-ish, gut understanding of how politics works, and the kind of honesty that compels sources and readers.
Do you have a favorite word? No.
Who would you rather have dinner with – Politico’s Jim VandeHei, Politico’s John Harris or Robert Allbritton? Tell us why. And no, they may not all attend. I’ll go with Harris. He’s the one that brung me.
Does Ben Smith have a middle name? What is it? Eli
You are ordered to go on a road trip to an undisclosed location. You can go with White House Spokesman Jay Carney or Bo, the President’s Portuguese Water Dog. No ones feelings will be hurt. Who do you take? I don’t know Carney well, but we’ve always gotten along. We both have red-headed sons named Hugo.
What’s the name of your cell phone ring? I usually have it on vibrate.
How do you balance your job with being a family man? I operate under the belief, or fantasy, that my core readers arrive at work at nine and clock out at five, and I try to get most of my reporting into their reading time. I also have some office space about 10 minutes walk from my house, where I work when I can.
It’s 3 a.m. and you get up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Do you check your BlackBerry or iPhone? No.
What word do you routinely misspell? Judgment. Really.
Find out what scares Ben Smith after the jump…And no, it’s not Jim VandeHei.