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Matt Vespa is the Associate Editor at Townhall.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
It actually started out as something to do while I was looking for a new job. I was let go from my first job in politics as executive director of the Dauphin County Republican Committee in Pennsylvania. It was a great experience. Met and worked with a great team of people, especially the county row officers, but I simply was too inexperienced for the position. I tried my best, but I was let go in November of 2011. So, as I was looking for a new job, I knew I wanted to stay in politics. As I was sending resumes and cover letters, my dad suggested that I write some blogs to keep myself busy. It kept me abreast of the news of the day and helped maintain a scheduled while unemployed. After a few weeks, I knew this is what I wanted to do. After blogging for a few sites, I finally landed an internship at the Media Research Center, which turned into a full-time position in their news wing, CNSNews.com. In 2014, a position at one of my favorite websites, Townhall.com, opened up. I applied and got the job. I’m currently the site’s associate editor.
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WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
When I get into the office, I grab a coffee and get to work. Then, I read the various newsletters that are in my inbox daily from The Washington Post, CNN, New York Times, The Transom, and the various press releases from the House Speaker and other members on The Hill. Twitter is perused religiously and then I get to write my posts for the day. I try to get in at least five a day, but there are days where six, maybe even eight, need to be doled out especially if there’s breaking news. That’s put at the top of the list, along with the rest of my workload. Also, some posts are longer than others. When I went to Guam to hear local leaders discuss the island’s strategic importance, the piece that came out of it turned out to be around 6,000 words. At times, there are lunch or coffee meetings with individuals from public relations firms and other politically active organizations.
It’s hard to say what is typical because this is not a nine-to-five job. Also, I have no set beat at Townhall, so I can write whatever I want. Some days it’s all about the Second Amendment, while others it could be a mix of polling data, election analysis, and cultural issues. This year was great on the latter since the NFL kneeling controversy really seemed to catch on with our readers. We became soft sports writers for a period last fall.
I seldom get to bed before midnight. Typically, I try to stop working by two or three in the morning, but there have been times where I’ve worked until dawn, in which I try to catch a few hours sleep before heading back into the office. Luckily, Townhall has a flexible schedule.
WHAT DOES YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE? (YOUR APPS, PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS, ETC.)
It’s pretty simple, I have a MacBook, my coffee mug (without coffee I would die), pens, my office phone, and stacks of reports and press releases from various think tanks and congressional offices. Oh, and we’re surrounded by televisions in our office, so the news is all around us; we just need to fish for what’s trending and what interests us every day. For email, Google is our friend.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET INSPIRED?
As a die-hard NY Giants fan (yeah, I know they were awful last season), I just watch the last 90 seconds of Super Bowl 42, where Giants QB Eli Manning lobbed it to former wide receiver Plaxico Burress to clinch the win over the Patriots, who were undefeated at the time. It’s not only the best Super Bowl ever played; it’s one of the greatest upsets in the history of professional sports. Manning evading a sack and throwing it down the field to David Tyree for the famous (or infamous if you’re a Pats fan) helmet catch is another clutch play that gets me motivated when I need a break from writing. Also, former Giants defensive tackle Jay Alford sacking Patriots QB Tom Brady in the last minute of that game was another key play. So, yeah — I do that to get inspired to keep pushing forward with my work. To take my mind off politics for a bit since I do it for more than 80 hours a week. Hopefully, Big Blue can get back to those winning days. Other than that, I’m a news and politics junkie, not much inspiration needed when you have that fire in your belly 24/7.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
That’s not a fair question haha. If I had to pick one right now, I would suggest Foreign Policy’s The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth, which delves into how Sweden struggled to handle its refugee crisis.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING/INNOVATIVE THING YOU HAVE SEEN ON ANOTHER OUTLET OTHER THAN YOUR OWN?
These AMP stories feature that websites are adopting is pretty interesting.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM THAT YOU’RE PASSIONATELY TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
Well, if I haven’t mentioned this, I better do it now — I’m a very proud member of the Republican Party, though I do have some libertarian leanings, especially on criminal justice reform and the war on drugs. The latter of which has been a monumental failure. Yet, those aren’t my pet issues.
I would say right now it’s calling out the media for their bad behavior. The bias against the Trump presidency is some of the worst in recent memory, particularly when it comes to airtime for the good news that’s happened since his inauguration. Over three million workers getting bonuses, over 250 companies reinvesting in America, 1.8 million new jobs created, consumer confidence at a 17-year high, and unemployment at a near two-decade low, but the media says a $1,000 bonus is crumbs to these working-class families. Also, as the Winter Olympics are now in full gear, we seem to be seeing a rather torrent love affair with North Korea from the news media. C’mon guys — this is one of the most brutal regimes on the planet. Just because the North Koreans don’t like Trump doesn’t mean they’re our friends or should be afforded a whitewash for their horrific crimes against their own people.
I’m also a huge supporter of the Second Amendment, so if there’s an issue that’s pressing on that front, you bet I’ll have something on it.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT?
Be thirsty. You get to cover and write about the news. If you have that fire in your gut, you’ll be fine. Just hunker down, do the best that you can, and have fun. Also, you’re going to make mistakes. Whether it’s a typo, the wrong date, or a misspelled name — mistakes are going to happen. It’s what you do that matters. You should provide the correction with an editor’s note as quickly as possible, and then move on.
ABC News’ Brian Ross is the classic example of what not to do. Last December, he said that Michael Flynn was ordered by Trump to make contact with the Russians during the 2016 election. Well, the real story is that this directive was given after Trump had won the election, making this a typical diplomatic groundwork process story. It took the network several hours to correct.
Don’t worry about the commenters or trolls. Don’t read them. Don’t feed them. People are not going to like what you write. It’s a fact of life. They’re not paying you, so you don’t have to care.
Reach out to as many congressional offices and PR firms that have clients in political activism and ask to be added to their email lists. They’ll keep you updated on their latest activities. Read, read, and read some more. After that, continue reading. Repeat steps when it comes to writing. In some cases, you’ll have to work very long hours. But if you’re still oozing with enthusiasm when you look up and you see the clock strike 3 AM — you know you’ve picked the right job a career. Definitely, network like crazy and have business cards with you at every event you attend. Some of these people will become invaluable mentors as you chart your course. You’ll never know where this journey will take you. I use to read Guy Benson and Katie Pavlich at Townhall for my blogs. Now, I get to work with them at Townhall.
Work hard and be persistent. It’ll pay off — believe me.