Erik Wemple’s first lesson in politics was delivered on the most intimate and retail of levels, canvassing Grand Boulevard and McClellan Street in Schenectady with his campaigning father, eight-term Republican Assemblyman Clark Wemple.
“Door to door. We did this one thing where we went with pot holders … the whole family [handing out] pot holders,” the Niskayuna native said.
“I remember my father expressing a great degree of pride at the turnout — and in needling people and going after power. He was very aggressive at going after the governor and how they spent money.”
From his vantage point now as media critic for The Washington Post, Erik Wemple has more targets to needle than he could possible shoot at in a dozen careers. “Erik Wemple” is the influential media blog on WashingtonPost.com, dishing reported commentary on national news outlets spanning television, print and the web, with a special concentration on their intersections with politics.
The 1982 graduate of Albany Academy who also attended Niskayuna schools has been a fixture in Washington for more than two decades. Before joining The Washington Post in 2011, he was best known as editor of the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly, in addition to serving as editor of other internet outlets such as TBD.com. Wemple lives in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with his wife, Stephanie Mencimer, a writer for Mother Jones magazine. The couple has two children, Sam, 10 and Lucy, 8.
The following is an excerpt from a recent interview with The Sunday Gazette. Some answers have been edited for clarity and/or space.
Q: How has political coverage changed since you first began covering Washington?
A: Back in 2000 you would need a serious story before you could publish anything. Now all you need is a fragment or a figment or a little shard — and often it outperforms something that needs a lot more effort. I think there is more than ever commodity stuff, and that is what everyone seems to be chasing. But it has created a greater need for enterprise stuff. Oh, and everybody is a slave to their devices. It has destroyed any personal lives we had.
Q: With broadcast and cable news, print and web-based outlets and social media, do you almost have to put yourself on a budget to make sure you don’t concentrate too much on one given area — even if that one area is generating a ton of news?
A: I could easily get stuck on a treadmill in a monotopical cul-de-sac. I do a lot on Fox News. They cannot be ignored. The media world is way too vast. It’s better when I can discipline myself. But nobody really cares (when I write) about print newspapers and print media. … Crickets.
Q: Do you read (blog) comments?
A: Yes, but less than I used to. I read comments when I’m really interested, or when I put a lot of work into a piece.
Q: You have been a writer and a top editor. Which is more appealing personally and professionally?
A: The time we had at City Paper was just glorious. At the same time, it was a little less flexible. I can work much more flexibly now. But working with a bunch of really young motivated kids, young professionals, was a once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But that is done.
Q: (Clark Wemple) had a reputation of working across the aisle, and sometimes angering his own Republican party because his positions were not governed by dogma. How would he have viewed the current political climate in Washington? (The elder Wemple served in the Assembly from 1966-82; he died in 1993.)
A: He was one of these guys who would not recognize his Republican party. He was around until 1993. I think he was already starting to chafe a little bit, just the way some of the things had moved. He was a centrist — an Ike [President Dwight D. Eisenhower] Republican. He would not recognize a lot of Republicans in New York and certainly a lot of Republicans in Washington.
Q: Do you see a dominant media-themed story emerging from the 2014 mid-term election cycle?
A: If there is a media arch, it’s all these forecasters. Nate Silver [formerly of The New York Times, now of FiveThirtyEight.com] did fabulous in 2008 and 2012, but now there are discrepancies with the forecasters. If they get it right, it will make it one step closer to eliminating punditry as a viable profession, Why will you need them?
Q: Your father encouraged you to pursue writing. Would you do the same for your kids?
A: Let’s put it this way, I haven’t yet. … My wife is also a journalist. Neither one of us are counseling them to be a journalist. If they do that, it is all on them.