Nico Pitney Knows Politics

Nico Pitney’s more than a pretty face.

The Tokyo-born, California-bred 26 year old currently works as Huffington Post’s National Editor, but traces his occupational origins to more activist endeavors at the Center for American Progress.

Editor Andrew recently sat down with Pitney to discuss the intersection of journalism and activism, the state of the conservative movement and how there’s no such thing as objective reporting.

Read all about it, after the jump…

First, Nico, I’m curious to know why you decided to go into journalism. It’s a particularly torturous profession.

I was doing essentially opposition research for years and found the process of digging into these issues really fascinating. There’s so much going on that doesn’t get picked up and the web allows for so much of that to come out. So, with Huffington Post, I have the ability to do some more advocacy oriented stuff if I want to and also I dig up new information through the journalism we do there, so that’s why I went there.

So you were politically conscious and active prior to your transition into journalism…

Yeah, I had worked on campaigns coming out of college and then I joined the Center for American Progress, which is nonpartisan, but progressive and we started a blog there, Think Progress, and basically did opposition research on conservatives and conservative ideas, policies and figures. That’s where I got the urge for it.

It’s not surprising, but it can be worrisome to think about the ties between journalism and activism. I spoke with someone recently who started in journalism and went into politics. You’re telling me that you involved in political advocacy and went into journalism, afieldwhich I think is great and motivates a lot of us to tell the underdog story and dig deep to inform the public. That said, in the effort to satisfy the news consumer, certainly journalists can get ahead of themselves. That activist spirit can come out unintentionally.

I think you really have to judge the reporters and the outlets on their work and they’ll develop a track record. The readers have to know – any place you get information, everyone knows you can’t accept it at face value, you have to try to do your best to determine whether the outlet has a history of accurate and responsible reporting and whether the facts presented have basis and the evidence is presented in the piece.

It’s kind of a philosophical question: “Is there such a thing as objective journalism?” Obviously there are always facts that left out of stories, so that the information that is chosen is being screened by the journalists and editors. If everyone can agree that there’s no such thing as completely objective journalism, then the difference is one of degree – not of advocacy, but if the outlet has a perspective on certain issues, for example, that global warming is a fact, then that should be on the front of their banner and that should be taken into account by readers.

We’ve seen a number of stories this political season in which journalists or networks or papers have come under fire either for comments, like David Shuster’s Chelsea comment or the New York Times with the John McCain lobbyist story. It seems to me that these incidents and others come from two things. One, of course, is the 24-hour news cycle and the other is – I don’t want to say resurgence, but more reliance on sensationalism. Journalists have taken to “popping” news stories in this competitive news arena.

You’re right in a sense. It’s unfortunate that some of the most important issues of the day aren’t sexy enough to get thirty seconds on a 24-hour news network. But, frankly, they can still do well online where the field is a bit more open, specifically with international news. Everyday unbelievably important things happen all over the world and virtually none of it is covered anywhere, even in the most progressive blogs that deal with issues that the news networks wouldn’t cover.

I think “popping” is an unfortunate development, but it’s been around for quite a while. But I do have some sympathy for efforts to make news more appealing. If you have to give a little sugar with the medicine to get people interested in it, it’s just a matter of when it becomes counterproductive. I don’t mind making the news pop more or have a little bit of a sensational headline if the content is good.