BROOKE GLADSTONE: Of all the niche publications out there, there's never been one designed explicitly and exclusively for the executive branch of the federal government. Until now. The brand, spanking-new Federal Paper promises to quote "break new ground by providing behind the scenes insider news about the people, politics and business of the executive branch." It's about time I guess. After all the military has Stars and Stripes and Defense News, and Congress has Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call. Last week the first issue of the Federal Paper rolled off the presses, and Tim Noah who writes Slate.com's Chatterbox column picked up a copy. He joins me now. Welcome back!
TIM NOAH: Glad to be here!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Tim, should we be cheering for the executive branch?
TIM NOAH: Well, I think that it's always great when there's a new newspaper or magazine that comes along that's going to cover the federal government in detail as the Federal Paper clearly is, but I do think that there is this strange, vaguely troubling trend in publishing over the last 30 years which has been that really the profit center in print journalism about government has tended to be newspapers and magazines that really cover the government like the trade press -- it's kind of an insider phenomenon where you have newspapers and magazines that become a venue for one member of the government to talk to another member of the government.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And the reason why it's a profit center I suppose is because there's a great target demographic. I also have a copy of the first issue of the Federal Paper here, and flipping through the ads, there's one called Craft with Pride. The headline reads: Can American Soldiers Depend on Foreign Factories? And of course the answer is: No. There's another full page ad from the National Education Association. In pride of place the back cover is The Nuclear Energy Institute. These aren't places that usually would advertise in, say, the New Yorker.
TIM NOAH: Right. I don't buy products from these various advertisers too frequently as a private citizen. This has been what's driven this growth in the last 30 years -- the National Journal was very early to spot this, and Roll Call -- it really pushed forward this idea of using newspapers as an aggressive venue for getting issue-oriented advertising in front of opinion leaders, and it's been very successful financially, and it's also produced quite a lot of very good journalism -National Journal is a good magazine. Roll Call is a good magazine. This first issue of the Federal Paper looks to be very sort of useful and sprightly. It's always hard to tell from a first issue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I don't know! I mean when you talk about the National Journal, you're talking about really good analysis, and when you're talking about Roll Call, you're talking about cool, hot, up to the minute gossip. When you look at the Federal Paper you've got, you know, who's getting a new job and how much is this new building going to cost. I mean this is pretty boring stuff.
TIM NOAH: I've certainly found things in this first issue that were of interest to me. I think my favorite detail in, in that first issue is that [LAUGHS] the new office on Homeland Security may actually end up being headquartered at St. Elizabeth's which is-- [LAUGHTER] a nuthouse here in Washington, DC.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: See that was former home of the great poet--Ezra Pound. [LAUGHS]
TIM NOAH:Ezra Pound. And current home of, of John Hinckley [sp?]. But their patient population has dwindled down to a few hundred, and so apparently they're sitting on a lot of land that may be of use to the federal government.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tim who do you think will read this paper? Is it the 30,000 people who work directly for the federal government?
TIM NOAH:They are targeting high level government executives with free subscriptions. You know people in government are voraciously hungry for information and so are reporters like me and so are lobbyists in Washington, so publications like this will always fill a niche. The, the, the cause for regret though is that there doesn't seem to be a corresponding hunger for this kind of information among ordinary citizens who, after all, are supposed to be the people in the driver's seat in a democracy. There's a certain level of boredom with what happens in Washington; really translates into apathy about government, and I think that's a bad thing and-- I think it would be terrific if we saw more of an effort by the press to try and translate what happens in Washington and in politics to the broader population. One thing that they've got in the Federal Paper that I think is kind of a, a neat innovation is they have a page that takes you agency by agency and tells you what happened the previous week at that agency. It's a fairly elementary thing to do, but I'm not really aware of any other publication that does it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tim are you going to subscribe?
TIM NOAH: Am I going to subscribe? No, because they put me on the comp list. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Tim Noah, thank you very much.
TIM NOAH: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Tim Noah writes the Chatterbox column for Slate.com, and if you're interested in the Fed Paper, you can check out its web site which is www.FedPaper.com.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, China fools with Google; selling innards on the net; and a novel way to write novels.