BOB GARFIELD: There is something like media convergence in the air. Two prominent young bloggers have joined the ranks of the main-est of the mainstream press. Ezra Klein, a 25-year-old liberal policy wonk, moved his blog to The Washington Post’s website, and Ross Douthat, a 29-year-old conservative writer, has staked a claim on The Times’ Op-Ed page. When the news of both hires was announced, it mostly passed without comment, except for [LAUGHS] in our office. We wondered if maybe these two had actually gotten a raw deal. Isn't it possible that by moving from their old haunts on the Net to these creaky old papers, they actually stand to lose some of the influence that has gotten them this far? We are joined by Ross Douthat and Ezra Klein. Ezra?
EZRA KLEIN: Actually, I'm not sure the publication matters all that much. I think my audience is actually quite similar to what it was before I moved.
BOB GARFIELD: And Ross, how about you? You are now among the pantheon at the Op-Ed page in The New York Times. Have you found your place in the cultural conversation that you lost when you left The Atlantic?
ROSS DOUTHAT: There’s clearly a difference. When you’re blogging, you’re participating in a conversation. That’s what successful blogging is. You write something and it’s an argument, and people argue with you and you argue back to them, and so on. And writing a weekly column, gets harder to just sort of float notions and see if people shoot them down, and you write a column and then people criticize it and you can't really argue back with them. So it definitely does take you out of a certain part of the political Internet conversation. And the tradeoff is that you have a much larger audience. I'm honestly not sure. I don't know what the influence tradeoff is.
BOB GARFIELD: I don't know how many times you were posting per day but, you know, it was a substantial number. Now it’s one column per week. How has that changed your writing and thinking behavior?
ROSS DOUTHAT: The good side is there’s a lot more space and time for what you might call deeper reflection, which will hopefully produce good columns. So I'm reading more books, for instance, than I was when I was writing two or three blog posts a day. And it'll be interesting, once I am blogging and writing a column, what ideas go in a blog post, what ideas go in a column. Those are things I'll have to figure out down the road.
BOB GARFIELD: But there’s something about the blog form that permits you, I guess, to be a little bit more speculative, maybe not to have ideas entirely nailed down. Ezra, if you accept that premise, is there a heightened sense of responsibility being attached to The Washington Post?
EZRA KLEIN: I do think you approach ideas differently, but I don't read Op-Ed pages and think, my God, that is one set of entirely nailed-down ideas day after day after day after day. I mean, some Op-Eds are brilliant and some are quite wrong, I mean, with genuine factual errors. So I think that there has been, in a way that may or may not always have been healthy, a cross-subsidization of the incredibly rigorous work that my reporter colleagues do on A-1 and the work that happens on the Op-Ed and editorial pages. The credibility of one is cross-subsidized to the other, but they end up in a very different product, much similar to what Ross does in his new job or what I do in my new oral job than to what some of the people who work near me, you know, publish on the front page each morning.
ROSS DOUTHAT: Although you’re doing a lot of reporting, Ezra.
EZRA KLEIN: Right.
ROSS DOUTHAT: In addition to being a liberal policy wonk, you've become gradually a kind of deeply-sourced reporter on Washington policy, as well. Part of why your blog seemed like a natural fit for The Post probably is it sort of straddles the line between the kind of free floating opinion mongering that I'm doing right now and the product that Post’s reporters put out every day.
BOB GARFIELD: On the subject of opinion mongering, columnists, Ross, usually get their jobs for about three different reasons. They're thoughtful.
ROSS DOUTHAT: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: They are clever writers. And they've been on their beat or beats for years. Now, you’re 29. Do you have anything that’s kind of keeping you awake at night trembling that, you know, oh, my God, I'm a fraud?
ROSS DOUTHAT: Yeah, I'd be a fool if I didn't. One way to look at it, though, is that there are strengths and weaknesses involved in what you might call the 30-year perspective, and I don't have the kind of deep sourcing and deep wells of experience that a lot of people bring to a column if they get a column at age 40 or 45 and 50. I'm not David Broder. I'm not the guy who’s deeply rooted in the institutional culture of Washington. But there are also strengths that come with not being steeped in that culture. I think you’re more likely to sort of be willing to stand outside it and question certain aspects of it in a way that people who are deeply sourced and who understand how the game is played and have been playing it for years and decades aren't. And I think that that’s been one of the great strengths, more generally, of the blogosphere, that it’s willing to sort of take the kind of sometimes clubby Washington consensus and say, well, this is ridiculous. This is just 50 or 100 people in Washington, deciding what’s reasonable opinion and what’s respectable opinion and what isn't. And actually, there’s a broader range of opinion that deserves to be heard.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, no doubt you have both noticed in trying to suss out how you’re approaching your jobs I've used as point of comparison existing column-writing institutions. Is that even a fair way to approach this interview?
EZRA KLEIN: I think that something is lost when this interview takes place or an interview like this takes place too much in terms of older models, other columnists, other ways of doing things. I think that what you do see in The New York Times picking Ross or in the way my work has been received over at The Post is an engagement with models that have come up over the past couple, five or six or seven years, on their own terms. And they're not anymore about whether or not you are or are not David Broder or whether you are or not Bill Kristol. I mean, Ross has done, you know, pretty exceptional work on his own terms, sort of carved it out. It’s why he was picked up in his twenties to be a Times columnist. And, you know, for better or for worse, my blog does something, I think, primarily, that just had to do with the abundance of space available online, where I just would link to a lot of graphs and go pretty deep in ways that somebody who has to compete for space on a page, you know, genuinely can't. So I think there’s something to be said for taking these models on their own terms, rather than sort of fitting them into trend arguments that had to do with the rise of the blogosphere.
ROSS DOUTHAT: I basically agree with Ezra. Part of the story is just that the forms are changing. And I'm not sure exactly what they're changing into, but certainly the Op-Ed columnists and opinion writers of the future are going to be operating in some kind of mix of print and online and some kind of mix of the traditional column form and the blog. I think that both Ezra and I are sort of feeling our way towards whatever that model will be, but whatever it is, it will, for better or for worse, look very different than the columnist’s model of 10, 20 years ago.
BOB GARFIELD: Former Atlantic blogger Ross Douthat is now a columnist for The New York Times. Blogger Ezra Klein has migrated from The American Prospect to the Washington Post.