Josh Kurtz: New Year’s Appeal

By Josh Kurtz

Every now and then, I’m asked how I could possibly write a column on Maryland politics when I don’t cover Maryland politics, when I’m not stationed in Annapolis (or Baltimore or Rockville or Towson or Upper Marlboro or some other strategic locale).

The answer, I like to say, is easy: I make stuff up.

That’s a joke, by the way.

The real answer is, it’s hard. I spend my days at a desk in Washington, D.C., in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, but far away from the places I need to be to gather intel on Maryland politics.

That’s where you, dear readers, come in: I need your help. In fact, with the 2014 election fast approaching, and political news soon to be moving at a very fast clip, I need your help more than ever.

Though some of you know me quite well, I beg your indulgence as I tell you a little bit about myself, or rather, my current situation – and how you can help.

I’ve now been writing this weekly Center Maryland column for three years – and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’ve written about Maryland politics, full time or part time, for 17 years, and this is a terrific outlet – and the site, you may have noticed, is evolving in exciting ways.

Some readers, I’ve discovered, are laboring under the impression that Center Maryland is my website, or that I run it, or that it’s a full-time gig for me. It isn’t; I’m just a hired hand. Elsewhere on this site you can read about the people who started Center Maryland and their goals for the site. I’m happy to figure prominently in their plans.

Even though my “real” job is listed at the bottom of every Center Maryland column I write, I find that there’s some misunderstanding about what I do there as well. One thing I’m not is a Capitol Hill reporter – in fact, I’ve never been a Hill reporter, not in the 10-plus years since I stepped away from reporting on Maryland full time.

For almost two and a half years, I’ve been an editor at Environment and Energy Publishing. E&E is a subscription-only website that publishes five daily online publications on – you guessed it – energy and environmental news.

It is, plain and simple, one of the best media outlets you’ve never heard of. We do high quality journalism – spot news, analysis, long features, investigative pieces – and cover a wide range of issues. We’re a must-read for members of Congress and their staffs, federal and state regulators, bureaucrats, policymakers, lawyers, lobbyists, scientists, energy industry professionals and entrepreneurs, and environmental activists. I’ve got fantastic colleagues and compassionate bosses who seem to have figured out how to make money in an otherwise shrinking, confusing media landscape.

I’m in charge of one publication, Environment & Energy Daily, which focuses on Capitol Hill and national politics, and I also do some editing for two other publications. With a couple of other editors, I lead a team of about 20 reporters – most in Washington, with a few sprinkled around the country.

It’s a challenging job, as you might imagine, and when Congress is in session my days are especially busy. There’s a lot to keep on top of. I can be communicating with reporters beginning at 8 in the morning. I’m often in my office as late as 8 at night. Then I frequently have stories to edit at home. Occasionally, if there’s an overnight development, I can be putting an issue of E&E Daily to bed at 6 in the morning. The edition pops into subscribers’ email in-boxes sometime before 8 every morning. The other publications I edit for come out later in the day.

You are starting to get the picture, no doubt: There isn’t a lot of time for thinking about Maryland politics, much less showing up at important events. And that can be very frustrating. I dearly wanted to go to Annapolis last week for the opening of the session, for example, and I couldn’t be there.

But I keep at it, because I’m passionate about Maryland politics. The national political scene is so depressing at the moment: partisan, knee-jerk, predictable. In Maryland, at the state and local level, there are still surprises: improbable coalitions, issues that hit home, an interesting cast of accessible characters, a finite number of players, and a media landscape that isn’t crowded, where it’s still possible for a journalist to make a difference every now and then.

So to go back to the original question: how do you write about Maryland politics when you don’t cover the scene full time?

It can be done. Richard Cross, the former Republican operative, writes extremely astute blog posts on Maryland, even though he has a full time job outside of politics. Blair Lee, who runs his family real estate business, and Barry Rascovar, who now does strategic communications, have been writing about the political world for ages, on top of their day jobs.

I start with a base of knowledge about the issues and players — many of whom have been on the scene since before I started reporting here. I try to talk to at least a couple of people in the know every day — an ambitious goal that I don’t always meet. I follow daily media accounts religiously. And I develop my own set of hunches and conclusions.

But the task is never easy. There are obvious gaps in my knowledge and in my set of contacts. I’m accused occasionally of being in the tank for this politician or that, or of parroting lines fed to me by one insider or another. This would make me angry if it wasn’t so laughable, but it’s probably an inevitable accusation under the circumstances.

But here is a piece of good news: When Congress is in session I don’t have to get to my office until 11 in the morning, or a little bit after. So I actually have time in the morning – to think about Maryland politics, to meet Maryland political people for breakfast or for coffee or to attend key events if they’re happening early enough. I can travel to Baltimore or Annapolis or just about anywhere, if need be (though I don’t have a car – that’s another story). And I know some of you wind up on or near Capitol Hill every now and then. I can always slip away briefly from work, for a cup of coffee or a beer.

So here’s my appeal: Don’t be a stranger! Call me. Email me. Let’s get breakfast. Come down to the Hill for an adult beverage. Drop a dime and tell me what’s going on. Tell me what you’re hearing and what you’re thinking. I also welcome — no, I crave — all feedback about the column, positive and negative.

This column is only as good as the information I’m able to gather and, as you’ve now seen, I need all the help I can get. Thanks for your consideration, thanks for reading, and I hope to talk to you soon! And I promise I won’t use the first-person singular in a column again for a good, long while.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Party Like It’s 1986

Sole Practitioner

Franchot to Seek Re-election, Won’t Run for Governor

No Heroes Here

Running Mates

Montgomery County’s 800-Pound Gorillas

Garagiola: ‘People Lose Elections All the Time’