Earlier this week First Look Media, the startup general news venture bankrolled by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, announced the hiring of longtime Wall Street critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi. Such situations demand the use of the superlative, and First Look Media Executive Editor Eric Bates spilled forth, “Matt is one of the most influential journalists of our time.”
First Look Media is driven by the compulsion to spurn the conventions of the mainstream media, and in announcing Taibbi’s accession, it succeeded. By a hair. Traditional news outlets have settled on a fairly standard mode of implausibly praising colleagues and soon-to-be colleagues.
Late last month, for instance, The Post announced the hiring of the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell and called her “one of the smartest, most original journalists of her generation.” Uh-oh — she may have to compete with Politico’s Todd Purdum, who at the time of his hiring was “one of the most perceptive reporters and elegant stylists of his generation.” Politico is full of generational leaders, too, as Editor-in-Chief John Harris said of “Playbook” author Mike Allen: “One of the most exceptional journalists of his generation.” (Allen has a more humble view of himself as “one of Washington’s top journalists.“). Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser was feted upon her hiring last year as “among the most respected thinkers and editors of her generation.” As opposed to Steve Coll, who was hailed as “one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation” upon being selected as dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Coll has written a great deal about the war on terrorism, so he’s doubtless familiar with the work of Gregory Johnsen, who, upon his selection as a BuzzFeed Michael Hastings fellow, was celebrated as “one of his generation’s wisest and most original voices on national security.” Both Coll and Johnsen, in turn, would be familiar with the work of John Pomfret, who over a quarter-century, per a Post memo, became “one of the great foreign correspondents of his generation.”
If you put all these superlative talents in a single newsroom, you’d need someone to call the shots. That’s where Mark Stencel comes in: “one of the most experienced, versatile, serious and well-liked news leaders of his generation,” per an NPR memo. If he’s looking for more muscle on the campaign trail, Stencel could tap CNN’s John King, “the best political reporter of his generation.” MSNBC’s Irin Carmon — “a leading voice of her generation” — David Rohde — “one of the most brilliant and consequential journalists of his generation” — and CNN’s Anderson Cooper — “the preeminent journalist of his generation” — Nia-Malika Henderson — “one of the rising stars of her generation” — and Pia Catton — “the leading arts and culture reporter of her generation in New York and beyond.”
And no way can you leave out MSNBC.com’s Adam Serwer, credited in an MSNBC memo as “one of the only reporters of his generation to be included in The Root 100.”
Just goes to show: Though journalists may be trained to avoid sweeping statements, that doesn’t apply to dear colleagues.