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From AJR,   April/May 2013  issue

“A Whole New Level of Cool New Stuff”   

That’s what BuzzFeed White House correspondent Evan McMorris-Santoro hopes to bring to his new gig.Mon., April 8, 2013


By Kaila Stein
Kaila Stein (kstein1010@gmail.com) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

Evan McMorris-Santoro considers himself to be "one of the most high functioning college dropouts." He may be on to something. The 32-year-old former Talking Points Memo reporter recently started work as White House correspondent for BuzzFeed.

"Evan's a good reporter with great news judgment, not just in the traditional sense but also a good reporter who is skilled in the viral media type of world," says John Stanton, BuzzFeed's Washington bureau chief.  "He's got a great reputation in town. Both Republicans and Democrats like and fear him a little bit. Everyone seems to respect him."

McMorris-Santoro brings to his new position his experience at small town publications and on the D.C. reporting circuit as well as his social media prowess, making him well suited to bridge the gap between traditional reporting and new media. BuzzFeed, known for its quirky and viral content, is making major moves in the realm of serious reporting.

"He's demonstrated a great ability to go find scoops, and he matches the old-school, new-school ethics that I have," Stanton says.

Born and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, McMorris-Santoro attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., before transferring to Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. But he bailed before receiving a degree.

Soon afterward, McMorris-Santoro took a reporting job in 2006 at the Moore County Independent, a small paper in North Carolina. "I was a political writer there, a movie reviewer and I was eventually managing editor and wrote the editorial page," he says.

McMorris-Santoro then moved to another small newspaper outside of Nashville, the Lebanon Democrat. After working there for a year as a reporter, he headed to D.C. to run the blog network for an Internet news aggregation company. It wasn't a good fit. "The corporate thing just wasn't as appealing to me as being a reporter, and so in 2007 I took my first D.C. reporting job," he says.

McMorris-Santoro found his journalistic groove again and quickly climbed the ladder. "I worked at the National Journal Hotline for a couple years, and Talking Points Memo was starting its bureau in D.C. [in 2009], so I [joined TPM founder and Editor] Josh Marshall and did that for a little while. Then [BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief] Ben Smith was starting off his bureau here in D.C. for BuzzFeed," and McMorris-Santoro ultimately followed him there.

McMorris-Santoro, who started at BuzzFeed in March, succeeds Zeke Miller, who recently joined Time magazine as a political reporter. One of BuzzFeed's first political reporters, Miller's coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign helped put BuzzFeed on the map as a valuable source of political news and commentary.

"He's an excellent reporter and actually a friend," McMorris-Santoro says of his predecessor. "We've had some great times together on campaign trails... He's doing a great job at Time, and I've been trying to do a good job at BuzzFeed."

So what drew McMorris-Santoro to the idiosyncratic Web site? The newly minted White House correspondent says he was lured by the site's creativity and Smith's desire to produce quality journalism in an accessible way for new and old readers alike.

"I like to go places where there's innovation and where new things are being tried, and I've been lucky enough to go to places where they are trying different things," he says.

McMorris-Santoro says the media landscape has changed drastically in the years he's been a reporter in Washington. He spoke of the evolution from print to online to the current model of Twitter reigning supreme.

"People still want to find out what's going on in Washington. Cutting through a lot of the rhetoric that you have here is important," McMorris-Santoro says. "The big difference is that you have an online and tech-savvy political class, and press people using Twitter."

McMorris-Santoro says that his role in helping Talking Points Memo launch its Washington bureau, as well as his experience covering major events such as the 2012 election, the Virginia governor's race and the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting, have prepared him for his new job.

"I've covered so much stuff, and I want to bring my experiences and what I've learned from being out there to BuzzFeed, and work with them and bring a whole new level of cool new stuff," he says.

When McMorris Santoro isn't reporting on the White House, he tries to get some rest and enjoys spending time with his wife, Jenny Towns, who works in nonprofit communications and is the founder of a local theater company in DC.

"Marry someone with a cool job." McMorris-Santoro advises. "And go to their job."

He says his new peers at the White House have been friendly and welcoming. He's enjoying the job so far and says the thrill of the new gig has yet to wear off.

"It's the White House, and if you're fascinated by American history and politics, being able to walk through that gate and go to the White House every day is pretty cool."