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From AJR,   September 2010

Beltway Bound   

Web exclusive
Miami Herald political writer Beth Reinhard will soon bring her "outsider" perspective to National Journalís beefed-up online report.

By Molly Klinefelter
Molly Klinefelter (mklinefelter@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.     

It's hardly a secret that when it comes to politics, 2010 is the year of the "outsider." No longer is traditional political experience a major plus. Just ask Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who last week lost the Republican Senate primary in the Blue Hen State to marketing consultant Christine O'Donnell, a candidate with no government background and a penchant for making controversial statements.

So maybe it makes sense to have some outsider journalists covering all of these outsider politicians in the nation's capital.

In November, Beth Reinhard will leave the Miami Herald, where she covers state politics, to become National Journal's chief political correspondent. She's part of a major expansion of the reporting staff of National Journal Group, whose news products also include Congress Daily, Hotline, the Almanac of American Politics and Global Security Newswire. But unlike many of her high-profile fellow recruits, Reinhard has been doing her reporting far from the Beltway.

After being immersed in Miami politics for the past decade, Reinhard, 42, will approach D.C. politics with a newcomer's perspective, which her new employer considers a plus. Reinhard's boss at the Herald, State/Politics Editor Sergio Bustos, says National Journal Editor-in-chief Ron Fournier told him he sought out Reinhard "because of her writing and reporting chops, her outstanding coverage of Florida politics and the fact that she's not a Washington insider."

National Journal Group Editorial Director Ron Brownstein offered a similar take in a news release about hiring Reinhard. "Beth has the skill, the wit, the insight and above all the passion for the game that makes a great political correspondent," he said. "The only thing she lacks is the national audience she deserves. We look forward to providing that at National Journal, and we know our audience will benefit tremendously from the fresh voice and fresh perspective she will bring to the national political debate."

Says Reinhard, "All the candidates are fresh-faced outsiders, and I think that's what I am.... A little bit of an outsider."

A native Floridian, Reinhard began her reporting career in 1991 at the Home News in New Brunswick, New Jersey, after earning a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. Two years later, she returned to her home state to join the Palm Beach Post. After a stint at Education Week in Washington, D.C., the Miami native at last joined the Herald in 1998.

"I had tried to get a job at the Herald forever, and I couldn't," Reinhard says. "It was the paper that my family had always read."

Reinhard's first assignment at the paper was covering schools in Broward County, Florida's second most populous county. Steve Bousquet, a Herald staffer at the time who now heads the St. Petersburg Times' Tallahassee bureau, noticed Reinhard's talent and mentored her toward taking over his position covering Broward politics. Reinhard had been on the Broward political beat for over six years when the state political beat came open. "She really did good work" in Broward County, "which prompted the move downtown," Bustos says.

"She was the obvious candidate," says Herald Metro Editor Jay Duccasi, who was the State/Politics editor when Reinhard made the switch. "None of this stuff was new to her, and she had a really solid grounding already."

Covering politics involves covering essentially everything, says Reinhard, from social issues to finance. "I didn't set out to be a political writer; I definitely fell into it and have stuck with it because I liked it. It's fun; it's exciting and meaningful."

Reinhard is excited about the opportunity to cover national issues, but politics in her home state will always have a special place for her. "There's no better place in the world to cover politics than Florida...from the 2000 recount to the candidates' boycott of the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.... It's just been a treat," Reinhard says.

The writer, who will continue to cover the state's three-way Senate race for the Herald until its conclusion November 2, will make the move to D.C. with her husband, Ronnie Greene, the Herald's investigations and government editor, and their two daughters.

Reinhard and Bustos just started working together in May, but that short time has been enough for the political correspondent to make an impression. "Beth has that rare combination of being both a good reporter and eloquent writer," Bustos says. "Obviously, we're sorry to see her go."

Reinhard joins an array of prominent new hires at National Journal. Among the recent additions to the roster are former Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett; prominent Atlantic political blogger Marc Ambinder; former Time White House correspondent and Newsweek Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Matt Cooper; Newsweek's Michael Hirsch; USA Today's Kathy Kiely and Aamer Madhani; former U.S. News & World Report chief congressional correspondent Terence Samuel; and Politico's Josh Kraushaar.

The talent influx comes as the company begins a major shift in focus. Instead of continuing to concentrate on print, keeping its high-quality reporting and analysis behind a steep pay wall, National Journal's new focus will be digital. Starting in late October, it aims to publish about 100 online stories a day by National Journal, Congress Daily and Hotline staffers.

Although Reinhard will miss her familiar stomping grounds, she's ready for the new challenge. "I have loved working at the Herald," she says. "I look at this as sort of another adventure and a chance to do what I love in sort of a bigger sandbox...

"Everyone in the media business is trying to survive, and it's really exciting to be part of an enterprise that is ambitious and growing at a time when most reporters are struggling, and this is all I've ever wanted to do.... I've never had a Plan B. I always just wanted to work in journalism, so I'm excited to be part of this chance to work with some of the best political journalists in the country, and I'm humbled by that."