Pomona senior lands interviews with big-name politicos for his blog.
Puttering around his dorm room on a pleasant spring morning, Friday the 13th of May, 2005, to be exact, Pomona senior Jonathan Singer received a call on his cell phone. “Jonathan Singer?” the voice inquired. “I have Senator Bob Dole on the line.”
After little more than a year managing his blog, Jonathan Singer ’06 recently notched his 100,000th unique visitor, or ‘hit,’ in Web-speak. Named in honor of jazz great Count Basie, his blog not only chronicles the daily twists and turns of partisan politics but features interviews with big-name political figures such as former Senate Majority Leader Dole and former Vice President Walter Mondale. Singer also has scored interviews with Michael Dukakis, Gen. Wesley Clark, Carol Mosley Braun and Gary Hart, who all previously have vied for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Singer typically arranges the interview for a particular time, so he can use the recording facilities at campus radio station KSPC. But a set appointment isn’t always possible, as was the case when Dole's secretary called while Singer was relaxing in his dorm room. "I asked her to give me five minutes, and I dropped everything I was doing and sprinted to the radio station,” Singer says. “I got there, made the call, and greeted Senator Dole while trying to conceal how entirely out of breath I was. As he answered my first question I turned off my microphone so I could catch my breath because I was just heaving air.”
Singer's rise in the world of bloggers has been equally breathless. Basie! only began in the summer of 2004, when Singer was working for America Abroad Media, a public broadcasting organization based in Washington, D.C. Starting a blog seemed a convenient way to keep family and friends back home in Portland, Oregon updated on his life in the Capitol. Naming it after Count Basie was also an easy decision: Singer has played the jazz bass for more than a decade and “probably owns more than 30 Basie albums.” From this beginning, Basie! has evolved from a shared diary into a political forum where Singer posts 10 to 15 stories a day, each with his own commentary and analysis.
Singer had entered Pomona College considering a possible history major, despite an already proven track record of political involvement – he volunteered for the Gore campaign in 2000 as a junior in high school. Explains Singer: “The politics bug really bit me freshman year when I took Professor David Menefee-Libbey’s Congress course. We discussed politics after class and outside of class, he gave me a half dozen books to read to deepen my own understanding beyond the assigned coursework, and really encouraged me to pursue my interest in politics.” Inspired by Menefee-Libbey, he decided to major in politics.
Singer spends at least an hour or two every day searching the web for interesting politic stories to link, adding commentary and contacting potential interview subjects. On top of a full academic course load, this makes running a blog quite a time commitment. But it complements his politics coursework rather nicely. After all, not every undergraduate politics major can claim to have interviewed a four star general and ex-presidential nominee prior to testimony before the House Armed Service Committee – yet that’s exactly what Singer did when he was one of only three people in a conference call with Wesley Clark in April. “The only other people on the call were a professor from the University of Michigan conducting research for a book, and a writer for the Daily Kos,” Singer explains. (To elaborate, the Daily Kos lands on virtually every list of top political blogs, regularly receiving over 20 million visits per month.) “I thought it was a little audacious of me to be talking to a four star general with only two other people from such high profile positions.”
All of which begs the question, how does Singer land such interviews? How does he have a one-on-one chat with Bob Dole, a conference call with Wesley Clark, or most recently, an interview with Craig Crawford, a columnist, published author and political pundit appearing frequently on MSNBC and CBS? The answer: he gives it the old college try. Singer began by interviewing political figures as they came through the Claremont Colleges on lecture tours. Now, he reaches out to politicians instead of letting them come to him. From his Pomona e-mail account, he sends a brief e-mail introducing himself as a politics major and the editor of Basie!, and politely requests a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation. Sometimes the subjects take weeks to respond, and sometimes they never do, but Singer takes such setbacks in stride. His steadily growing resumé certainly reflects what a little ambition, a little initiative, and the occasional wind sprint can accomplish.