By Jonathan Allen
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of politics and news. For most of the last 18 years, that meant working my way up the ladder of political journalism. I’m lucky enough to have covered Congress, the White House, six national political conventions, and presidential and congressional elections. In that time, I worked with, and alongside, the most talented journalists of my generation, picked up a couple of awards for my reporting on Congress, and co-authored a best-selling book about Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.
More important, I acquired respect for the institutions of our democracy and for the people who work within them. I know they have invaluable insights into electoral politics and how Washington works. Behind the scenes — in the corridors of power, at national conferences and on talk-show sets — I’ve seen people from differing backgrounds, ideologies, industries and parties find common ground. I believe we all benefit when they compete and cooperate in the marketplace of ideas.
But the polarizing forces of modern politics often drive them away from engaging with each other in meaningful dialogue, particularly in public arenas. Part of that’s the time crunch of campaigning, fundraising and the instant deadlines of modern news production. Part of it is the coarsening of our national conversations on television and social media, where trolls who have nothing at stake — and no interest in being constructive — push us toward our worst instincts and deeper into our own corners.
It’s all hurting our political discourse and thus our unique democratic republic. I want to see our political institutions grow stronger, not weaker. I want to see them get better at tackling the challenges that confront us. That’s why I was so excited when Sidewire, a new mobile-focused social communications platform for newsmakers, launched in September.
I started using Sidewire as a way to keep up with what lawmakers, political campaigns, fellow journalists and academics thought about the major issues in national politics and policy. Then I saw the first “Livewire,” where Sen. Lindsey Graham posted his thoughts during a Republican presidential debate from which he’d been excluded, and I began to understand how many different ways the platform affords newsmakers to engage with each other and start their own conversations.
I started talking with Sidewire’s founders about all the possibilities, offering some suggestions along the way, and found that I really wanted to be an integral part of a platform that instantaneously connects political insiders and thought leaders from around the country for substantive discussion. That’s what I’ll be doing in my new role as head of community and content for Sidewire, and as the driver of a new 60-second thread of interactive text called the Stitch.
The Stitch will focus newsmakers on a handful of the top stories of the day from the full complement of major media outlets, share the insights of our newsmakers and launch a morning conversation around the “big question” of the day. I suspect the newsmakers will prod each other to move into related topics, and, as they do now on Sidewire, they’ll continue to have the ability to insert links to content they think the other newsmakers should see and discuss.
We decided to call this morning conversation the Stitch because we believe passionately that the value of the platform is in newsmakers’ knowledge, insights and analysis, and that the most important role we can play is to provide the thread that unites them. Like Sidewire itself, the Stitch has two distinct audiences. One is the newsmakers who interact with each other and move our national debate forward with the exchange of their information and ideas. The other audience is the readers, who can see what newsmakers from all walks of politics think about the important issues of the day without switching in and out of apps.
This is a place where the smartest and most knowledgeable people in politics, regardless of ideology or role in the process, can connect with each other all at once — a virtual greenroom of the American political arena.
At a time when the political community is so divided — and so diffuse — our goal is both simple and transformative: we want to reverse the trends that tear us apart by providing a simple Stitch to bring together the most informed people in politics.
— Jonathan Allen is head of community and content for Sidewire. He is the co-author of the New York Times-bestselling book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton,” a columnist for Roll Call, a frequent guest political analyst on national television and radio programs, and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He is a former Washington bureau chief for Bloomberg News and White House bureau chief for Politico.