Off the cycle
What happened when the deadlines stopped
I’m Darren Samuelsohn, and you’re reading the first-ever edition of love, journalism, a weekly newsletter launched on Valentine’s Day 2023 full of insights, interviews, ideas and inspiration from me, a veteran journalist who has been reporting and editing writers for 30+ years.
Are you new here? Please sign up to get love, journalism for free, and consider a paid subscription to help support my work and spread the journalism love. Listen to ‘The love, journalism Show’ podcast here. New episodes on Saturdays. Bonus posts occasionally too.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Losing my last job in journalism a few days before Election Day 2022 came as a shock, but it’s had a productive upside too: My first significant break in 22 years from the daily demands of deadlines.
Don’t get me wrong, I started looking right away for full-time employment in reporting and editing. Along the way, though, new possibilities started to emerge that I hadn’t really considered or thought possible as my brain began to rewire itself from the hard-charging ways of working consecutively at three successful digital media institutions.
Over coffees and meals with old friends, family, former colleagues and treasured sources from throughout my career, we had conversations that were surprisingly deep and delightful and revolved not just around my pursuing familiar paths in the mainstream media. We veered into sharing personal and inspirational stories about overcoming adversity, and how challenges like the new one I was facing offered a chance to reexamine my ambitions and dreams and what I really wanted to do when I grew up.
That’s how my journey got me here, at age 47, to launch my first Substack.
I’m excited to lift the cover and begin writing on my own terms to a new and yet familiar audience that I am optimistic also will welcome love, journalism and read my weekly newsletter drawing upon a lifelong passion for the news in all its many varieties.
Many of you may know me already from one of the many silos I have frequented during my own personal journalism odyssey. Now I’m bringing them all together under one masthead called love, journalism: humor, politics, policy, the environment, science, sports, outdoors, travel, entertainment, Bigfoot, rock-n-roll, food, drink, lifestyle, culture, courts, climate, space, energy, transportation, education, cybersecurity, enterprise, long & short-form, trade pubs, investigations, local, national, international, digital, print, TV, radio, podcasts, student, professional, Substack. You name it, we’ll get to it.
My aim: Humanizing what journalists do by showing what goes into being a journalist.
You are reading my inaugural edition, and I have a ton of ideas already in various stages of readiness that center around the many lessons I have learned during my own torrid love affair with journalism that straddles the end of the 20th century and the first two-plus decades in the 21st.
I hope that my work here will inspire you and that some of my love for journalism rubs off too, whether you are in the business, left it at some point in the past, work among journalists or just care deeply about what it is we do. I will be the first to admit that the current state of the union in journalism feels depressing. You probably know the many reasons I write that, and they will be fodder for future columns and interviews and more. I can’t promise that my Substack will always be uplifting. Like any relationship, there are moments you fight and disagree and want to go running for the exit. Maybe you even do. And that’s kind of the point in the title. It came via ballpoint pen while journal writing recently as the signature line of a letter where journalism was the voice professing its appreciation back to me, even amid all the difficulties I was going through in our own very complicated relationship and as I wondered whether it was time to follow Tom Brady into the sunset.
Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I even have a few pieces partially or fully written and you’ll start seeing them published in the coming weeks and months. I’m also wide open to reader ideas and questions and topics you’d like to see addressed, so please don’t hesitate to comment away in the fields below (civility rules, please!) or write directly to me via email or with a postage stamp.
Going forward, I’ll be tapping into my network in journalism and well beyond it for insights and interviews that will grow the Substack beyond just a weekly newsletter. That may take a drop of time. Like with any reporting project I take on, I am always searching out new voices and remain open to seeing where the adventure takes me. That’s usually a winning formula for great storytelling. I envision this being a place where people who aren’t in the news business but eagerly consume its contents can also learn how journalists find their way to the profession and what it takes to do their jobs, from the glories to the sacrifices.
I hope this becomes a place where journalists can meet and interact with journalists and possible sources and voices whom they’d never otherwise come across. I know there are lots of journalists just getting started in their careers too, and I’m eager to pass along any kernels of wisdom I’ve collected and see if we can’t begin an open exchange of best practices and dialogue across newsrooms that can help everyone have long sustainable relationships with journalism. While many journalists have also left the profession, I’d invite them back here too to share in the joy of why they got started in the first place.
I’m thinking of love, journalism to some degree as a Red Cross for journalism and journalists.
I’m going to occasionally wear my reporter hat, so expect this forum to be a place where you can come to read real and interesting news, look at cool pictures and videos, follow along as I connect dots and share interviews where I ask people questions you probably wouldn’t expect and get answers that I hope you’ll love. Stay tuned.
My intention is to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world, while paying homage to the power of the pause button and the revelations that are there for the taking when social media, push notifications and other distractions get set on silent mode. Expect to hear from my serious side but also prepare for a lighter touch. I love writing from the heart as well as my notebook and will be doing it here without treading every moment on the 24/7 news cycle.
I am also eager to unpack anything else that may seem mystifying about Washington, my adopted hometown for these last 22+ years. Journalists become experts by showing up, paying attention and asking good questions. We face hurdles in that process in every way imaginable, and then some. It’s part of the challenge and the fun of the job. It may sound intimidating, but trust me I got here to DC during the closing days of 2000 right before the Bush v. Gore decision and clueless about anything except a sincere desire to figure it all out. Now, with thousands of bylines under my belt, and having witnessed my share of sausages being made, I am eager to share my institutional knowledge.
Writing a column like this one has been my lifelong ambition.
I fell hard for journalism by anchoring the morning announcements on closed circuit TV at my South Florida elementary school, quoting Walter Cronkite’s signature line — “And that’s the way it is” — before I really knew who he was.
Amazingly, my high school newspaper advisor and editors even said yes to me having valuable real estate for a humor column on the editorial page, titled ‘A Few Loose Screws.’ I seized that opportunity and soon launched a campaign for prom king — during my sophomore year. I had my own platform that centered around the idea that a high school golfer like me deserved the crown just as much as a popular football player. I won.
Here in Washington since the closing days of the Clinton administration, I have been producing journalism probing politics, policy and power at a relentless pace. I’ve ranged from energy, climate and the environment to sexual assault in the military, the White House and Justice Department and presidential impeachments.
As lead politics editor and Insider’s first DC bureau chief, my team broke news, won awards and held important people like Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi accountable. You may have heard about ‘Conflicted Congress’, a project I couldn’t be prouder of that prompted a heated debate in Washington over whether to ban lawmakers from holding individual stocks. It won the SPJ Sunshine Award in 2022.
We followed that with ‘Red, White, & Gray’, which spotlighted America’s aging leadership just as we’re gearing up for a possible rematch in 2024 between the two oldest men ever to serve as president of the United States and where on Capitol Hill the torch has since been passed to Generation X.
In my own reporting career, I’ve had beats that allowed access to the most powerful and important institutions in our country, including the entire executive branch of the federal government, Congress and the courts. Along the way, I’ve gained a reputation as a serious correspondent who can cut through the noise without taking sides in contentious and important battles that have come to define the early 21st century.
I do love talking about politics and horse races. We’ll do our share of 2024 and 2026 and 2028 and 2030 here for sure too. But please don’t be surprised if I indulge my wonky readers by mentioning the next UN COP negotiations or the lessons learned from Waxman-Markey and Solyndra. I’m eager to go down the rabbit hole as to what’s next on all those Trump investigations I spent several years working overtime to cover. I may even spout some opinions.
This column won’t just draw from my DC journalism career either. There’ll be various references from my long, strange trip that started in Broward County during the heydays of Don Shula, Miami Vice and Vanilla Ice. We’ll cover the Journalist’s Creed and hopefully hear from the Missouri Mafia. Please if you sign up know that you’re also indulging my love affair with the Chicago Cubs (Remember, I did say I was optimistic) and may get references sprinkled in about my time going to college on a golf caddy scholarship, scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins (favorite flavors: World Class Chocolate and Gold Metal Ribbon) and dancing in the Chuck E. Cheese rat costume to a pizza-themed version of “Taking Care of Business.”
My passion for journalism runs deep. I’ve been doing some version of this since I was 10, and for many of those years I’ve even been paid money to do it.
I am lucky to be working in a field I genuinely love, and the regular salary has been a nice little bonus. Now, as I’ve considered my various job options going forward, launching a Substack has increasingly sounded more appealing and a risk worth taking. It’s one of many passion projects I am currently working on while keeping my options open for new opportunities. It’s also something I can do to help me earn a living.
Please sign up for love, journalism.
And thanks to the latest and greatest in technological developments, Substack means you can even put your proverbial quarter straight into my virtual piggy bank if you like what you’re reading. So consider making the leap with me and becoming a paid subscriber for $5 a month, $50 for a year, $150 for a founding member contribution or any pledge amount you desire. It’ll help to spread the journalism love. There will be bonus tracks and other perks.
I sincerely do thank you for reading about my next moon shot in journalism.