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Ryan’s selection as a v.p. candidate set his hometown newspaper in overdrive

September 27, 2012

Scott Angus

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s selection as Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate made history in Wisconsin and set his hometown newspaper in overdrive to cover the event and deal with the international media.

Scott Angus, editor of the Janesville (Wis.) Gazette, said the news of Ryan’s selection broke late Aug. 10, and the paper was just able to get the story in the next day’s edition.

“It broke on Friday night and on Saturday we had a lot of work to do,” said Angus during the keynote address Thursday, Sept. 27, at “The #s, @s and ABCs of Today’s State and Local Government Reporting” at Madison, Wis. The two-day conference was co-sponsored by the Mid-America Press Institute and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

After a 16-hour day, the Gazette staff put together front-page coverage of Ryan’s selection and a 12-page special section on the candidate. “We got the only interview with Paul Ryan that day.”

Ryan became the first politician from Wisconsin to run for vice president, which put the pressure on the Gazette to cover the historic event “right.”

While the Gazette had planned for the possibility of Ryan becoming the vice presidential candidate, Angus never planned for the onslaught of international media scrambling for information and background on Ryan, who was not in Janesville when the announcement was made.

“The national and international media went crazy,” Angus said. “All of them wanted interviews with us, wanted to know about Ryan.”

Angus spent much of the weekend being interviewed by everyone from CBS to the BBC.

Being the editor of Ryan’s hometown newspaper, Angus knows Ryan and his background well. He said he has been at dinner parties with Ryan and his wife, Jana, and at a Halloween party at which Ryan was dressed as the TV character Eddie Munster. But Angus said Ryan is not a close friend. Angus said he purposely does not make friends with newsmakers.

Angus described Ryan as a very “down to earth” person who has a very outgoing and engaging in 1-on-1 conversations. He is often seen in town and is home from Washington on weekends.

”I did see the potential early in Paul but didn’t see him being a vice presidential candidate,” Angus said. He said Ryan is smart and always has ideas.

Politically, Angus said, Ryan is a polarizing figure. He is as popular as the district’s past long-time congressman, Democrat Les Aspen. But, he pointed out, there are many Janesville residents that don’t like him.

After the Republican national convention, Angus said he was again besieged with questions from the media about Ryan’s acceptance speech. During the speech, Ryan made five factual errors, including saying President Obama broke his promise to keep the GM plant at Janesville open. Actually the plant was closed before Obama took office.

Angus said he again had to field media calls because the newspaper had thoroughly covered the GM plant and its closing.

“One thing I’m frustrated with is politicians playing fast and loose with the truth and that bothers me a lot,” Angus said. He said he wrote a column about it. “My point is he didn’t have to do that. He could have made the point that Obama’s policies won’t be good for Janesville in the future.”

Angus said he also is concerned with how divided the country is politically — either left or right.

On the media, Angus said:

— Recent staff cutbacks at newspapers are probably permanent and staffs will have to pick and choose what they can and should cover.

— Covering city and local government is the most important coverage newspapers do.

— Objectivity is a tenet local media must not abandon no matter what critics say.

— Journalists must remain politically neutral in their personal lifes.

Angus also encouraged journalists to:

— Stay passionate about what they do;

— Believe their work is important;

— Don’t give up their objectivity and neutrality;

— Stand up to the critics and say bullshit when you have to;

— Make good choices.

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