Goldberg’s current home base, The Atlantic, has become something of a hybrid operation, with its—and Goldberg’s—feet simultaneously planted firmly in the grand tradition of long-form journalism and the 24/7 continuous feedback loop of the Internet. Recent print issues of the magazine have featured multi-angled considerations of energy policy, the impact of growing wealth disparities, the declining educational status and earning power of men, and other broad topics, but The Atlantic has also established a significant footprint in the blogosphere, with an impressive lineup of writers—Goldberg, James Fallows, and Andrew Sullivan (who recently decamped to The Daily Beast) among them—posting sharp and often comparatively instant ripostes on issues of the day.  But, I ask Goldberg, can a reporter really believe in blogging and more conventional long-form journalism?

“It’s not entirely clear to me that an individual can do both things very well,” he replies. “ I look back on that New York Times Magazine time and remember thinking then it was really hard—you have to do four cover stories a year! But on the other hand, there was nothing else you were doing.” Working on a true long-form piece, he says, is like a deep dive. “To do long-form journalism and book writing, you’ve got to submerge completely. You’re looking for rabbit holes to go down, and you can’t keep surfacing all the time to blog about the events of the day. You don’t have to slow your brain down, but you have to slow down, period: absorb information and let it percolate.”

Blogging is the complete inverse of that process. “You have to spit the information right back out: churn it for 10 minutes, and then write,” he says.

“As a writer, you want to be doing everything now: long pieces on magazine covers, you want to be Tweeting a joke off the Charlie Sheen story, blogging about whatever’s in the paper this morning,” Goldberg adds. “In the meantime, stuff is coming to you from your readers, and you’re obligated to them to pursue their interests for them, and then, you’re also trying to think about your book proposals and mega-long projects.”

Goldberg pauses to edit himself.

“I wouldn’t want this conversation to be mistaken for bitching,” he says. “Fallows always says that when you wake up and someone is paying you that day to perform an act of journalism, it’s a good day. We all have to just grapple with this.”

But Goldberg does find The Atlantic’s duality striking. “We spend months writing a cover story that’s carefully edited and fact checked, and it arrives in the mail, in this curated beautiful magazine,” he says. “But if you take the same set of facts and observations and press return on your laptop, that same information will go out to the world weeks earlier. And we’re doing both at the same time. We have one timetable that’s three months from now, and another that’s 10 minutes from now.”

And while the mentality behind that 10-minute time frame gains ground continually, a good, old-fashioned, thoroughly reported blockbuster cover-story can still be an event. Such was the case, in fact, with Goldberg’s September 2010 Atlantic article, “The Point of No Return,” which discussed Israel’s strategic options as to Iran’s nuclearization, and how an Israeli air strike on Iran could happen.

“That cover story was worth one thousand blog posts,” Goldberg says. “And it wasn’t an accretion—it was months of reporting, and it landed like an explosion.” The piece triggered conversations and debates at high policy-levels as well as around household coffee tables: in short, Goldberg proved that long-form journalism, when done well, still works and still sells.

In light of his Iran analysis, I ask him over lunch, was he surprised by Stuxnet, the computer virus reportedly sent to Iran by Americans and Israelis to sabotage Iran’s nuclearization efforts? While calling it “the world’s greatest computer virus,” Goldberg says he wasn’t. What was surprising was the broad acceptance that the virus had “had an enormous and dramatic impact,” he says. “I thought it was being oversold, and then I realized it was being oversold deliberately—because the Iranians are enriching at a constant pace.”

While it was predictable that the Iran story would provoke controversy, one outcome of the piece was entirely unexpected—its publication led directly to the interview of a lifetime: a personal, multi-day, one-on-one audience with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

“That’s the kind of stuff you live for as a journalist,” he says, sighing with pleasure. “You know, I think if you become a journalist, you’re someone who’s easily susceptible to boredom. In other jobs, you wake up and know what’s going to happen that day, and in journalism you don’t.”

Goldberg had left his family on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to appear on The Colbert Report to talk about his Iran story. His phone rang, and the caller was the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which represents Cuban interests in the absence of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” the official told him. “He wants you to come to Havana on Sunday and discuss your article.”

“This is maybe a Tuesday or a Wednesday,” Goldberg recounts. “I’m saying, ‘Sure, let me take your number and get back to you,’ but in the meantime thinking, ‘Who’s punking me? This is a pretty random punk.’” A few days later, he was landing in Havana and meeting with the 84-year-old Castro, from whom little had been heard in several years, since he’d withdrawn from most of his leadership posts in the wake of health problems.

The spur-of-the-moment, somewhat surreal nature of the trip—at one point, Goldberg and Castro took in a dolphin show—made it perfect for blogging. “That’s the thing about the blogosphere as opposed to journalism—if you’re bringing truly new information, I guess it really doesn’t matter if it’s on paper or on a website,” Goldberg says. “The new information will win out and cut through some of the noise.”

Castro had called the meeting for a purpose, using it to send a message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “to lay off the anti-Semitism,” says Goldberg. The Cuban leader “seemed very sincere and emotional in his self-conception, and feels personally offended by anti-Semitism, which was useful.”

Goldberg’s blog posts about the meeting soon spiraled into something bigger. “I wrote this stuff up; Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres get wind of it; they write letters to Castro thanking him; and then the Cuban-American lobby goes nuts—it became an international incident,” Goldberg says, smiling. “If you have a troublemaking personality, that’s kind of fun. Fun isn’t the right word, but you do want to make noise and make waves.”
 


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FEATURE: Journalism, Jews, and Jeffrey Goldberg by Jordana Horn
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