WAN Talk: Zach Seward on WAG Exposés and Journalism's Future

Zach Seward (SL ’00) has always had a keen journalistic sense, whether breaking the news of the resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers (which he did for the Wall Street Journal) or digging for dirt around Fayette, Maine (which he did, often and enthusiastically, for the Winnebago Afternoon Gazette). Zach is now product director and senior editor at the international business news website Quartz, where he’s earned a following as a savvy—and occasionally Nostradamic—analyst of the future of digital publishing and television. Here, WAA Secretary Eric Benson (SL ’00) speaks with Zach—over Gchat, of course—about his career and his early influences.

WAN: Most journalists I know figured out what they wanted to do for a career when they were in college, or later. But you wanted to be a reporter when you were a ten-year-old Eagle! What turned you on to journalism at such a young age?
Zach: The Winnebago Afternoon Gazette. And I’m not just saying that. I mean, obviously it was a lot of things, but the WAG was a big factor. I thought of it as the New York Times of Fayette, Maine.
WAN: Really?! I don’t think I knew that. Any favorite WAG scoops?
Zach: Once we surveyed the whole camp on changes that had been made that summer. The new serving system in the dining hall did not poll well, as I recall. Another summer I wrote an “exposé” about why Winnebago still had a riflery program and timed it for visiting day.
WAN: Yeah, I remember you as a serious muckraker both as a WAG writer and then in your one-year stint as WAG counselor. Didn’t you change the WAG’s motto to read something like “We’re here to raise hell”?
Zach: Haha, that motto change was for my high school newspaper (with co-editor Daniel Hemel, SL ’00). I don’t think we ever printed the word “hell” in the WAG, not even in the Trip Day song.
WAN: Fair enough! Now your job seems like a hybrid of reporter, editor, and, pardon the term, “thought leader.” How do you see the work you do? And what makes it exciting?
Zach: I am not a thought leader! But, yeah, it is definitely very different from what I pictured growing up. No fedoras, very little paper. I love the Internet because anyone can publish on it, I can get news from everywhere in the world, and something like Quartz can pop up out of nowhere and amass a readership really quickly, if it’s any good.
WAN: So one of the subjects that you write about most extenstively is the future of television—how we’ll watch it, what we’ll be watching, and why the way we think about it is bound to change sooner rather than later. Walk me through that a little. What is the future of TV?
Zach: The honest truth is I don’t know what the future holds for TV, but there is one thing I’m sure of: It will happen on TV sets, laptops, tablets, phones—any piece of glass that’s connected to the Internet That said, there are some more specific things about TV’s future that are already obvious: Fewer people will subscribe to cable TV and more will opt for services like Netflix. More video will be watched on the web. And it will come in all different forms, not just half-hour sitcoms
and hourlong dramas airing once a week.
WAN: What are you most looking forward to in TV’s near future?
Zach: No more channel-flipping. Can you believe channels still have numbers? Why can’t I just choose “sports” and quickly see all the games that are on?
WAN: Amen. So let me end by asking you a question for current campers: You thought you were going to be wearing a fedora doing a lot of shoe-leather reporting—and you’ve done that at times in your career—but you ended up more immersed in the Internet than cultivating the next Deep Throat. What do you imagine the ten-year-old Zach Sewards of today are going to be doing when they’re 29 year olds working in journalism?
Zach: Well, for one, I do hope the WAG remains a print publication forever and doesn’t lose all of its advertising revenue to the radio hut. As for what the future of news holds, it will definitely be something strange and unfamiliar. Smartphones will change journalism altogether, and then something else will again. Maybe virtual reality, but I hope to be retired by then.

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