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Home > Publications > Quill > Ten with Chris Geidner


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Thursday, February 18, 2016
Ten with Chris Geidner

Quill asks 10 questions to people with some of the coolest jobs in journalism

By Scott Leadingham

Chris Geidner makes a very convincing lawyer, even though his full-time job has him covering law instead of practicing it. Heís eloquent in his delivery, articulate, makes a point well and argues for it. And heíll answer your questions more than thoroughly. Tell him itíll take 20 to 30 minutes to talk, and you end up an hour later wondering where the time went.

Thatís what you get from someone who is, by his own admission and branding, a ďlaw dork.Ē Ask questions about his seeming first love Ė the U.S. Supreme Court Ė and heíll give you more than you could possibly type. At BuzzFeed, the journalist-turned lawyer-turned journalist again is the stereotypical SCOTUS aficionado, quoting case names like a 10-year-old in Sunday school memorizing books of the Bible. After being a copy editor and editorial writer for the Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle, he attended law school at Ohio State, practiced at a private firm, worked in the Ohio attorney generalís office, and eventually found his way to Washington D.C. to write for Metro Weekly. When BuzzFeed was launching and ramping up D.C. coverage, his legal and journalism backgrounds were an ideal match. His coverage of LGBT issues eventually expanded into criminal justice and death penalty cases for BuzzFeed, where he is now legal editor.

Youíve been inside the Supreme Court when major opinions came. Do you ever reflect on being present at points in history that will someday be taught in history and law classes?

Yeah. One of the things I do is pretty much every morning I go to the court is post a picture on Instagram. From a social perspective itís letting follows know Iím there that day. But itís also to remember a place setter and reminder of what Iím doing each day. Itís important on both sides of that to realize what I write can be and is the first take of history. Realizing what Iím witness to matters, but also having the respect for that to know how I report on it matters too. And I need to always be taking it seriously. Especially at a place like the Supreme Court.

Is there one decision or legal issue from the past Ė before your time Ė that you wish you could have covered? (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Lochner v. New York)

All of them. I wish I was kidding. The perfect example of that Iím definitely not kidding is that I went to see ďBridge of SpiesĒ this past fall, and I then got home and spent the next four hours going through the legal issues and arguments, and was tweeting about this 40-year-old case from the movie. I mean, the court is amazing. Any time youíre covering a case, it is a history project.

See More:

-Twitter: @chrisgeidner

-Instagram: chrisgeidner

-Original legal blog: lawdork.net

Were you interested in legal stuff and SCOTUS in high school and college, or did that come later?

I remember being back in undergrad and buying the oral arguments in past cases on tape. I probably got like six or eight of them. You could drop me at any point in the courtís history and Iíd be thrilled.

You call yourself a ďlaw dorkĒ in your Twitter bio Ė and that was your blogís name, too. Do you think a lot of your readers and Twitter connections consider themselves law dorks, too? Is SCOTUS coverage really dorky when rulings so closely affect all Americans?

It depends on the case and on the ruling. Iíll say what one of my editors said. Often my stories are written with the first six paragraphs for everyone and 10 grafs for the legal people.

If youíre covering a beat, youíll have some stories that are intended for a small audience.

BuzzFeed does things a little differently in terms of presentation, or at least thatís the perception. I wonder if your reporting process is really different. Reading and reporting legal opinions is still the same whether youíre BuzzFeed or the Times, right?

I think itís very different in a way most people donít realize. I am not beholden to the confines of a century-old brand. I am the first legal editor at BuzzFeed. I am the first person who covered a SCOTUS oral argument for BuzzFeed. Iím creating what that perception is. And I have the ability to think about what works and what doesnít work in legal reporting. And thatís the key thing about BuzzFeed. When I joined, it was like, ĎOh, thatís the cat video site.í

And that changed. The advantage is that Iím allowed to explore form, content and ways of addressing the story with no obligation, with no tradition of what it should look like.

Itís absurd that publications by and large donít put links to documents. Itís 2016. Post it online. Make it available for your readers.

Youíre very active on Twitter, not just disseminating legal info, but really showing a human side, and even saying goodnight to your followers and being very personable. Was that a conscious decision or edict from your employer to interact that way, or is that just your personality?

That is how my Twitter account has developed. I started Twitter when I had restarted my blog after I left the Ohio attorney generalís office. Something I strongly advocate is that the point of Twitter is to be yourself. We are many moons beyond creating a separate online persona. That is dumb. Your online persona is just your persona. People have tried, like politicians, and you donít get away with it. Most people donít like that.

Unless youíre an asshole and just going to be a jerk on Twitter. Then maybe you should just have a very professional, pre-screened Twitter account.

You went to law school at Ohio State, which I wonít hold against you even though Iím a loyal Indiana grad. (Go Hoosiers!) A lot of journalists eventually go back to law school, but maybe not so many go to law school then back into journalism. Is that what you always intended to do? I mean, journalism isnít exactly known for its high pay and job security.

I had no intention. Honestly, Iím really lucky. I have loved each job Iíve done when I was doing it. I loved working a campaign in 2000. I loved working at a newspaper. I loved working in the Ohio AGís office. I got to do really important work. And I absolutely love reporting. At no point did I think what I was doing then, I wouldnít do forever. I think I have, right now, found the perfect role for me.

Youíre a native Ohioan. So whatís the better amusement park Ė Cedar Point or Kings Island? There is a right answer, of course.

Well, it is Cedar Point. (And thatís the right answer.)

All right, but how about Browns, Steelers or Bengals?

Not Bengals. That is the answer. My father was a Browns fan. My mom is from Pittsburgh. Actually, I prefer NCAA (sports) to professional.

I understand you quit drinking some time ago. We have another story in this issue about a journalist who gave up alcohol and how thatís been for him considering how connected journalism and alcohol seem to be Ė meeting at the bar with coworkers or a source, or at a conference with other attendees. I wonder if youíve felt the same. Is it sometimes hard professionally when everyone else is at the bar and you might not want to go?

I think itís a very individual situation. I found itís a really great thing for my job. I am able to be focused on what Iím doing. The truth is, everyone at BuzzFeed knows I am and have been sober since before I came in here. I think itís part of what I bring to the conversation. There are advantages. Colleagues know there is an advantage to having a colleague you know will always be sober. Itís something that has made me being able to live and do my job easier. The occasional awkwardness that might ensue is minor.

Note: The line ďMy father was a Browns fan Ö Ē in question nine has been changed from ďis a Browns fanĒ to reflect that Chris Geidnerís father has been deceased for some time.

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