Exit Interview: Jake Wagman on Post-Dispatch and New Career


Yes, that is a Bass Pro Shop hat on Jake Wagman's head - just in case anyone wants to mess with his Missourah credentials.
  • Yes, that is a Bass Pro Shop hat on Jake Wagman's head - just in case anyone wants to mess with his Missourah credentials.
Jake Wagman stepped down last week from his job as a political reporter at the Post-Dispatch to start an opposition research firm. Yesterday Riverfront Times caught up with the 33-year-old Wagman, who we once named St. Louis' best reporter, to discuss his new gig as a freelance sleuth and his memories of ten years spent covering Missouri politics.

RFT: So what prompted this change, and why are you getting out of the journalism racket?

Wagman: This allows me to do the things I love -- reporting and politics -- from anywhere. My second daughter was born earlier this month and my wife got a job teaching American history at St. Mary's College that will have us moving to South Bend, Indiana. But this is just something I've longed to do for a while -- be my own boss.

Your website, Shield Research, makes opposition research sound like it's a civil and noble part of campaigning and not the sleazy side of politics that digs up irrelevant dirt on candidates. What gives?

It's true that the term 'opposition research' conjures up images of a character hiding in the bushes and sifting through your mail, but nothing could be further from the truth. The type of opposition research I'll do is almost all based on public documents. I've found from my own reporting that nothing has greater appeal and resonance than a public document. And unfortunately with fewer journalists these days, there are fewer people holding public officials accountable.

Do you have any clients yet, and where will you concentrate your work -- in Missouri or Indiana?

I plan to remain Missouri-centric. I'm invested in St. Louis and Missouri and want to see them succeed. As for clients, all I can say is that the response so far has been positive.

Okay, but which side are you going to work for? Democrats or Republicans?

I'll be working with Democratic candidates. In this line of work you have to affiliate with a party. And I have to be myself. My values fall in line with the Democratic party.

Aha! More proof of the Post-Dispatch's left-wing bias!

Yeah, I realize some people are going to say 'I told you so!' But I know in my heart that my own beliefs never biased my reporting. That's one thing, though, that I won't miss about journalism -- the caustic criticism from some people. You just can't please them all.

What else won't you miss about journalism?

The anxiety. I managed to make it over a decade without a big mistake in a story, but it's something I always feared. I'd triple check my information. Still, there were nights I'd wake up in the middle of the night worried that I had an error in the next day's story.

What were you favorite stories for the Post-Dispatch? Your story on Lt. Governor Peter Kinder's lavish hotel stays on the taxpayers' dime comes to mind.

I liked that one, but my two favorites was one that I did just before Opening Day in 2010 when I reported on which lawmakers accepted free Cardinals tickets from lobbyists. The story merged two of my greatest passions -- sports and politics. I also liked one I did back when I was covering City Hall. There was a recall campaign going on against Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and I found the names of dead voters on the signature list and matched them up with their death certificates from Vital Records. Both those stories represent the power of public documents to tell a story and expose the truth.

Last question, we know your thoughts of the value of opposition research, but where'd you come up with the name Shield Research? And wouldn't something like Dagger Research, or Twist the Knife Research work better?

Well, a shield can be used as a defensive and offensive weapon. But I was also thinking of the Shield Law that protects reporters.


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