Profile in Liberty: 22 Questions with Bubba Atkinson
When you first read the name “Bubba” I’m sure your first thoughts wander off down to the deep south, but this guy isn’t your typical southern stereotype. Bubba Atkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Journal Review – better known as IJReview (or Conservative Daily on Facebook). Under his leadership, in two years, the website has grown to become a top 40 site in the United States. If you’ve recently clicked on a viral political story on facebook, chances are it is an IJReview story. In other words, Bubba gets things done.
Part 1: What I Do
How I describe my job in 10 words:
Making important news exciting for the internet in shareable ways.
My day to day work in 3 sentences:
My role as editor-in-chief has changed dramatically over the last couple of years, but now my focus has mainly turned to making sure my team has what they need. I start off the day talking with the editors and making sure we’re covering the right issues and trends, then the in-house team goes through a brainstorming session, and then I do whatever is needed for the team after that. Sometimes that entails meetings to better understand analytics, sometimes it’s working with our resident wizard Carl Sceusa on technology or design, and sometimes it’s working directly with editors and writers hand in hand.
I couldn’t do my job without:
My team. They are awesome. Kyle Becker, our managing editor and my first hire, is my homeboy. The team works together on everything. My line of thinking is that multiple brains are smarter than one brain, so why not work together?
Most important moment in my career (so far):
When I finally realized that I needed to do something different if I was going to get a job I actually wanted. I was just waiting tables and playing in bands to make ends meet for 3 years after college as I was unable to find a more substantial job, but then I started a blog in which I wrote about the trials and tribulations of finding a job – aptly titled ‘Bubba Finds a Job’ – in order to increase my exposure so that I could get advice and/or interviews. What started as underemployment frustration and a spreadsheet to track my job search progress ended with me learning that I loved creating things, and I got an offer from my friend Alex Skatell to try and make this idea he had work. I’ll never forget the things I learned from that experience as long as I live.
Unexpected skill that has helped me the most:
Writing. I had never really written much prior to the blog.
The best advice I have received:
To not take shortcuts. My parents taught me that taking shortcuts increases the likelihood that something messes up. It’s always about taking the next best step.
Part deux: Politics
The biggest change I’ve seen already in politics:
People are becoming more involved and engaged. Specifically, a younger generation. Social media is raging huge mega ultra turbo powerful, and it’s helping bring lots of important issues to light.
The element of working in politics that most surprised me:
The way decisions are made in politics blows my mind. There’s almost always a somewhat complex strategy behind every decision…for better or worse.
The most important issue many don’t see yet:
The tax code is 74,000 pages. That’s not normal for anything, and its befuddling complications create the wrong incentives in so many different ways it’s absurd. No one in politics really makes strong moves to change it, they just bitch about the effects of it. Understanding the cause of issues is the key to achieving desired effects.
Where I think the movement will be in five years:
Less divided. I refuse to believe that our generation will allow what’s going on in Washington to perpetuate. People will focus on issues and solutions instead of parties. If I was lucky enough to write the script for America over the next little bit, I’d write about how this cool generation of kids that understood technology and data stopped caring about the ever inglorious attention and power. I think the next 5 years will be the just the tip of the iceberg as that story begins. That may be optimistic, but I think that’d be an awesome and believable chapter in a US History textbook…so why not?
How I formed my political beliefs:
My family taught me about hard work, responsibility, and being accepting. That’s the foundation for almost everything in my life.
Part 3: The Next Generation
What I’d say to my 18-year-old self:
“You’re about to do some really stupid things over the next decade. Like you’re going to look in the mirror and wonder what the hell is going on at times. Some things will be great, and some things will be horrible. Bones, dreams and your heart will all be broken at various times. However, you’ll look back one day at what you learned through everything and it will all make sense. Even the broken elbow. Never stop learning. YOLO. And buy Apple stock. Lots of it.”
Skill or experience I’d recommend students get now:
Get involved with something. Anything. Just do something, even if it’s unpaid. Even if you find you don’t like something, you’ve learned what not to do going forward – that’s huge.
Three things I’d tell every young political junkie to read:
This is a horrible question for me. I haven’t finished a book since 8th grade. Can I skip this one?
My most useful class in college:
Sailing – I know how to tie all sorts of knots now.
Three future leaders from my generation:
I think Mark Zuckerberg will become a leader for more than he already has.
Anton Vuljaj, a co-worker that came to our company from Google, is a born leader whose greatest asset is his reasonable nature – except when it comes to pizza. He’ll be in the White House one day in some capacity.
Elise Stefanik who just became the youngest female congresswoman ever. She’s showing that you don’t have to be some old, corrupt person with questionable experience and relationships to get into Congress.
Part 4: Me, Personally
The most fascinating figure in world history:
Barack Obama’s rise to the most powerful office in the world is nothing short of truly fascinating.
My heroes in fiction:
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are awesome. Not only do they fight crime, but they do it in humble ways that don’t bring attention to themselves, all while having a great time and crushing pizza.
The most inspiring art I’ve read, seen or heard:
Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is amazing to me. Kurt Cobain was a depressed and troubled kid whose only comfortable outlet changed things. He just didn’t care what the establishment thought and made music he liked simply because he liked it. Subsequently, he changed music. That’s pretty gangster.
I’d star in House of Cards or West Wing:
House of Cards. It’s so dramatic.
I can’t get through my day without:
My dog Charlie and music. I didn’t want to move to DC from Charleston unless Charlie could come to the office with me. She’s my fave.
Why I think America’s Future Foundation is important:
A lot of younger people out there probably don’t think they can be leaders, or make a difference, but it’s of the utmost importance that they realize they can. AFF helps arm young people with the tools they need. That’s huge. And it’s awesome that they don’t get stuck on whether you’re conservative or libertarian; they stick to freedom and encourage discussion.
Patti Simpson is director of political and career services at the Leadership Institute.