Robby Barthelmess is a writer, an entrepreneur, and a passionate young conservative. He's also PolicyMic's pundit of the week.
As part of the "pundit of the week" blog, we spotlight one exceptional PolicyMic-er to share personal experiences with our community, and pose one never-been-asked question to a staff member. This week's staff question is for lead developer Anthony Sessa. Check out last week's Q&A with Rachel Lesser.
About Robby: Robby is a photographer, philosopher, and California native. When not taking pictures, you can find him writing, reading, and debating you on PolicyMic, possibly in his pajama pants.
Caira Conner (CC): First things first, tell me about why you decided to join PolicyMic.
Robby Barthelmess (RB): I heard about PolicyMic by Googling various issues in the news and I kept seeing the site pop up in the results. Then, not long after I made my first acquaintance with the site, one of my girlfriend's best friends, Laura Donovan, was hired by PolicyMic.
Around the same time, I listened to a speech about the importance of participating in public discourse and not being afraid to be politically incorrect. I felt called out because I commonly wouldn't write on anything I believe in politics because my views are not always in line with the current political climate. I then thought about how my lack of participation (and the participation of others) is a problem for democracy. I decided that I needed to build the courage and speak up. I was and still am terrified about every article that I write.
CC: Your self-described hot-button issues are gun control and individual liberty. As a young conservative, explain why these are the most important to you. What has been one advantage in using PolicyMic as a platform for your perspective on these topics? Any disadvantages?
RB: Gun control and individual liberty are two of my hot-button issues because they are the ones that seem to be most under attack: directly or indirectly. I also believe, as I wrote this past week, that firearms and the second amendment are our last line of defense against abusive government. I don't think that we are experiencing an abusive government, nor do I endorse any kind of uprising. I simply see it as a possibility. I also believe that due to the existence of individual liberty, we can focus our crime reduction techniques upon people rather than objections (namely, firearms in this case). So in another sense, gun control does very little to reduce the actual issue, which is criminal behavior and actions.
PolicyMic allows me a voice despite the fact that I am not a politician and someone who is pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Many news sites toy with the notion of objectivity and I like how PolicyMic encourages people to be upfront about their views. I believe that this site is going to become even more important in the future. It provides an incredible forum for discussion and an exchange of views (even if some people don't like to agree). I think the only downside is that I get a lot of replies from many of the same people saying the same things in response to me, but I'm hopeful that we will learn more about each other's positions as time goes on.
CC: You're engaged in an interesting blend of professions and activities- including photography, non-profit management, and soon, law school. What's the motivation behind this particular mix?
RB: I think I have some form of undiagnosed activity ADD. I like too many different things and I spread myself really thin. I work as a freelance photographer to make money (hence the reason I have time in the day to get into arguments on PolicyMic).
I run a little non-profit that I co-founded called Kids + Cameras, where we teach students around the Santa Barbara, California area about photography by bringing in film cameras to their classrooms and helping them take pictures. I never really planned this, it developed organically and I've done my best to keep up. I'm trying to grow it more and hopefully bring in some people who can help out. I'm starting law school in August and I hope to one day work in criminal law as a prosecutor. I loved my internship at the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office and I hope to return there as a graduate.
I've worked as a photographer for a daily newspaper in Santa Barbara for seven years now, so it has been my only real job since I was 16. I'm just used to it, I enjoy it, and it works well by allowing me to make my own schedule and find time to do other things that I also enjoy (such as harassing others on PolicyMic).
I hope to develop a unified theme of activity in my world soon. I want to write more, photograph less, but also pay my bills. I majored in philosophy at UCLA and I loved studying, writing, and reading, and I feel like politics and PolicyMic allows me to do that.
CC: What's been the most surprising aspect of your user experience with PolicyMic?
RB: I've been pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement on the site and similar-thinking political allies that I have found. There are plenty of high quality pundits, contributors, and commentators out there. I've been exposed to solid arguments and perspectives that I hadn't previously encountered, despite participating in plenty of discussions in college.
I have also been very surprised at the ability that the site has to reach an audience. The number of views, comments, and shares on articles can be very impressive. As someone who has a little bit of experience in blogging and social media for business, I am impressed with the team's ability to provide solid SEO.
CC: What is the best possible thing that could result from your using PolicyMic as a platform?
RB: To be honest, my not-so-secretive mission in writing is to expose more people to the values and arguments that stem from conservative-libertarianism. I think many millennials value individual liberty and less government interference in their lives, but they just don't know it. I think that the mainstream media and popular culture has influenced my generation to a degree that makes libertarianism or those in favor of lesser government look like right-wing crazies who like to oppress minorities. In fact, this is not true at all. I think that one of the major values that I hold is for the individual to make their own choices. For example, many people right of center tend to be against gay marriage whereas that is not my perspective at all. I value the individual and the choices that individuals can make, for better or for worse, because I respect people. Obviously, there are stipulations that must follow, but I think you can catch my drift. I think the GOP hasn't exactly done much to help this cause at all and nor have the democrats. I want to promote ideas rather than partisan division. It is sad to see so many people go at lengths to defend things that their party does that they don't necessarily agree with. I want to bring focus back to the Constitution, liberty, and the value and respect for human beings.
Let's go offline. What else do you like to do when you're not PolicyMic-in'?
RB: Life exists offline? Oh yea, so you mean drafting tweets when you don't have cell service?
Well, I live in Santa Barbara, California, so I pretty much get to enjoy beautiful weather year-round. I love paddle boarding around in the ocean, SCUBA diving, riding my super- sweet, overly colorful bicycle, wine and/or beer tasting, reading outside, shooting, indoor rock climbing, anything involving spending time with my girlfriend or the mob of close friends that I have around town.
I spend far too much time and money at a coffee shop near my house, where I do the majority of my writing and computer work. I love talking to people, engaging in respectful argument, and discussing issues- be that in politics, religion, or the greater realm of philosophy. I truly enjoy reading, mostly non-fiction. My major guilty pleasure is following a far-too-abundant-number of TV shows.
CC: Your turn. What's one question you have for a member of the PolicyMic team?
RB: My question is for Anthony Sessa. What kinds of technological/website improvements do you have in mind for PolicyMic? What methods of social media interaction, sharing, or general, additional features on the site do you feel are valuable or will be coming?
Anthony Sessa: We are in the midst of a full re-design which is going to be a lot of fun. Additionally, there is a huge wish-list of new features and improvements that we will be tackling during this time. It's going to be a blast.
During the re-design, we will be improving our overall aesthetics across the site but will be putting a major focus on the reading and discussion experiences. To make this happen, we hired an awesome designer, Liran Okanon. We will be evaluating every single page on the site and improving it as much as we possibly can. We are really excited about making this happen.
Feature-wise, we just rolled out a new search engine and list story creator. In the near future, we will be launching a much more robust article tagging system which will make it easier to find focused, topical content. Additionally, we plan on adding a feedback system for article corrections as well as website improvements and/or problems. This will be a great way for us to prioritize what our users want. We are also planning on adding a "read later" button to articles that will allow users to be emailed the full article.
In terms of social media interaction, we want to allow our users to share exactly what they want to share, so we have been thinking about doing something similar to what the New Republic does with allowing users to highlight specific text and share. Also, we are definitely going to allow users to share comments, which will hopefully stir up even more discussion on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Lastly, we love receiving any ideas or thoughts on what can be improved, so feel free to let us know what you think!
CC: Robby, you're a wonderful member of the PolicyMic community. Thank you for sharing your perspectives with us!
For more news on Robby, follow him on Twitter: @R_Barthelmess