Meet Robinson O'Brien-Bours: Globetrotter, Wine-Taster & Pundit Of the Week

What happens when you're accidentally copied in on an internal PolicyMic listserv? For starters, you probably receive a lot of GIFs, but you may just become one of our top politics pundits.

Robinson O'Brien-Bours is a gifted writer, entrepreneur and our pundit of the week. He discusses the importance of expanding PolicyMic's reach west and why the platform truly is providing a huge service to millennials.

As part of the "pundit of the week" column, we spotlight one PolicyMic-er to share personal experiences with our community, and pose one never-been-asked question to a staff member.

Chris Altchek takes on Robinson's inquiry about the future of our comments section. Check out last week's Q&A with Daniela Ramirez.

About Robinson: Born into a family involved with the Hollywood entertainment industry, Robinson grew up on California's Central Coast and graduated from Ashland University in Ohio. After college he lived in Italy and Washington, D.C., working in both politics and academia. Robinson currently lives in Los Angeles, where he stays somewhat active in politics and film while running his own wine-tasting business and managing customer engagement for tech start-up FreedomPop. He plans to start graduate school next year.



Caira Conner (CC): First things first. When and why did you get involved with PolicyMic?

Robinson O'Brien-Bours (ROB): I learned about PolicyMic when an acquaintance connected me with Jake Horowitz in the summer of 2011. PolicyMic wanted to expand the political diversity of its pundits and Jake asked to tap into my fairly extensive network of conservative and libertarian millennials. My employment at the time limited my own ability to write, though I'd occasionally link to debates on PolicyMic

In August of 2012, someone at PolicyMic accidentally put me on an email list of pundits live-blogging the RNC and DNC conventions. (Oopsie) After a week of receiving emails telling me what I'd be writing on, I tweeted an amused quip and Jake followed up with an email apologizing— at which point I actually registered on PolicyMic's website for the first time and, free from the constraints of my previous employment, started writing.

CC: Most of your work on PolicyMic is for our politics section, but you also produce the occasional sophisticated piece of cultural analysis.  Why is PolicyMic an effective platform for your cause(s)? Is there something you wish you could change about your user experience?

ROB: I am thankful for the opportunity PolicyMic provides to write on issues that are important to me and that interest me, and that I think can interest others too. The fact that the website is a place for millennials to share and discuss their ideas is incredibly enticing, and the editorial staff is top-notch when it comes to helping find ideas and guiding us in writing our articles. Between the community and the editorial assistance, and the general freedom that we have when it comes to writing here, PolicyMic is an effective platform for advancing and debating ideas.

I am looking forward to the changes coming to PolicyMic when the website relaunches on October 1. I think better organization of articles and comment threads could help improve the user experience a lot, and based on what we have been told about the redesign so far, it sounds like that's just what the team has in store for us.

CC: What is one outcome you'd like to result from your engagement with PolicyMic? Any ideas for the best way to make this happen?

ROB: As long as I'm able to change a few opinions and have my own views challenged, I am happy. If I can spark an interest in something that someone hasn't thought seriously about before, or get people to look at something in a different light, then I have been successful. If someone can do the same for me and help me to view something from a different point of view, then I still feel that my engagement here has been successful. Human beings are complicated creatures with complex problems and ideas, but it is so easy for us to fall into lazy groupthink and not challenge our own thoughts, beliefs, and principles. So long as PolicyMic continues to be a platform for thoughtful commentary, honest debate, and principled discussion, it will continue to be a great service to millennials.

I look forward to changes to the platform that are more conducive to debate. We should be obligated to explain our reasoning, our logic, our emotions— all the things that help us come to our conclusions. Whether through the comments section in articles or through debating articles, the redesigned PolicyMic should constantly focus on challenging millennials to challenge themselves and each other. We are all better off for it.

CC: Our biggest PolicyMic "hubs" are on the east coast. How can we encourage other like-minded Angelenos to contribute?

ROB: You New Yorkers and D.C. folk certainly do seem to run the table when it comes to media and punditry! On the surface I can see how it might seem easier to find millennials willing to engage in public debate on the east coast. Between Capitol Hill and Wall Street and the universities of the area, there is certainly plenty to choose from. That said, engaging Californians would be of great benefit to our conversations on various issues. As the most populous state in the country, the largest contributor to the American economy, and the home of industries ranging from agriculture to Hollywood to Silicon Valley, Californians have a lot to offer to the conversation.

BuzzFeed very recently opened a new office in Los Angeles. Like most media organizations, their primary focus is going to be on the entertainment industry. However, their presence is a physical sign to Angelenos that engages us a bit more than if they had just remained back east. PolicyMic could benefit from some physical presence in the community, even just in the form of individuals reaching out to various communities in the region and telling them about PolicyMic and what it has to offer.

CC: Let's go offline. What do you like to do when you're not PolicyMic-in'?


ROB: My work occupies a lot of my time. If I'm not managing employees, I might be organizing and hosting wine tastings for my other business. Outside of work, I'm a bit of a foodie. I love trying new restaurants, new beers, and new wines. Travel is another passion of mine; I have to be on an airplane at least a few times a year. Over the next year I have trips planned to Ireland and Mexico, and I can often be found in Napa, Vegas, Ohio, and D.C. at least once a year.

During the summers you might find me enjoying a concert at the Hollywood Bowl or game at Dodgers Stadium, and at any point of the year you'll probably find me staring out over beautiful Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory, my favorite spot in town. I spend a lot of time with family, have friends over for BBQs, and enjoy playing chess and piano. 

CC: Your turn. What's one question you have for a member of our staff?

ROB: My question is for Chris Altchek. The comments section of the website is the source of a lot of great debate and discussion between our pundits and commenters. What type of improvements are in store for this section?

Chris Altchek: We've got a full, very awesome redesign of the website launching very soon. As part of that relaunch, we have reworked the comments system to work much more seamlessly. We are also improving the Mic system to give pundits more meaningful feedback to their stories, and a system that will allow PolicyMic to highlight our most credible authors on major topics. Lots coming very soon. Stay tuned!

CC: Robinson, you're wonderful. Thank you for all the work you've done for us the past 2 years. Look forwarding forward to what's next!

For more news on Robinson, follow him on Twitter: @RobinsonOB