Pushing Politico

Politico is a lively if somewhat brash and sometimes irritating publication in Washington that is a half-paper, half web thing; as the name suggests, it covers politics, mainly. You can get it on paper but it mainly exists online. It is challenging and interesting if sometimes a bit full of itself, like many of the best things in media (and most of the worst). It covers policy and politics but also gossip and infighting; as any good Washington publication should.

Gabriel Sherman has written a good piece in The New Republic on the phenomenon. “If the 2004 campaign belonged to the blogs, this year’s presidential contest was defined by the rise of the Web-print venture… From the start, their aim with Politico was to combine the Web’s rapid-fire capacity with the legitimacy of traditional newspapering. Journalistically, their strategy was to out-report and outpace the newspapers that dominated election coverage, to get links up before readers reached their desks and BlackBerries in the morning, and to keep the news items going all afternoon for the prime-time cable pundits to digest at night.”

The publication’s success (and tone and texture) has brought enemies. “Politico’s pace and self-promotion has irritated some in the Washington press corps,” as Sherman notes.  There has also been a nasty little exchange between Politico’s John Harris and New York Times executive editor Bill Keller over the TNR piece. See here for one version of this.

It is in part the self-promotion that really seems to irk people, and what can look like the tabloid sensibility. The New Republic published with some sniffiness a memo from Politico about news values: how to test if a story will make.”Stories need to be both interesting and illuminating–we don’t have the luxury of running stories folks won’t click on or spend several minutes with in the paper,” it says.

As Megan Garber notes in the Columbia Journalism Review, there is something socially and technologically (and probably also financially) significant about the way that Politico goes about selling itself. “[I]f Politico is, indeed… a Model for the Future of News, it could augur as well that Future’s general cultural context. Politico’s assumption that dissemination should be an integral part of the journalistic equation (as evidenced by its widespread and “methodical” approach to publicity) heralds the toppling of the traditional wall dividing journalism from PR. The life cycle of a story is no longer the simple reporting-writing-editing-publication; it’s now reporting-writing-editing-publication-syndication-conversation. …[P]ickup has always been, to some extent, a goal of journalism-but as the Web flattens the relationship between discrete publications, and as the link economy grows, publicity dominates a broader portion of a story’s lifespan. And it becomes an increasingly integral component of news organizations’ business strategies.”

Media commentator Paul Bradshaw makes a similar point at Online Journalism Blog. “Newsgathering, production and distribution are often the same thing in an online environment…As I’ve said before, the journalist (along with their readers) is now the distributor. You cannot leave that job to someone else. The more active, visible and social you are online, the better for your work both commercially and editorially.”

I like Politico’s showbizzy approach: it goes and sells the stuff and that has to be good. I also like other aspects of the the model. “Politico is unique in that its print version is aimed at a very local audience while its online reach is national,” wrote FishBowlNY last year. NiemanLabs reported on their business model and argued it wasn’t readily copyable, which is probably true. I don’t think the publication will reinvent the wheel but I find it interesting, provocative and lively.

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