On Thursday, Sept. 1st, Bill Nichols, the editor in chief of Politico delivered the opening lecture of the school of Journalism of Sciences-Po. His message was, for me at least, the first ray of hope in the waste land of the news. It is a fact that Politico is a big success story. It started 4 years ago as a web site based in Washington and fully devoted to political news. It employed then 12 people. Now it has a staff of 200, including 150 journalists, it has 4 million unique visitors and it has started a very successful print supplement delivered for free in various spots of Washington. With its advertising receipts and the sale of a high level supplement called Politico Pro, the company breaks even and intends to keep going with new contents.
What is the recipe of Politico ? First, its managers are old hands of journalism, coming from USA Today like Bill or from the Washington Post or other first class newspapers. From the start, their credibility was very high. Also, they adopted very quickly a well adjusted style, taking into account the necessity for speed and easy reading. As Bill Nichols says, it is a kind or tabloidism of political news. The journalists must react at once to any piece of news, put it immediately on the web with further connexions to video and the print. This way, the news hungry public of DC gets all the time, all the news, without waiting for the cumbersome edition of next day Times or WP.
This behaviour does not prevent the staff to think and enlarge the stories. As a recent exemple, Bill mentioned a large debate in the newsroom on Dick Perry, the would be candidate to the Republican nomination. The topic was:"Is Perry dumb?"or is he just a cunning demagogue, using the right sound bites to seduce the Tea party? Several papers were published in Politico to clarify this interesting enigma.
Asked about some new developments, Bill Nichols stressed the interest of a kind of Politico on world news but considered it was too big an investment, due to the cost of foreign correspondants. He also insisted on the necessity to stay in the Washington area; any extension, for instance in New York would be too costly.
So, if Politico is a major acomplishment in the information world, it is not easy to build up alternatives.