Post moves to protect its politics franchise
The headline on today’s press release said: “The Washington Post Launches PostPolitics.com.” It might have said: “Post Moves To Protect Its Franchise.”
For decades, The Post has been synonymous with superior politics coverage. But increased competition from online rivals, coupled with the loss of some major talent through defections and buyouts, had left many in the newsroom worried that The Post’s once-commanding coverage was becoming commonplace.
Today’s launch of its new politics Web site is intended to unfurl the Post flag and replant it at the front of an expanding parade of competitor brands. As if to remind readers of its legacy, it promotes itself as “Still the best politics coverage.”
At the same time, The Post announced that Chris Cillizza, whose popular blog The Fix is a must-read for politics junkies, will take on an expanded role as managing editor of PostPolitics.com. Cillizza, a workhorse who is perhaps the best-sourced politics reporter on The Post’s staff, is considered a rising star and is a brand on his own.
“The Washington Post has long been synonymous with political writing and a mastery of what happens in Washington,” National Editor Kevin Merida told me several weeks ago during an interview about politics coverage. “It’s the capital of politics.”
In recent years, The Post has lost some of its brightest and most prolific politics writers. John Harris and Jim VandeHei departed to found Politico, now a serious competitor in politics coverage. They were joined at Politico by former Post politics reporter Mike Allen, whose was featured in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine as a must-read agenda setter through his daily e-mailed Playbook tipsheet. Respected Post veterans such as Dan Balz and David Broder, an icon among politics reporters, remain. But other Post specialists in politics and campaign finance have left through buyouts as The Post has reduced staff to cut costs.
It took months for The Post to hire a national politics editor to guide coverage of this year’s midterm elections and beyond. They had offered the job to Aaron Zitner of the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau, who had previous experience crafting that paper’s politics coverage. But Zitner declined the offer, leading some in The Post’s newsroom to fret that continued cost-cutting was scaring off prospective hires because they lacked confidence the paper would commit the resources necessary to continue to be a leader in politics coverage. After declining the Post job, Zitner left the Times to head politics coverage at The Wall Street Journal.
But in recent weeks, The Post has moved aggressively to bolster its politics team. Karen Tumulty, Time magazine’s veteran national political correspondent, joined The Post this month to play a similar role. Well-sourced and respected, her continued presence on television will increase The Post’s branding of its politics coverage.
Weston Kosova, a senior editor in Newsweek’s Washington bureau who has directed its coverage of the last three presidential campaigns, was hired last week to be The Post’s national politics editor. His arrival in late May will come as The Post moves deeply into coverage of midterm primary campaigns and elections.
Nia-Malika Henderson, who held a White House beat with Politico, joined The Post’s politics team this week. A staff memo announcing her hiring said she will “focus her reporting on the First Family, and mine the intersection of politics and culture in Washington. What is going on in this town that is new and different since the Obama administration arrived? What are the key friendships that help explain the Obama’s’ lives in the federal city?” The memo also said Henderson, a Post summer intern in 2005, will “play a significant role” in coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.
At the same time, The Post has been shifting reporters and editors to the politics team to beef up coverage of campaign finance and lobbying. They have been joined by Tim Farnam, hired away from The Wall Street Journal, who will use his expertise in databases to unearth stories on campaign fundraising and spending.
The new PostPolitics.com site will draw on content from throughout the newsroom, including opinion columnists from the Op-ed Page. It offers a slick interactive map, allowing readers to click on a state or congressional district to see past Senate, House and gubernatorial election results and fundraising statistics. Visitors to the site also are given a variety of social media options.
In the works, but not yet launched, will be links to a network of state-based political bloggers and live video discussions and daily video reports on politics by Cillizza. Users also can sign up to receive e-mail alerts on politics:
There will also be a partnership with ABC News and its weekday, noontime “Top Line” Webcast on politics. And The Post expects to offer expanded political surveys and analysis of polls.
There’s more competition than ever, and the launch of PostPolitics.com underscores the fact that people want their political news and analysis instantly and are unwilling to wait until the next day’s newspaper. As The Post said in promoting the site in today’s newspaper, it will be: “Focused. Factual. First.”
Competitors like Politico put a premium on speed-to-audience. But The Post is also stressing its reach as a national and international brand. “No other politics Website in the capital reaches more people than we do,” Post Executive editor Marcus Brauchli said in today’s press release.
In the interview several weeks ago, I asked Merida about the threat from Politico. “I don’t really worry about Politico, to be honest with you,” he said. “I worry about us being able to give people what they need and what they want.”
The fierce competition will benefit those who love to follow politics.
| April 28, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
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