Politico Plans Expansion To 50 States And Major World Capitals By 2020

“With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries.”
Politico founders John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei announced in a memo that the company will be expanding even more.
Politico founders John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei announced in a memo that the company will be expanding even more.
Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Politico is planning a significant domestic and international expansion over the next five years, with ambitions to employ more political and policy journalists in Washington, Europe and across U.S. state capitals than any other publication, according to an email obtained by The Huffington Post.

"Our dream is a Politico journalistic presence in every capital of every state and country of consequence by 2020," co-founders Jim VandeHei and John Harris wrote in a memo in advance of an all-staff meeting. "With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries."

The plans announced Monday continue Politico's exportation of its obsessive brand of politics and policy coverage to new media markets, a model replicated by the company earlier this year in Europe and last month in New Jersey and Florida.

Politico has grown considerably since launching as a Beltway-geared newspaper and website in January 2007. Through speed and scoops, Politico became the standout new outlet covering the 2008 elections. A few years later, the politics-focused brand expanded into policy coverage by launching paid subscription verticals. The main site now boasts 14 Pro verticals, which intensely cover issues such as agriculture, defense, energy and transportation.

Though Politico, like any media outlet, still wants to increase traffic to boost digital advertising, the Pro subscription model has become a core revenue driver for the company and was reproduced in other markets. Politico New York -- as Capital, its 2013 acquisition, was rebranded last month -- sells paid subscriptions for media and New York-politics-themed verticals. Last week, Politico introduced paid subscription options for its Brussels-based European outlet.

Currently, Politico employs almost 300 reporters, editors and producers worldwide, including in European cities such as London, Berlin and Paris, according to the memo.

Politico has considered state expansion since its earliest days. In August and September 2007, the company bought 50 state-focused URLs, such as PoliticoNJ.com and PoliticoNewJersey.com. But the state expansion didn’t really get off the ground until the purchase of Capital and recent launch of state-based Politicos in New Jersey and Florida. Politico also now offers Playbook newsletters, covering the nitty gritty of state politics and policy, in Massachusetts, Illinois and California. A Politico source told HuffPost the company is planning to launch sites in a half-dozen additional states, including Texas.

This expansion comes as the media's statehouse coverage has dropped precipitously along with the decline of the newspaper industry. Newer entrants have picked up some of the slack, with nonprofit site Texas Tribune and Politico New York boasting the most statehouse reporters in Austin and Albany, respectively. But there's still fear that state government isn't as closely covered as when newspapers were flush with money and staff.

In the memo, VandeHei, the CEO, and Harris, the editor-in-chief, said the company's domestic and international expansion will require "leaders and boot camps to teach the Politico approach for reporting and writing," a plan expected to roll out next month.

VandeHei and Harris also described Politico’s editorial formula for scoops, narrative journalism, and “defiantly nonpartisan” coverage of politics and policy in the memo below:

POLITICO in full: Saving, spreading, scaling great journalism

The central mission of POLITICO, from birth to our current growth spurt, has been to help sustain and vastly expand nonpartisan political and policy journalism. We all believe informing readers and holding leaders accountable is and will forever be essential to smart governance, regardless of shifts in technology and consumption habits.

This mission animates our ambitions, our business, our culture -- and our massive output of journalism from Washington to Warsaw, Boston to Brussels, and soon many more capitals beyond.

Nine years into this adventure, and in advance of our all-staff meeting next week, the two of us wanted to reflect on the journalism we are producing, the lessons we are learning and our editorial plans for the next decade.

Back then, the two of us, along with Robert Allbritton, were immersed in a series of somewhat blurry conversations that led in a series of improbable twists and turns to the launch of POLITICO.

We believed then, and believe more strongly now, that the digital revolution in media, for all the disruption that comes with it, would be a great thing for the kind of journalism we love. We believed then, and believe more strongly now, that this work could meet both an editorial and marketplace test by creating enduring value for us and for the world's most influential readers.

The goal of sustaining and scaling the POLITICO approach — great journalism harnessed to a great business — motivates our business experts and technologists just as much as it does our reporters and editors. It permeates our culture, as we recruit and motivate new hires and develop the careers of the 450-plus employees already here.

For starters, it's worth celebrating the media machine you have created: We now have nearly 300 reporters, editors and producers in Washington, Brussels, London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts and many more capitals to come. They are backed by business, technology and operational minds who understand, appreciate and increase the value of our journalism.

We pump out roughly 3,000 stories, 2,000 pushed news alerts for subscribers and 1,000 reported morning newsletters in an average month. Soon, we will have more people producing political and policy journalism in Washington, Europe and state capitals than any publication in the world.

Reflect on that for a moment -- and be proud of your progress in helping save the journalism all of us believe in. And now consider we will need to at least double the number of editorial heads to fulfill our ambitions.

Together, all of us have created a model to sustain and spread our journalism for many, many years to come. Our model is one of the few we know of that relies on high quality journalism -- not mass traffic -- to flourish.

At our recent staff town hall meetings, some of you asked: What, at its purest essence, is the brand of journalism we are fighting for? How is that different from the POLITICO of old? And how will this manifest itself in our coverage, particularly in the 2016 campaign?

We rose as a company with speed and edge. We were faster and more fun than sleepy and conventional competitors. We’ll never lose that, but we know it is insufficient. It worked brilliantly until everyone got edgier, and Twitter got faster than all of us.

So we adapted and innovated. Readers -- especially our core audience of smart, busy professionals -- want something very different today. And it's our responsibility to adapt to them -- not them to us. This is a chief reason we made agility a core cultural principle: We need to stay one step ahead of the fast-changing habits of the most important readers.
Our take on what they want:

* Smarts and scoops. With so much traffic trash, opinion and noise, readers demand authentically smart coverage, especially scoops that can be produced only by great reporting and great reporters. This is -- and always will be -- our central focus. For evidence, look no further than our sustained dominance of congressional coverage, and the instant and profound success of every policy vertical in every location.

* Journalism that informs and challenges all parties. We live in a hyperpartisan world but our publication is defiantly nonpartisan -- because that is what the world's most influential readers need and want. They are happy to be provoked and even furious with our coverage as long as we are equally tough and hard on all sides. We are getting better than ever at tapping into the great ideas, insight and analysis animating and shaping big issues important to decision makers. In the end, our readers know we deliver the goods. And they reward us for fearless independence and reporting.

* Efficiency. Too much information is coming at us in too many ways from too many directions. Readers want us to make their lives better and easier by providing indispensable reporting, often in smaller and smaller chunks. This is why our 40-plus reported newsletters remain among our most popular offerings -- and why pushed-out, bite-size news nuggets are such a hit with paying subscribers.

* Narrative journalism that is truly revelatory - and truly WORTH their time. The evidence is emphatically in: Readers will reward more ambitious journalism with their time, but only if it’s authentically newsy, consequential and well written. The bar is higher than ever, because readers have less time than ever. Our challenge is to be honest and disciplined with ourselves in judging whether something warrants great length and time.

* Fun. We all want to be entertained -- and politics (and even policy) can be a blast. Our site and stories should reflect this. We should lampoon the buffoon and laugh at the gaffe. And we should embrace meaningful mischief, such as Isaac’s idea to pop into the Colbert studio to get an early peak at Joe Biden's appearance, while the rest of the press dutifully obeyed a White House embargo.

* Global perspective. It's no longer enough to inform smart readers about what's happening in Washington and politics alone. Technology and market forces are connecting issues, governments and people -- and this interconnectivity will only intensify in coming years. The more this transpires, the more sophisticated readers will need our breadth and depth to understand the world and topics around them.

This is why we are taking POLITICO deeper, broader and into new states and nations. We saw in New York and Europe how badly influential readers need our brand of journalism -- and how quickly this journalism can attract the ads, event sponsors and subscribers to support it.

Our dream is a POLITICO journalistic presence in every capital of every state and country of consequence by 2020. With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries.

This requires leaders and boot camps to teach the POLITICO approach for reporting and writing. John and others in leadership are busy formalizing plans to expedite this, starting next month.

The past week provided a great illustration of our journalism at its best, with our reporters presaging John Boehner's fall as speaker weeks before it happened and then owning the implications for leadership, policy and politics in real-time. We had the definitive tick-tock of the Iran deal, conversation-driving coverage of the presidential campaign and an illuminating examination of Arne Duncan's controversial tenure and the biggest education policy debates of this day.

We know our model works. Now, we just need to perfect our ability to quickly grow leaders and teach our techniques and tricks. The early results are very encouraging, as our new outposts in Brussels, New York and Florida attract the same high-achieving talent, and quickly produce POLITICO-style journalism we are proud of.

With editorial leaders like Susan Glasser in Washington, Matt Kaminski and Carrie Budoff Brown in Brussels and Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran in New York, we are well positioned to offer readers POLITICO in full. This means driving the conversation not with mere speed and voice but with scoops, depth, authority, unique voices and stories only POLITICO would dare to do. We have an army of journalists on several fronts with a clear mission to execute this plan.

Media in this generation is a rough-and-tumble business -- not one for people who prize stability. Technology will continue as a disruptive force, compelling us to think anew about how best to serve our audience. The scramble among competitors for editorial and business talent will continue, and we intend to win that competition by being the most rewarding platform for the most talented reporters, editors, business specialists and analysts.

Amid this upheaval, why is it that POLITICO coverage keeps getting better and our audience and subscriber numbers bigger? It’s the revelatory reporting, culture, methods, eye for talent and unblinking focus all of you have helped produce and develop over the past nine years. All of this is proven, durable and scalable. Thank you for creating and perfecting it - and signing up to join the fight to spread it everywhere.

Jim and John

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