NEW YORK -- The percentage of American workers in unions is the lowest in nearly a century, and only two major newspapers still devote a reporter full-time to covering labor. But where some others outlets have scaled back, Politico sees an opportunity.
Politico Pro, home to the news organization’s 13 subscription-based verticals about issues like health care, defense and tax policy, will launch a newsletter Tuesday called "Morning Shift," and will launch a labor and employment section in the coming weeks.
Marty Kady, editor of Politico Pro, acknowledged in an interview with The Huffington Post that “the labor beat has declined with the labor unions.” But Kady said Politico's market research suggested that stakeholders in government, lobbying and Fortune 500 companies were looking for the “nitty gritty” details of labor policy.
The new section, he said, will focus less on union politics, a traditional part of the labor beat, and more on detailed coverage of labor regulations and legislation. On Monday, Politico Playbook noted the new vertical would track "developments at Department of Labor and NRLB" and provide "intelligence on unions, immigration, minimum wage, unemployment, retirement, pensions and pay, health care and ACA implementation, workforce training, and court cases."
The Huffington Post employs a full-time labor reporter, but coverage has shrunk more broadly across the media in recent years. New York Times veteran reporter Steve Greenhouse said last month on NPR’s “On the Media” that he has witnessed dwindling attendance of reporters at events, like the AFL-CIO’s winter meeting, and that newspapers like The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times no longer assign a reporter full-time on labor. Politico’s biggest competitor for incremental coverage of labor policy issues is likely to be Bloomberg BNA.
Subscriptions for Pro verticals cost in the thousands of dollars, and the latest offering is one that may appeal to unions, law firms and companies wanting the latest workplace policy news. And Pro coverage, like that appearing on the main Politico site, is expected to be nonpartisan.
But in staffing the labor and employment vertical, Politico has turned to experienced journalists known for expressing points of view with their reporting. Timothy Noah, a liberal writer who spent years at The New Republic, Slate and MSNBC, will edit the four-person staff, which also includes Mike Elk, a labor reporter who recently worked for the left-leaning magazine, In These Times.
Elk sparked controversy in 2011 after giving a press credential, which he obtained as a Huffington Post blogger, to a construction union leader who used it to disrupt a mortgage bankers conference, a move that blurred the line between labor activism and reporting. Elk, who was just 24 years old at the time, apologized last year for the incident and wrote that he has “come to appreciate the value of old-school, straight reporting.”
Kady said the hires signal “no shift in philosophy and attitude” at Politico.
“I went literally out there and said, ‘Who knows the most about labor and who is a good journalist and how can we hire them,’” Kady said. He cited Noah's expertise on the economics of the labor workforce and called Elk “one of the best-regarded labor reporters in the country.”
“What outlets people wrote for in the past and what their personal views are, it’s out there, but it’s irrelevant to how we’re going to approach the coverage,” Kady said. “Politico Pro has a reputation as being hard-hitting, real-time breaking news policy coverage and that’s what we’re going to do."
Several media and conservative outlets have highlighted Elk's public views –- some specifically critical of Politico. For instance, Elk tweeted last year after Politico announced it was considering a metered paywall model that somebody “would have to pay me to read politico.” He also suggested Politico keep its headquarters in Virginia because it’s a right-to-work state, whereby employees aren’t required to join unions.
Elk's views about Politico seem to have evolved, though, as evident in a Friday tweet: “just love this place!”