Politico in Peril — End of an Era?


Just two weeks ago notable media outlet Al Jazeera America announced it was winding down operations and would cease operations effective. Apr. 1 (Read my take on that here).

This week, another notable media brand announced such major editorial changes that many called into question its business model, and the continued viability of even respected digital trades in this increasingly fragmented media environment.

In a surprise move Thursday afternoon, Politico announced the imminent departures of several key staffers, including co-founder and CEO Jim VendeHei, COO Kim Kingsley, EVP Danielle Jones, Chief Revenue Officer Roy Schwartz and beltway mainstay Mike Allen.

I was in my first year of public relations work when Politico burst on the scene in 2007, with its free newspaper suddenly appearing throughout DC newsstands.

It was founded by Robert Allbritton and Washington Post alums Jim VandeHei and John Harris as a blatant challenge to established beltway trades CQ (ahem – “Congressional Quarterly”), Roll Call, and National Journal.

While my friends and I mocked the upstart, within a matter of months one thing became clear – Politico was good. Really good.

Within a few year it was considered by Beltway insiders as good as or better than those incumbent trades.

And much of this had to do with the talent of Politico’s bullpen.

Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook quickly became for many DC Hill staffers, lobbyists and pundits one of the first emails they read each morning to ensure they knew what was going on in the policy world that day.

In fact, having one’s birthday mentioned in the Playbook is a salient sign that one has “made it” within the DC political establishment.

It’s worth noting that none of these editorial changes are imminent – the core team is expected to remain in place through the presidential election in November.

The intervening months should also allow ample time for an orderly transition at the top.

But such a significant exodus of key talent definitely raises eyebrows about the continued viability of even the strong media outlets who rode the vanguard of the digital media revolution.

We’ve long known that traditional print media has been on a slow march toward extinction.

But that the demise of Al Jazeera America and coming sea-change in Politico’s leadership were announced in the same month may herald trouble for digital media as well.

And for those of us, like me, who came of age in the DC political arena over the last decade, it’s going to be truly odd to awaken in December to a day without Mike Allen’s Playbook.

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