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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Two Takes On Political Journalism’s Direction

There are currently two separate pieces available on The New Republic’s site providing some serious perspectives on the direction of political journalism these days. The first is a straightforward but poignant lament for the radical downsizing of The Los Angeles Times by a former reporter there, Joe Mathews. And the second is an analysis by Gabriel Sherman of Politico, that largely web-based chronicler of the daily news and talk of Washington.
The decline of the high-quality daily newspaper offering world, national, state and local coverage is hardly a new story: declining readerships, high fixed costs, corporate consolidation, vast new online competition, shrinking ad revenues, and now, for some papers, huge investment losses by their parent companies, have all taken a major toll. The current economy seems to be simply accelerating a process that was well under way, in some respects many decades ago.
It’s a lot less clear whether Politico represents any sort of wave of the future. Yes, it’s been successful, not only in generating a lot of buzz and (at least during the presidential election) high readership, but even in making a profit. Yes, it’s also scored quite a few “scoops.” But Politico may be a Beltway sui generis; where else could a periodical largely read online successfully support itself with ad revenue from a print edition that’s given away on the streets of a relatively small area? That’s a unique function of Washington’s peculiar climate for lobbying competition at present, and also of the fact that it’s one of the few places in the country where the economy’s doing well. It’s also worth noting that Politico was very nearly born as a project of the Washington Post, where its two co-editors, John Harris and Jim VandeHei were previously political reporters. Thus, it may better reflect where a few big surviving newspapers are headed in an online-dominated future, than representing any sort of successor to the newspaper itself.
In any event, the two pieces are well worth a careful read.

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