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Banking On Politics to Launch a Brand

'Politico' Has Star Reporters, but Will It Find Advertisers?

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- It has hired away some of the country's better-known political reporters, has the backing of one of Washington's big media companies and managed to score a tie-in with CBS. But is that enough to help Politico, a new tabloid and website launching Jan. 23, establish a firm foothold in the media landscape?
Politico hopes to turn politics into a revenue stream, but that path has been fraught with difficulty for others (Air America anyone?).
Politico hopes to turn politics into a revenue stream, but that path has been fraught with difficulty for others (Air America anyone?).

Owner has TV stake
Allbritton Communications, owner of eight TV stations including the capitol's ABC affiliate, has big plans for its newspaper and website, citing the anticipated impact of high-profile reporters and editors it lured away from The Washington Post, Time and Bloomberg News. The new publication is Allbritton's first since shuttering the Washington Star in 1981.

"These are people at the top of their game. They are realizing, at least for politics, that the traditional news cycle of a print newspaper is outdated and now politics is instantaneous," said Frederick J. Ryan Jr., president-CEO of Politico.

Politico hopes to turn politics into a revenue stream, but that path has been fraught with difficulty for others (Air America anyone?). From pseudo.com to voter.com, that path has been at best checkered for new entrants. Still, some have found success recently by focusing on political news and opinion, like the website Huffington Post.

No subscriptions
Beyond the hurdle of drawing a big enough audience, Politico has also decided to forgo subscription revenue, which helps sustain some of its rivals. In Washington alone, Politico will compete for readership and public-policy ads with the likes of National Journal, Congressional Quarterly, The Hill and Roll Call in addition to daily newspapers, wire services, websites, magazines and political blogs by partisans and TV networks.

Allbritton's 24- to 48-page free paper will be published three times a week in the capitol when Congress is in session and once a week when it isn't, and the paper's Washington opinion-leader base is intended to be the backbone for growing a national web audience. It will start by distributing 25,000 copies. Plans also include a TV show on News Channel 8, Allbritton's local cable-news channel. CBS will feature the publication's reporters on CBS News shows and on CBS radio.

Looking toward '08
Politico plans to offer its readers extensive political coverage and is banking on being a force in the next presidential campaign.

"We will be out there enough to make clear we belong in the top rank of publications covering the presidential campaign," said John Harris, the former Washington Post political editor who was hired away to be Politico's editor in chief. "We will be in the news organizations that routinely travel" with presidential candidates.

Politico's staff includes Roger Simon, formerly of Bloomberg and U.S News & World Report; Mike Allen, formerly of Time and The Washington Post; and Jim VandeHei, formerly of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Enough ads to go around?
Hiring veteran political reporters rather than the beginners some rivals use and sending them all over the country on campaign charters could impose a cost structure on Politico that is significantly higher than some rivals, while the lack of subscription revenue makes ad sales more critical. At least one rival questioned whether there is enough ad revenue to support that model.

"Though [public-policy] advertising is growing, there are a whole lot of people in the game," said John Fox Sullivan, CEO of National Journal Group. "It's not like they are filling a void or a vacuum. I wonder if there is enough advertising out there to support their ambition."
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