Capital to become POLITICO New York as parent company sets expansion plans

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Politico. (Politico)
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Capital will be rebranded and relaunched as POLITICO New York as part of an expansion at its Beltway-based parent company, which is gearing up to roll out new satellite publications across the U.S. and Europe.

POLITICO, which acquired Capital in 2013 to gain a foothold in the New York market, will launch "outposts in a cascading series of states, starting this year with New Jersey and Florida," chief executive Jim VandeHei announced Wednesday.

Morning email newsletters modeled after POLITICO's Playbook franchise will likewise launch this year in California, Illinois and Massachusetts. There will be Bank of America-sponsored Playbook events in the various states, said VandeHei, adding that more states will be added to the roster as quickly as possible.

"We have decided all expansion," VandeHei wrote in a memo to staff, "will take place under the POLITICO banner in the states and overseas," where the Brussels-based POLITICO Europe is set to debut on April 21 in partnership with German media company Axel Springer. "We will have lots of outposts but all will fall under one name."

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Additionally, Capital and POLITICO's media desks will be merged into "one big media coverage machine," said VandeHei, that will provide "more thorough reporting on the industry for our subscribers and more stories that pop nationally on our main page." Capital co-editor Tom McGeveran will oversee all media coverage, with the exception of POLITICO Europe, which announced separately on Wednesday that it has hired former Times of London media editor Alex Spence as its European media correspondent.

Reached via email Tuesday night, VandeHei said there were no firm dates for the POLITICO New York reboot or the other state launches.

Asked about the expansion's impact on company finances, VandeHei said, "We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't supremely confident these efforts will be both profitable and produce awesome journalism."

McGeveran and Capital co-editor Josh Benson will lead the state-by-state expansion, along with Katherine Lehr, Capital's vice president of operations. They will "coordinate" with POLITICO editor Susan Glasser "to make sure we also leverage our state-based reporters to write stories for a national audience," VandeHei wrote in his memo.

POLITICO launched in 2007, and was founded by VandeHei and fellow former Washington Post journalist John Harris, with financial backing from the Washington-area television mogul Robert Allbritton, who serves as its publisher. The outlet has shaken up the U.S. media space with its granular, hard-charging coverage of government and policy. The business model combines free, advertiser-supported print and digital journalism with premium subscription products aimed at politics, policy and media professionals. As a privately held company, it does not disclose its finances but claims to be profitable.

In 2013, as Allbritton closed a near billion-dollar sale of eight local TV stations, POLITICO began expanding outside the Beltway, starting in New York with its purchase of Capital for an undisclosed sum.

Capital was founded in 2010 by former New York Observer editors McGeveran and Benson as a website for New York politics and media insiders. Since the acquisition, it has grown its newsroom from fewer than 10 to about three-dozen while adding a monthly print magazine and bureaus in Albany and City Hall.

In recent years, as the newspaper industry has contracted from the loss of advertisers and readers to digital platforms, statehouse coverage has suffered.

"If we get this right—and we believe the Capital experiment proved we will—then we can help salvage robust coverage of state governments," said VandeHei.

His full memo is below, followed by an additional memo from Benson and McGeveran:

We want to share details of a new and very important dimension to our rapidly unfolding expansion.

First, we have decided all expansion will take place under the POLITICO banner in the states and overseas. We will have lots of outposts but all will fall under one name. We are blessed with a brand people know and respect - and a publisher in Robert Allbritton who wants to spread it everywhere.

This starts with our Capital New York operation. It will become POLITICO New York. It will be the same great staff and approach under a new name. We have New York politics and policy wired - and this will allow readers to not only enjoy our local coverage but benefit from knowing what's happening in other states.

Capital has been an amazing success story, a publication built by journalists with true passion and soul, who created a loyal and powerful following and showed us all what the future of state coverage can be.

This gang has inspired us so much that we are asking the architects of the Capital experiment – Josh Benson, Tom McGeveran and Katherine Lehr – to lead our state expansion. Working with Danielle Jones, they will continue to run our New York operation and also set up new POLITICO outposts in a cascading series of states, starting this year with New Jersey and Florida. We will centralize management of all state expansion in our New York offices but have reporting staffs on the ground in each new location we target.

Josh and Tom will coordinate with Susan Glasser back here to make sure we also leverage our state-based reporters to write stories for a national audience; Susan's work with Mark Caputo, our Florida Playbook writer, shows the huge possibilities of coming at big political stories from angles others simply can't replicate.

Later this year, we will launch POLITICO in Jersey with a mix of free and paid content for the state written by reporters with expertise and experience in the state. We will create a bureau with the clear mandate to dominate coverage in Trenton and beyond. This process is underway.

Shortly after, we will launch in Florida, hiring a team of political and policy writers in Tallahassee to join Caputo, who's already killing it down there.

We will follow with additional states as quickly as we can.

Meanwhile, we will build off the success of our state Playbooks in New York and Florida by launching Playbooks in New Jersey and three additional states in 2015: California, Illinois and Massachusetts. Your business colleagues have secured Bank of America as the sponsor of Playbook events in these states, to showcase our focus on and expertise in state politics.

We have a chance here to do something special for journalism and state coverage. Ever since I walked into the statehouse in Albany after we purchased Capital, and saw again an important, powerful institution with a diminished press presence, I hoped we could find a template for saving coverage of state government. I believe we have. We will have a blast proving it.

The final big bit of news: we will combine our Capital and POLITICO media staffs into one big media coverage machine. Capital has built a strong subscription business in the media space; and combining Capital and POLITICO’s reporting talent to pull in the same direction will give us sharper, more thorough reporting on the industry for our subscribers and more stories that pop nationally on our main page. Susan and Tom have extremely ambitious plans in this space for us; Tom will be the editor.

This is a lot of change and growth, so it will happen in phases with the aim of being complete by this fall.

Hopefully, our ambitions are very clear to all of you now: we want to - no, we will - be the dominant political and policy media company in Washington, D.C. AND the states AND Europe AND ultimately everywhere. This is awesome and achievable. And it's because of all of you, because your hard work, passion and insistence on always being the best at what you do.

Jim

Benson and McGeveran's memo:

When the two of us left our jobs at The New York Observer to start something new, it wasn’t because we’d caught the entrepreneurial bug. It was because there was no home that we could see for the kind of reporting about New York we wanted to do.

The news about local and state coverage was depressing, with a constant litany of stories about layoffs and consolidations contracting the universe of serious reporting about the city and state we’ve always covered. Experiments in local reporting were focused on a vogue of the moment: crowdsourcing and citizen journalism. Some of these experiments seemed exciting, others a bit cynical, but they all differed from the proposition we wanted to make: to cover the city and state with the same kind of serious reporting and editing chops being brought to bear on national politics, and make it work.

When we pushed the button on Capital New York late one night in June 2010, just the two of us and Gillian seated around a dining room table in Astoria, we launched the first iteration of the site we’re still working on today.

That version was made possible by family and friends. It wasn’t a big site, but we believed in every story we posted, and we and our many writers, all of whom did it for the love of the work, made something special enough to attract a round of investors, led by Adam Riggs, that were willing to commit themselves to growing it in a challenging, even forbidding, environment.

With that investment, lots changed about the site. It became a lot faster, a lot newsier, and with Reid, Azi, Dana, and Joe driving the coverage along with a troupe of committed freelancers like Starlee Kine and Howard Megdal and others too numerous to name, we were able to grow and change without losing that essential part of us: believing in every single story we posted, doing nothing by default or just for clicks. It was a tough hustle—balancing that level of attention with our efforts to find revenue from advertisers and event sponsors—but we managed something to be very proud of.

In the time since Capital was acquired by POLITICO, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds. Coming into the office every day is literally humbling: This thing built on the work of one small group of reporters now the reason and purpose for a bustling business department, a new stable of committed, talented journalists filing what seems like every minute, often stories bigger outlets have left behind as too small or provincial because they only affect a few million New Yorkers’ lives; digging deep on important issues like health care, land use, housing, education, infrastructure, the environment, technology, corruption, elections, the internecine politics of Albany and City Hall, as well as the struggles and triumphs of the press that tries to make sense of a rapidly changing world.

Through that one thing has still never changed: Our belief in every story, every whiteboard, every newsletter we publish, and in each and every one of you.

Our success as Capital is down to your hard work and the disciplined application of the principles John Harris and Jim VandeHei and their team down in D.C. learned when they themselves left a newspaper to create something new that would provide a vibrant new home for journalism in the 21st Century. The lessons they brought with them to New York have worked, albeit with a bit of reshaping and retooling, thanks to the efforts of Andrew and his team. It’s time for our next chapter.

As POLITICO grows to encompass Europe and the states, we’ve been asked to pack up what we’ve learned and take it on the road. It’s a tremendous opportunity for this group to lead—to contribute its own hard-earned intelligence to the company, and bring the kind of coverage we’ve been able to offer here to states across the country who will come in short order to depend upon us. And it’s a testament to what you’ve accomplished over just the last 18 months.

We’re also taking our coverage of media and merging it with the talented and aggressive media report already coming out of POLITICO to create a national, and ultimately global, approach to covering the media. Combining our support from our wonderful subscribers with the national platform of POLITICO transforms our media report into a force to be reckoned with in every sector of the business.

With this growth, inevitably, comes change. These new opportunities, we believe, are best exploited by committing ourselves to full participation in the emerging POLITICO network, and integrating ourselves more fully into the larger company. Taking full advantage of that participation, we believe, requires a pretty significant change: We’ll be shedding our old name and becoming POLITICO New York.

There’s no point in characterizing this as anything but bittersweet, especially for those of us who scrambled and scraped and sweated to make the thing called Capital that we love so much, and attracted POLITICO in the first place. But it’s an important step in realizing the bigger possibilities that lie ahead of us and providing the journalists here with a mission worthy of your actually astounding abilities.

We know and appreciate that no one's here because they have to be. You guys are ridiculously intelligent, decent and tireless, and you're invested in this place because there's something very special about this team. That needs to be preserved as we go forward, and we believe it will be: These moves open up new opportunities for all of us, if not right now then in the weeks and months ahead.

As such, there are plenty of details to be worked out about how everything will work and what it means for each of you. We are thinking of each and every one of you as we make these changes, and in the days and weeks to come we will have plenty to talk about. But we’ll let it suffice for now to thank you for everything you’ve done, and to congratulate you on the work you’ve done that has made this project we set out with on that first day of 2010 into an incredible living, breathing reality. The journalism we want to do has not just a home but a home that is stable and secure in an age of instability and insecurity; a bustling home full of people whose talent and hard work amaze us every day.

Tom and Josh