What you’re going to find behind the paywall is really play-by-play, nitty-gritty coverage of the big energy debates, the big tech debates, the big health care debates—the type of stuff that you probably only care about if you are working on Capitol Hill on those specific issues, or working in the administration on those specific issues, or lobbying on those specific issues, or studying those specific issues. The idea is to give you everything you need and want, and to help cut through the clutter. In ’06, when Politico jumped in, I felt there was a need for more speed; a need to make sure that people were getting information in a timely manner. I feel now there’s a real burden on us to help people cut through all the clutter out there, to help simplify their lives, to help people decide, from out of all that’s out there, what pieces of information are new and what pieces of information are essential. If we can accomplish that and do it with real sophistication, with real smarts and real speed, we will be a success.
Are there other subscription products on which you’ve modeled Politico Pro?
There are a lot of subscription products out here that are pretty familiar in Washington—CQ, Environment & Energy Daily, which is one we’ve hired people away from for our energy section. I got my start in journalism in the mid-’90s at Inside Washington Publishers, which is a newsletter company, and this is exactly what they do. My first job was at New Fuels Report covering the alternative fuels industry.
Those publications are still around and still thriving. They don’t have three or four million unique visitors each month and they might have as few as five hundred to a thousand subscribers. But they’re subscribers who pay a pretty hefty subscription fee and who have really come to rely on those publications. There’s not a single publication out there that we’re emulating, because we think that the market actually needs something new and something pretty different. But you can look at what’s out there and draw some lessons about what won’t work and what might work.
I think in some shape in form they will. They will give people at least a taste of some of our coverage, hopefully to entice them into paying for exponentially more coverage. There will be cutback coverage available. And in having more reporters—we’re going to end up with seven or eight reporters covering energy, for instance—we hope to write even more stories that are available to our larger audience. Any story about energy that we think resonates with people outside of the energy sector will be put on the main site and available to all of our readers.
You have already hired a bunch of journalists from other publications—Dan Berman of Environment & Energy Daily and Kim Hart from The Washington Post, for example. What kind of journalists are you looking for to form the staff of Politico Pro?
Journalists that are very much like the ones we hire now for Politico. We’re looking for people who have expertise, who have a passion for journalism, who have a passion for the issues that they’re covering. But also who have a unique skill set—they’re fast, they’re smart, they’re well-sourced. And that’s the most important part: Can we tell people stuff they just don’t know? That’s always the test of good journalism to me. John Bresnahan, who’s one of our congressional reporters and a longtime friend of mine, says, “Just tell me something I don’t know.” If you do that, you’re a good journalist.
We spent a lot of time trying to find people who are heads and shoulders above others in those individual sectors. Darren Samuelsohn, whom we hired away from Environment & Energy Daily to be our lead writer on energy, is widely seen in the energy world as sort of the Mike Allen of energy coverage. He has an insatiable desire to break news, to tell people stuff they don’t know, to write big pieces about what’s happening in this world, but also do quick hits, like ‘Hey, here’s something you didn’t know about the chairman’s race,’ or ‘Here’s something you didn’t know about the global warming debate.’ And that’s the model: finding people who really have the political metabolism and who have real expertise that they can bring to bear on these issues.
You started hiring early.