To do that, it takes money. We are a for-profit company; we’re not the Red Cross. We’re trying to figure out how you take great journalism and marry it to a great business model so to be able to become a robust news operation that hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, has a much bigger investigative team, can send people overseas to report on a war—to do the things that a robust Washington operation should do. It takes money. And we’re doing exceptionally well on advertising. It’s pretty well known that in the issue/advocacy market we’re a dominant number one. We’re gratified by that but we’d also like to create new revenue streams, and the new revenue stream that we’re targeting now is a subscription revenue stream. If we’re successful with this on top of the success we’ve had with advertising, then suddenly you have a business model that can really sustain a very, very robust journalism that goes above and beyond what we’re already doing.
So there are plans to expand Politico’s investigative team?
We do a fair amount of investigative reporting now. But it’s certainly something I would love to do a lot more of in the future. I do think there’s nothing more important we do as journalists than hold government accountable. And I think over time, as we become a profitable venture—and we are a profitable venture—we have almost a social obligation to do more and more of that. Thankfully there are a lot of people filling the void in investigative journalism in the not-for-profit realm. Whether it’s ProPublica or the Center for Public Integrity, there are resources being thrown at investigative reporting. I want for-profit companies to be throwing even more and more resources at investigative reporting. I certainly want Politico to do it.
Are you surprised by how much interest Politico attracts from outside the beltway?
I’m surprised by how quickly we’ve become as big as we are today. We always had big ambitions for Politico but things have certainly moved quickly. We are still a publication that is really obsessed with what’s happening in Washington. Our business model and our reporting model is very much built on being absolutely essential to political professionals, to government officials; they need to read us to do their job. If we do that, then we’re a success as a publication.
What’s really gratifying is that it turns out that there’s millions of people who want to have a look in. They want to be able to see behind the curtain and see how Washington really works and how politics is really practiced. We think those numbers can grow and will grow because a lot of people care a lot about what’s happening in Washington.
Does the presence of that audience change who you compete with?
Not at all. Our focus has not changed from day one to this conversation I am having with you right now. That is we had to be essential to political professionals, to government officials
Day-to-day we spend a lot of time thinking, “What is Bloomberg doing? What is CQ Roll Call doing? What is David Bradley up to over at National Journal? What are they doing at The Washington Post?” Those are our competitors and we’re always trying to figure out what they’re up to, where we have a market advantage, where can we grow as a company. We don’t spend a lot of time ever thinking what’s on the world news and how does that effect us or what’s happening on the front page of USA Today and how that affects Politico. Those are mass audience outlets. We’re not a mass audience—it turns out there’s a big audience that wants in on the type of stuff that we’re covering, but we’re still very much about Washington.
Speaking of competitors, have you been keeping an eye on Bloomberg’s push into Washington, Bloomberg Government?