Politico Kicks Off 2012

Bold new site complete with “Santa Tracker”

Depending on your tastes, this weekend’s launch of Politico 2012 LIVE might be the Second Coming of Christ or the first sign of the Apocalypse.

The new vertical was launched Sunday, with a front-page Sunday Times story to herald its arrival (to be fair, the Times piece also paid lip service to smaller players like Talking Points Memo and RealClearPolitics). As the name suggests, “2012 LIVE” provides a barrage of 2012 elections information and comes across as a kind of Politico Poutine—fried-up regular Politico covered in gravy and cheese curds and whatever other salty deliciousness you can find in the pantry. Made for quick, messy consumption, it is complete and utter excess for the elections glutton. From the Times article:

It will start a Web site, 2012 Live, this weekend that will serve as a home for what Mr. VandeHei described as “tons and tons of stories” in addition to the kind of minutiae that Politico believes political enthusiasts can never get enough of—politicians’ daily schedules, county-by-county demographic data in key primary states and historical voting trends.

There will be biographies in micro-detail, right down to midlevel state campaign consultants and unelected local political leaders. If you do not know who Rich Ashooh is, you will after reading Politico’s new site. (Hint: he is a lobbyist in New Hampshire who reportedly has “an impressive Rolodex.”)

A quick look around the site today reveals micro-reporting on the latest sound bites: “T-Paw: Obama a ‘chicken’”. There are “candidate hubs” with collated stories on each of those unannounced candidates doing the rounds—you can see “T-Paw”’s here. There are other hubs for the four early primary and caucus states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. And there’s a map that tracks where candidates are heading and where they have been across the country; Jeremy W. Peters described it in his Times piece as “a feature resembling the Santa Tracker for children on Christmas Eve.” Here is a sample, with the focus on Iowa:

For a fuller taste of what’s on offer, here is what this morning’s press release says you can find on the site:

· Candidate Hub: A one-stop location for the most up-to-date news and analysis on each of the likely candidates, aggregated from POLITICO and other top media outlets.

· Calendar: A comprehensive campaign trail calendar, featuring scheduled candidate appearances, filing deadlines and primary dates.

· Endorsement Tracker: POLITICO identifies the most important kingmakers and sends reader alerts when they endorse a candidate.

· Key Staff List: A roster of the advisers and consultants working for the presidential hopefuls, including campaign field staff in the early states.

· Polling Center: A collection of the latest surveys testing the GOP nomination field and matchups against President Obama.

The release also promises: “Robust partnerships with leading newspapers in these states - The Des Moines Register, New Hampshire Union Leader, Las Vegas Sun and the (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier - provide added insight and analysis for POLITICO readers.” A Politico spokesperson e-mailed me explaining the partnerships further: “As part of the partnerships, POLITICO shares and receives content from its newspaper partners. In addition, POLITICO and the partners plan to work with each other on co-producing special coverage related to the campaign trail. POLITICO also plans to host an early state event in Washington, D.C. later this year featuring reporters from each newspaper.”

Peters’s story is a pretty good place to start when contemplating all of this noise. He seems to have Politico’s measure, even if he treads a little softly in calling it out.

In some ways, political news sites have changed the threshold for what is news, and the result is often a greater emphasis on the horse race—the kind of who’s up, who’s down reporting that proves endlessly frustrating for candidates and many readers.

Politico, for example, has published at least 36 articles in which Sarah Palin was a principal figure in the last month. In the last week and a half alone, the site has characterized her political fortunes as slipping, on Jan. 18 (the article explained her “incremental” but “significant” drop in favorability); indeterminate, on Jan. 20 (one writer cautioned those who underestimate her “do so at their own risk”); and imperiled again, on Jan. 22 (an article noted her “disconnect” with New Hampshire voters).

And there’s this anecdote, which provides Peters’s kicker.

Mr. Pawlenty, the Republican former governor, at a Barnes & Noble last week here in Manchester, observed to a group of reporters that he was asked about polls and the horse race more than anything else. “It’s like, ‘O.K. Now can we talk about health care or taxes?’ ” he said.

Ms. Marr, the Politico reporter, was not deterred. She followed up with a twist on the standard horse race question: “Are you getting tired of the Sarah Palin question?”

Peters asks the obvious question early on in his piece, “How much is too much?” and gets executive editor Jim VandeHei to concede that, theoretically, a too-much point may exist, “but we certainly haven’t discovered it.” In the press release VandeHei says much the same, issuing a warning: “We think there needs to be more velocity and information—not less. No other news organization will be able to match our early and sustained commitment to covering the 2012 campaign.”

One thing that’s missing, though, from Peters’s story and the Politico press release, is just whom exactly Politico 2012 LIVE is for. “2012 LIVE is based on our belief that political junkies cannot get enough news and analysis on the election,” VandeHei says in the release. But who is the political junkie that VandeHei speaks of? The junkie so myopically focused that he or she cares to read what the most faceless of local political fixers has done in the past twenty-four hours? If that is your target market, are you really issuing a challenge to “other news organizations” that actually make editorial decisions about what is to be considered news? Or are you just flexing your muscles and filling some bandwidth? And, admittedly, providing other political journalists and lobbyists some decent background color.

Peters writes that, in some ways, “political news sites have changed the threshold for what is news.” It seems they might have bet on doing away with the threshold completely.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,