ST. PAUL - At around 8:30 on Wednesday night, as the teetotaling Mike Huckabee addressed the Republican National Convention on an overhead television, several members of the Politicker staff sat in a bar booth next to a five-foot fish tank, stared into laptops, and ordered a round of beers.
Politicker, a network of fifteen state-based political news Web sites, was founded earlier this year and now employs twenty reporters, three editors, and a slew of support staff. Despite those numbers, the Republican National Committee only gave the organization eight media credentials. It’s not a bad ratio, but it explains why a squad of the staffers were locked out and enjoying Budweisers at St. Paul’s Wild Tymes Sports Bar and Grill, a few blocks outside the Xcel Center’s security perimeter. Wild Tymes has free wireless, and they mollified the manager and waitstaff by distributing schwag—bright Politicker-orange t-shirts, branded water bottles, and the like.
They’re used to making do. The editors have to make multiple van trips to shuttle reporters in from their suburban hotel.
In Denver, the Democrats were even less accommodating with credentials, tossing the team just three passes, one of which didn’t even allow arena access. So the Politicker staff camped out with their laptops and powerstrips at a downtown Starbucks. They watched Obama’s Invesco speech from a Pizzeria Uno.
And, that week, they filed around 660 stories.
“I’ll put that up against anybody,” boasted James Pindell, the outlet’s managing editor.
A big number, to be sure, especially for a news outlet that counts its history in months, not years. But old newsmen might not recognize Politicker’s version of a “story.” No inverted pyramid, no detailed narratives, and no scene pieces. In the breakneck Internet age, the staff is quick to demonstrate that they think very little of that sort of piece.
For example, just after Guiliani wrapped up his barnburner of a convention speech, Danny Reiter, Politcker’s Maryland correspondent, turned his computer screen to flash Jamie Klatell, his editor, a Los Angeles Times write-up of the ex-mayor’s speech.
Klatell, thirty-two, started to read and paraphrase in a mock stentorian voice. “Rudy Giuliani stood before the convention ” He let up.
“Pathetic,” he said. And then he pretended to masturbate over his keyboard.
“The last thing we are trying to do is be writing 2000-word trend pieces,” explained Klatell. “We really try to be fast.”
And frequent. And obsessive.
Convention duty is a break in routine. “Once they get into the convention hall, it’s national news. Our story is in the day. It’s the delegate breakfast, where they are hanging out in the day, who’s talking about running for what,” says Klatell. “In these local stories, we’re breaking news, instead of repeating what Sarah Palin said.”
In their home states, reporters are expected to attend obscure local political events—committee meetings, fundraisers—and file nuggets from their cars, using cigarette lighter power and AirPort cards. Then it’s off to the next event. Besides the home base, in the same building as The New York Observer (both are owned by twenty-seven-year-old Jared Kushner), they only have one lightly used office in Columbus, Ohio.
“Our body is our office,” says Reiter.
The idea is to produce a must-read page for each state’s politicians and political professionals. That audience doesn’t need background or color. They need up-to-the-second news and gossip about their bosses, colleagues, and competitors. A Politicker story rarely holds more than one thought or interview. They can clock in at under fifty words.
Maybe that sounds something like a blog?
“The last thing I want to do is be a blogger. I mean, I work for a living,” said Klatell, who came to Politcker after stints at the Web and new media arms of CNN, ABC, NY1, and CBS, which laid him off days before this past Christmas. He found his new job after his mother read about the nascent site in The New York Times.
A lot of things are still being worked out at Politicker. They’ve yet to formalize which editors work with which reporters. They’re still hiring staffers and launching state sites (Texas is on deck). Until the conventions, much of the staff had never met their colleagues.