the audit

"And now, more than 4,000 posts later…"

More tales from the journalism hamster wheel
April 9, 2010

A funny thing is happening right now on Michael Calderone’s Politico blog: nothing.

That’s because Calderone, prolific chronicler of the “political media,” signed off this week, on his way to joining the Yahoo! News project Andrew Golis is leading.

Calderone’s exit from Politico is the latest in a series of departures from the site. On Thursday, the news broke that Nia-Malika Henderson is going to The Washington Post to cover the first family—an exit that drew special notice because Henderson is the site’s only black reporter.

Before that, in what sometimes-rival The Huffington Post called a “mini-exodus,” several others announced they were leaving, including Patrick O’Connor, who went to Bloomberg, which seems to be aggressively beefing up its Washington bureau.

People who work at Politico—and some who used to work there—see the departures as part of the site’s coming of age, and proof that other media outlets trust the experience that reporters get while working there.

Indeed, Calderone’s farewell post, “more than 4,000 posts” after he joined Politico in late 2007, makes clear just how much he has been working.

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There’s this, about those who stood in for him on occasion:

For those too rare moments I wasn’t tethered to a laptop, I’d like to thank Patrick Gavin, Avi Zenilman and others who pitched in to keep the blog churning.

And this:

[T]hanks to the PR teams who dealt with innumerable requests when my self-imposed deadline to post an item was perhaps two minutes away.

And finally, this:

That said, I’ll probably be taking a short Internet break and might not be responding as quickly as usual to IMs, tweets and e-mails for the next week or so. Actually really looking forward to that.

Sure sounds like the guy could use a little vacation before he starts that new gig.

We’ve worried before about what Big Chief Audit Dean Starkman calls the hamster-wheel-like productivity demands plaguing journalism these days. It’s a real frustration for readers, who can’t ever know what ground-breaking journalism they aren’t seeing because reporters are busy meeting those demands.

In a recent conversation with Howard Kurtz, Politico bosses John Harris and Jim VandeHei talked about the pace of their newsroom. And Harris acknowledged the pressure that pervades the place:

Everybody here is acutely conscious of we can’t let the conversation die. Because even for a few minutes, you know that audience has expectations. And if those expectations aren’t being met in this competitive world, they’ll go elsewhere.

Kurtz stated the obvious, that they’re “sort of constantly on deadline in a way that newspapers never used to be.” But then he showed his old media hand:

Is the need for speed sometimes at odds with the depth of reporting, the substance? I mean, we live in an age where you kind of throw up what you have.


VandeHei bravely took that one, declaring that, “to be a first-class news organization, you have to do both.”

I think you can do the quick hits, you can do the information that people need to know at that moment. I think one of the problems with conventional journalism, at last the way I practiced it for most of my career, is the truth is people weren’t reading our stories. We might write a thousand words, but people were only reading for about 200 words of information. And often, 250, 500 words will suffice.

And I think what we try to do is balance getting people the quick-hit information that is quite perishable, but also take the time then to sit back, when a piece deserves a thousand words, deserves a couple days of real thinking, of real editing. And if you can provide that mix, then I think it’s mission accomplished. Then we’re doing what we need to do. We’re informing readers, we’re educating our readers and we’re keeping people in the loop.

I’m not sure I’m convinced. There is a provocative long piece that went up this morning on Politico’s front page, about a new generation of pundits like Ezra Klein and Andrew Ross Sorkin. It’s 1,639 words, by my count. And the author: Michael Calderone. But long doesn’t necessarily mean deep. I wonder what he could have done with a thousand fewer blog posts.

Holly Yeager is CJR’s Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at