The Profile

Can Politico rise again?

June 22, 2015

The new era began as new eras typically do at Politico, with a memo. The email flashed into staffers’ inboxes at 6:50 a.m. on September 18, its eventual circulation throughout Beltway media circles preordained. The tone of such company-wide notes is known to reach Churchillian heights—top brass’ gung-ho descriptions of global journalistic domination stand out in an industry shaking off years of numbing retrenchment.

This particular memo announced that the editor of Politico Magazine, Susan Glasser, would take over as head of the news organization’s Washington coverage. The nascent magazine had garnered acclaim under Glasser’s leadership, and her promotion came with the expectation that deeply reported analysis would be more prominently featured on Politico’s daily menu. It also came with a measure of foreboding, given her reputation for ironfisted management.

But the moment was bigger than Glasser. It marked the official end to Politico’s first act, which saw the outlet bear down on Washington with relentless reporting at breakneck speed. In just seven years, Politico had quickly, though not quietly, grown into an established institution of political journalism. Now, it was preparing to pivot. John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, former Washington Post colleagues who founded Politico in 2007, were giving Glasser “full authority”—the memo’s words—to run the Rosslyn, Virginia, newsroom. VandeHei, the fast-talking man with the plan, had become chief executive of the company and increasingly focused on its expansion, including an ambitious effort to export the Politico model to state capitals around the country. Harris, the sleeves-up, incisive editor in chief, was turning his attention toward establishing an editorial beachhead in Europe. The one-time startup that imposed shock and awe in Washington had reached its adolescence, and it was on the advance once more. Whether the newsroom realized it or not that day, Glasser’s appointment meant that change was coming to Rosslyn.

“Our challenge is to extend our dominance in this space and expand our reach − in Washington, key states and the world,” Harris, VandeHei, and Chief Operating Officer Kim Kingsley wrote in the memo. “That is why we are redesigning our digital properties, redoing all of our technology, expanding into Europe, exploring new state versions of POLITICO and growing our operation and leadership here.”

The trio concluded, “We appreciate your heroic work during this transformational moment for us.”


Susan Glasser addresses the Politico newsroom the day her promotion to head of Washington coverage was announced. (M. Scott Mahaskey)

It was a transformational moment for other reasons as well. Politico’s hegemony within the Beltway, which it snatched from legacy outlets in the 2008 campaign, had been fading for some time. Its competitors, largely spurred by Politico’s emergence, had swarmed into the digital sphere that it once dominated and, often enough, beat it. Old and new rivals alike emulated its lightning-fast coverage of political minutiae. No longer was Politico the only outlet rushing out pieces on the alcohol content of President Obama’s beer. Traffic to its site had stopped growing at a healthy clip. Politico had become a victim of its own success.

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These external challenges were compounded by two high-level departures last year. Politico’s managing editor, who oversaw its day-to-day operations, left in August. And its executive editor—essentially Glasser’s predecessor, but with less authority—abruptly resigned in early September because of disagreements with Harris and VandeHei over the strategy of the publication.

That backdrop had aroused a sense of apprehension in the newsroom by Sept. 18, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, most of whom declined to comment on the record out of deference to past and present employers. Many didn’t fully understand this latest vision, of expanding elsewhere and rethinking Washington. Rethinking what, exactly?

The staffers gathered that morning for Glasser’s introduction in the outlet’s then-newsroom, standing amid rows of gray cubicles draped in fluorescent light. A sign hung from the ceiling, emblazoned with “POLITICO” in bright red letters. Two staffers said VandeHei and Harris gave typically invigorating remarks on their expansion efforts in Washington and elsewhere. But the meeting that morning in the belly of 1100 Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn left some onlookers with more questions than answers about the publication’s future.

“Even if you knew nothing about [Glasser], there was certainly a lot of trepidation,” said one staffer who has since left Politico. “For a lot of people, it didn’t feel like this was a big, celebratory moment. It was more like, ‘What the hell is going on?’”

The plan may have seemed opaque to some listeners last fall, but in the minds of the newsroom leadership, it was game on, time for level-two expansion. Through ingenuity, hubris and no small amount of funding from its owner, Politico had earned a place among the pillars of modern political journalism. While other outlets were adding and cutting in spurts over the past decade, Politico has consistently grown. It pulverized the old archetype of Washington reporting and created one that is far more urgent and vibrant.

No small wonder, then, that VandeHei projected confidence during a May interview in his corner office overlooking the newsroom. “We’ve got a great theory of the case. We’ve got a really good culture. It’s all execution,” he said. “Of all the reasons I’m really optimistic about why this plan is going to work is that, after eight years, we’ve found out the type of leaders who are going to work here.”

But VandeHei also concedes that managing the increasingly decentralized organization is more difficult than it used to be. What’s more, a high rate of staff turnover, a constant throughout the past eight years, continues despite Politico’s ascendence. “We’re wrestling with this in real time,” VandeHei said. “We need to create some kind of program for getting a lot of reporters in here, a lot of them trained in the Politico way really quickly, and giving them opportunity to move into all these spots. Otherwise, expansion is really hard.”


You just can’t run a place of 200 journalists the same way you could run an awesome guerrilla startup pirate ship of 40 or 50 people. –Susan Glasser, editor

That’s a point worth underscoring. The essential asset in any newsroom is the talent, and when the type of talent needed is top-flight political journalists, the challenge can be daunting. Politico is deft at cultivating young talent, less so at attracting media luminaries. In fact, lately, the reverse is happening. A significant number of reporters and editors left Politico between October and January, a trend that has slowed but not stopped. The departures garnered a spate of negative media coverage suggesting that the news organization was in disarray. The narrative became such conventional wisdom in Washington that a character from HBO’s political satire, Veep, remarked in a May episode that the site “has turned to shit.”

“They think they have stemmed the exodus,” a current staffer told CJR. “I don’t think they have.” In May alone, for example, three journalists took their talents across the Potomac River to The Washington Post.

Such moving parts are especially troubling for an organization whose expanded mandate relies on seamless coordination between policy reporting for its lucrative subscription products, fast-paced and granular coverage of Beltway politics, ambitious, magazine-length features, and now far-flung outposts in Europe, New York and soon beyond.

None of this takes away from Politico’s ambitions, nor from the potential hope it offers the industry if it’s ultimately successful. After all, no other contemporary institution has had such a resounding impact on the nature of political reporting over the past decade as Politico. Now, it’s attempting to replicate that feat, to stand out once more in a world created in its own image. The question is whether lightning can strike twice.

Politico talked a big game from the start—even before the start. “I think we’ll show that we’re better than The New York Times or The Washington Post,” VandeHei told the New York Observer in November 2006, two months before Politico began publishing its website and distributing a thrice-weekly newspaper around Capitol Hill. That swagger, still central to the company’s public image, agitated more established competitors, who viewed Politico as callow gatecrashers.

VandeHei, 35 at the time, had been the Post’s White House reporter under Harris, its national politics editor and author of a bestseller on Bill Clinton’s presidency. Backed by banking and media empire heir Robert Allbritton, the pair enticed about 30 journalists to help launch the venture. They had a SWAT team of young, energetic reporters and a smaller A-squad of established names, such as Time White House correspondent Mike Allen and New York Daily News columnist and blogger Ben Smith. The star reporters pulled in salaries that climbed well into the six figures.

The news organization’s launch in January 2007 occurred as seismic shifts were erupting in national politics and media. Its creation came on the cusp of an historic presidential election, one fomenting the highest level of public interest in political news the polling firm Gallup had ever recorded. As they watched a woman and an African American vie for the Democratic nomination, readers were also beginning to move online for news. And while that combination provided an opening for the legacy outlets that had owned Beltway coverage, none had taken full advantage of the instancy that digital publishing could bring. What’s more, national newspapers had entered a prolonged period of contraction. And most metropolitan papers had scaled back Washington staffs or slashed their bureaus entirely.


[Reporters] want impact among the most serious readers and the most consequential readers. –John F. Harris, editor in chief

Politico’s fast-twitch instincts quickly propelled it past the mainstream media. It relied on a seemingly constant stream of new material, and the philosophy was simple: publish whatever “we could put at the top of the homepage the next day that would make people realize we existed,” a former staffer said. The scoop-driven mentality required journalists to report the most minor of political intrigue and reduce stories to their component parts, like when Jonathan Martin posted five dispatches on John McCain’s presidential announcement in 2007: “The Crowd”; “The Scene”; “The Speech”; “The Rain”; and “Final Notes.” Martin was one of a handful of reporters, armed with individually branded blogs, who often posted upwards of 10 items a day, totals unheard of at the time. The pace made for an intense office culture in which some thrived and others did not.

“I worked probably 16-hour days for about six months after we launched,” said Carrie Budoff Brown, one of the site’s first reporters, who’s now managing editor of Politico Europe. “I felt this overwhelming obligation to be first—it was this feeling driven into us by [VandeHei] and [Harris]. I didn’t want to get beat.”

The granular coverage quickly began “driving the conversation”—Politico parlance for commandeering an ever-shrinking news cycle. And that soon became the publication’s internal rallying cry. “Everyone ended up here because we all sort of felt it in our bones—this was a moment, and there was a need for a new kind of publication with a different kind of DNA and metabolism,” senior politics editor Charlie Mahtesian said. That approach led to scoops, or scooplets, like that McCain couldn’t remember the number of houses he owned, and later that the Republican National Committee had shelled out $150,000 for Sarah Palin’s wardrobe. Both stories consumed print and TV coverage for days. They were a good example of “this new website figuring out how to become the main event in a presidential campaign,” a former staffer said. “It was a hype machine.”

The run-and-gun style drew notoriety at a furious clip. Politico co-hosted a GOP presidential debate with MSNBC in May 2007, in addition to one for each party the following January. A Nieman Lab analysis of 2008 Nielsen data found that the site’s average number of monthly unique visitors that year—about 3.1 million—surpassed all but 11 general-interest newspaper sites in the country, though it still lagged far behind the likes of the Post and Times.

A pioneer in aggressive self-promotion, Politico also marketed its reporters through somewhat unorthodox means. “I remember [Jonathan Martin] and Ben Smith, before I was working here, doing the fucking Martha Stewart show,” added Chief Political Correspondent Glenn Thrush, who joined the outlet in 2008 to blog about Capitol Hill. Allen, the omnipresent White House correspondent and author of the morning “Playbook” newsletter, would become such a household name by 2010 that he was splashed on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

Soon, there was another reason for chest-thumping. In 2009, the only time Politico’s SEC filings were broken out from those of its parent company, Allbritton Communications, the news organization turned a $900,000 profit on $18.6 million in operating revenue. Despite meteoric growth online, the outlet culled most of its revenue from advertisements by various interest groups in its print newspaper.

The news organization continued its advance through the 2010 midterm elections, gradually integrating more big-picture analysis and traditional beat reporting into its repertoire. “[U]ltimately,” the longtime blogger Smith told CJR in 2011, “being the guy who types fastest isn’t that rewarding or interesting.” Politico’s homepage—still a window into breaking Washington news—increasingly displayed fleshed-out pieces like Martin’s 1,800-word feature from August 2011, “Is Rick Perry Dumb?” The end goal remained the same, even if the means had changed.

Such stylistic shifts, of course, required a more developed editing infrastructure than Politico yet possessed. “There were always periodic attempts to impose greater order on the place,” a former staffer said. But none institutionalized the bureaucratic processes that both help and hinder more traditional newsrooms. “This thing was totally on the fly,” said Thrush, who had begun covering the White House. After 2012, he added, “It was clear that we had to rethink the way everything was being done—we had to.”


Man, once you go for traffic, I’m sorry: You’re making a deal with the devil and you’re going to cheapen your soul. –Jim VandeHei, chief executive

The market for political news had been changing for some time. Twitter unseated homepages and blogs as the fastest way to share information. More importantly, nearly all Politico’s competitors began emulating its sharp-edged, rapid-fire coverage, poaching some of its staffers in the process. Smith had left in late 2011 to craft a news operation from scratch at BuzzFeed. Staffers departed for mainstream outlets as well, including Bloomberg, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In essence, a reinvigorated competition had not only begun to mirror Politico’s ideology, but also to hire away some of its key people. More recently, growth by stalwarts like CNN and upstarts like Vox and Snapchat have tightened competition for journalistic talent even more.

Politico Pro, a policy news subscription service that began catering to a tiny cadre of lobbyists, regulators, and industry groups in 2011, blossomed into a financial anchor of the company during these years. But the audience for the outlet’s free site remained stagnant throughout 2013, according to comScore, averaging 5.2 million unique visitors a month.

Sensing a need for change in October 2013, management hired veteran New York Times editor Rick Berke as executive editor to formally replace VandeHei, who had moved to the business side. “[T]his is a big deal, and one more terrific step forward for POLITICO,” Harris wrote in a memo to staff. The following month, it launched a print and online magazine under Glasser’s leadership.

But the honeymoon ended quickly, with many employees unsure how Glasser’s shop fit in with the direction and goals of the greater newsroom. “When the magazine was brought in, there was not integration with the rest of the staff at all,” a former staffer said. “And much of the staff was not made to feel welcome at that part of Politico.” Churn among high-level staff complicated matters further. Managing Editor Rachel Smolkin left for CNN in August 2014. “It was normal Politico chaos until Rachel Smolkin left,” another staffer told CJR. “She was the glue that held everyone together.” Despite Berke’s popularity in the newsroom, he never clicked with the news organization’s strategy or power structure. He resigned in September 2014 after just 11 months at the helm, writing in a candid note to the staff, “[T]he dynamics were just not there for us to function seamlessly.”

The confusion came just as Politico, its swagger ebbing, was trying to fundamentally alter its editorial identity in Washington—no small task in the best of times. Anxiety reached far corners of the newsroom, staffers said, and another round of longtime journalists began exploring opportunities elsewhere. Someone had to take a hard look at Politico’s future, not to mention make the hard decisions needed to get there. The news organization happened to have an editor on staff with a history in such situations, for better and for worse: Glasser took the throne.

Glasser is a polarizing figure in Washington media circles, praised by some as a visionary and scorned by others as divisive and glorified. That dichotomy depends partly on where you stand in Glasser’s eyes. But it is also a reflection of various bosses over the years who saw in her brusque management style someone who could induce a shakeup. Now, her leadership of a multi-tiered newsroom—, Politico Magazine, and Politico Pro—will be put to the test as the decentralized organization bids to reestablish its preeminence in the Beltway.

A longtime Washington Post reporter, Glasser’s quick success heading the paper’s Outlook section led to her promotion in late 2006 to national editor, overseeing political coverage. But her tenure lasted only 17 months, as she was removed from the post in the midst of a presidential campaign and withering staff morale. She quickly jumped to Foreign Policy and led the respected, if stodgy, publication smartly into the digital age. And she brought those same digital magazine sensibilities to Politico, expanding its ability to both attract outside contributors and produce in-depth analyses, features, and investigations. Politico 1.0 didn’t have those capacities, which its greatest competitors had fine-tuned for decades. But ironically, it is now Politico doing the emulating. And Glasser’s elevation to lead its Washington operation signals the outlet is doubling down on the belief that it can beat old media at its own game.

“For me, taking on this role was understanding that that had been a transitional period, and this was the end of that transition,” Glasser said of the years leading up to her promotion. “That didn’t mean that change would not be ongoing, but toward a very coherent, strategic purpose.”

But staffers who left in the past year said leadership did a poor job of communicating the new mission once Glasser took charge. “They did tell us what was going on, but they were just talking at us,” one said. Several added that the new stated push for “excellence” felt condescending toward their previous work. Top reporters and a number of mid-level editors—key to directing and mentoring young staffers—began leaving in droves, many for Politico’s expanding competitors. The departures left some teams, such as the traffic-driving breaking news desk, without much direction through the end of last year. Newsroom morale plummeted.

The turbulence has since diminished, though challenges of managing a multi-tiered newsroom remain. “At times it can feel like an amoeba without a central nervous system,” Glasser said. “[Politico] had grown so quickly that cooperation was totally occurring but in ad hoc and informal ways. That made it really hard and overwhelming. You just can’t run a place of 200 journalists the same way you could run an awesome guerrilla startup pirate ship of 40 or 50 people.”

Part of the goal is to ensure that the new structure takes full advantage of the army of about 100 Politico Pro journalists, who if used well can provide an inherent advantage over other media. That staff now spans 14 policy areas, from healthcare to defense, providing blanket coverage of even the tiniest developments on Capitol Hill, in federal agencies, and among business insiders. Starting with morning newsletters, content zooms into users’ inboxes in dozens of emails each day. As much as 90 percent of Politico Pro’s reporting never reaches the free site.

The immediacy, constancy, and exclusivity are tailor-made for an elite audience that includes industry groups and regulators. Subscriptions total more than 1,800, according to Chief Revenue Officer Roy Schwartz, up from nearly 1,500 in early 2014. And despite prices that range primarily between $10,000 and $300,000, the service’s overall renewal rate is 93 percent. “We believe the service Politico Pro provides is highly specialized and is not offered, in this format, by any other vendor,” the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation wrote in a public notice of its intent to buy a Pro membership this year. The single office’s subscription, which gives 15 users access to seven verticals, totals $14,985 this year. Such princely sums have helped Pro subscriptions grow to about 40 percent of the company’s total revenue, Schwartz said, the rest coming from various types of advertising—roughly 50 percent—and events.

The challenge is to persuade the reporters on this team to buy into the concept of a small, vanguard political audience when what many ultimately want is to cover national politics. “I resist pretty strongly the notion that the free site is cool and where you want to be, and writing for Pro doesn’t have the same sort of excitement and energy and opportunity for high impact,” Harris said. “It’s just not true…[Reporters] want impact among the most serious readers and the most consequential readers.”

That could be a hard sell to some, especially young reporters conditioned to produce work that travels across the social web. Several former Pro staffers expressed frustration that the vast majority of their reporting reached so few people. Paige Cunningham, a Pro healthcare reporter who left Politico on good terms, said she joined the Washington Examiner in January partly because “I was ready to write for a more general audience of readers, so I was excited about the opportunity.”

Journalists like Cunningham helped Politico Pro grow into a cash cow, and this team is critical to the goal of deepening the political report on the main site—to help it regain the exclusive edge that led Politico to its initial burst of growth.

One of Glasser’s latest initiatives, what she calls the “deep-dive fellowship,” attempts to encourage Pro reporters to pitch enterprise stories elsewhere at Politico. The first such piece, a 5,000-word investigation by two Pro reporters of an obscure government pipeline agency, is a story few competitors have the bandwidth to produce.

The evolution of semi-autonomous fiefdoms within the Rosslyn newsroom mirrors Politico’s global organizational structure. What had been an outlet with laser-like focus on Washington is now exporting its model to Europe and statehouses. The three ventures are controlled by three separate leadership teams—they comprise a sort of federalist system within the company—on whose shoulders day-to-day operations and hiring decisions fall. “So the way you expand,” VandeHei said, “is you hire people who share your same mentality and same approach and same passion for what you’re trying to do as a company, and then you give them power.”

One of those people is Tom McGeveran, who, with then-New York Observer colleague Josh Benson, scrounged up money from relatives, friends, and his 401k in late 2009 to start Capital New York, a city- and state-focused politics and media site. Politico’s parent company, Allbritton Communications, bought Capital in September 2013. It has since expanded its staff to 31 journalists, including five in its Albany bureau. It has also launched seven Pro verticals, the major twist from Rosslyn’s model being that all reporters write both free and premium content.

Capital isn’t profitable, according to Vice President of Operations Katherine Lehr. But “we have definitely surpassed our original benchmarks” for Pro subscriptions, she said, declining to give specific numbers.

McGeveran, Benson, and Lehr have been tasked with taking Capital’s model beyond New York to various statehouses, starting with New Jersey and Florida this fall. Each operation will likely employ about a half-dozen journalists. The trio will also help launch state-focused, Mike Allen-style Playbook newsletters in Massachusetts, Illinois, and California, laying the groundwork for future expansion as well. “We’re going to have a learning curve in every single state,” McGeveran said, pointing to local peculiarities like Texas’ part-time legislature.

Politico has a different set of challenges with its expansion outside US borders. Brussels, de facto capital of the European Union, is home to Politico Europe’s nerve center. The joint venture with German publisher Axel Springer already numbers about 40 journalists, including reporters in London, Paris, and Berlin. The staff collectively knows 14 languages and has 22 passports among them. “We’re not trying to impose ourselves [as Americans],” said Harris, who shuttled between Rosslyn and Brussels to get Politico Europe off the ground in April. “We’re trying to understand the place and explain it in ways that, I think, are distinctively Politico.”

Politico Europe drew about 700,000 unique visitors in May, and its Playbook newsletter boasts roughly 40,000 subscribers. The outlet also puts out a newspaper, is developing Pro verticals, and produces podcasts in several languages, though all but a few articles have run only in English.

The underlying premise of the expansion is not so different from its predecessor in Washington. Pan-European politics are undercovered, the thinking goes, or at least not covered in a compelling fashion. “People want to read about politics in a sort of lively, smart way that’s not self-serious, that’s more immediate, that’s surprising,” Executive Editor Matthew Kaminski said. “We’re creating a market for the kind of journalism we’re doing, because no one else is trying to do that.”

Such conviction of Politico’s exceptionalism is echoed throughout the company’s leadership. It’s true that no other publication has built such a massive team of policy reporters in Washington. And few, if any, American newspapers have the appetite or resources to station a gaggle of reporters in each statehouse. Still, the difficulties of world domination are greater than true believers will let on.

The day before Politico Europe launched in April, a blog post by Christophe Leclercq, founder of the Brussels-based site EurActiv, began, “We always welcome competition.” Founded in 1999, EurActiv publishes in 12 languages and has 51 journalists in a dozen European capitals. It’s one of a handful of outlets, including the Financial Times, already covering European politics. In a separate blog post in September, Leclercq counted about 20 pan-European media ventures launched since the EU’s founding in 1958. Most of them failed.

Whereas the US has a polarized two-party system, near-constant campaigning, and politicians’ cults of personality, the EU’s political makeup is multipolar, with longer terms of office and party-list representation, meaning individual officials are less prominent.

“All this leads us to the belief that there is less of a market for political news in Europe than there is in the US,” EurActiv Chief Executive Rick Zednik wrote in an email to CJR. The idea of “European politics” remains mostly aspirational, added Charlie Beckett, a London School of Economics professor and former journalist. “There’s no such thing as ‘a European’ outside of Brussels,” he said.

Of course, Politico seeks readers with vested interests in Brussels news, not a mass audience. It likes to think of itself as less of a traditional news organization and more an information broker, catering to elites for whom politics is a business. It’s a fundamentally less democratic—though potentially more financially sustainable—philosophy of journalism. And VandeHei believes that beats the alternative.

“Man, once you go for traffic, I’m sorry: You’re making a deal with the devil and you’re going to cheapen your soul,” he said.

The greatest challenges going forward, however, will likely remain with Politico’s free flagship site out of Rosslyn, where any missteps will be the most visible. It’s the heart of the organization. And regardless of the amount of cash pouring in via Pro subscriptions, the public barometer for Politico’s success will be whether it continues to drive the conversation. That marker was established in the company’s early years and will not easily be brushed aside. VandeHei’s marching orders for Glasser are to find a way to dominate both spheres: politics, which generates buzz, and policy, which generates revenue. And the linchpin that will hold the plan together—or allow it to come crumbling apart—is talent.

Staff departures have slowed but not stopped in the first half of the year. One former staffer was approached by four different news organizations before finally leaving this spring. “If there are all these other opportunities out there, is it smart to turn them all down?” he said. Glasser has responded by hiring a slew of veteran journalists, many from regional newspapers such as The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, and the Tampa Bay Times. “I think it’s sort of a golden age in terms of the quality of talent we’ve attracted here,” she said. But a number of current and former staffers claim that Glasser has had more trouble enticing newcomers than management lets on.

Glasser’s job is doubly challenging given that she is essentially trying to bring new religion to what is now an established newsroom. The Politico mothership originally did one thing very well, and now intends to do everything at that same level. Glasser is building up infrastructure to facilitate this, and there have indeed been promising signs this year. Traffic to the free site averaged 7.6 million unique visitors between February and May, according to comScore, compared to 6 million over the same period in 2014. Politico’s congressional team remains top of class, and dogged investigative reporting helped force the resignation of Rep. Aaron Schock in March. The Agenda, a digital magazine launched in May, promises more in-depth policy coverage. A new office has more recently boosted staff morale.

But consistent enterprise reporting can sometimes be at odds with Politico’s frenetic ethos, and the expanded mandate still leaves some without a clear view of the mission. “The attempts to communicate are [VandeHei] putting out rosy memos about growth potential—all of that is great and exciting,” a current staffer said. “But that doesn’t translate to much on the ground.” VandeHei, for his part, countered, “Every person who’s hired here knows exactly what they’re supposed to do.”

That brute determination stems from Politico’s nonstop state of evolution. While musing on the future of his publication to CJR in 2009, Harris wrote that “complacency is a curse, and that constant innovation is indeed the only remedy.” He envisioned a Politico that, by 2014, would have the “freedom to do longer, investigative and narrative work, rather than just chase the story of the day and the traffic that comes with it.”

It’s 2015 now, and Harris’ vision has come to fruition—and then some. The promise of the news organization, to craft a new brand of political coverage, was achieved soon after its launch. But it remains to be seen if Politico’s latest rendition can similarly stand out. Driving the conversation has never been an easy task in Washington, and doing so has only grown more difficult with time. Politico’s great burden in this endeavor is not only to maintain order in a partitioned newsroom, but to find its editorial soul in the process.

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.