Politico Buys Capital New York: Will DC Phenom Ruin NYC-Centric Site? Media Circles Say Don’t Bet On It

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News that Politico is scooping up Capital New York has so far met with almost zero skepticism, achieving the rare triumph of getting New York and Washington media circles to agree on something.

The news, announced in the overnight hours for optimum Monday-morning play, further underscored the growing ambitions of the successful, D.C.-centric publication, whose hybrid print/online strategy is one of the more unusual business models in journalism. In a letter to his staff, Robert Allbritton, Politico’s owner and publisher, highlighted what appear to be big plans for the 3-year-old website:

“I have very big ambitions for this publication: to do in New York what we did in Washington with POLITICO. We are making a substantial investment to sharpen the focus of Capital and vastly expand its reportorial presence.”

In many ways, the purchase is an obvious move for the thriving Politico. Capital, like Politico, was launched by former newspaper alumnus and grew a solid following based on breaking news with an insider feel. Injected with a $1.7 million cash infusion two summers ago (as Adage reported), it is a small success story in a sea of digital-media properties struggling for both profitability and a sustainable business model.

In his letter, Allbritton characterized the future of serious digital journalism as “a great experiment.”  Politico, to its credit, has fared better than most in that experiment, although it still relies heavily on revenues from its print publication, which was launched simultaneously with its website in early 2007. Earlier this year, it announced that it was launching a companion magazine, while at the same time boasting the success of its paid subscription service, Politico Pro.

As news of its pending New York City incursion made the rounds in media circles on Monday, consensus seemed to confirm that the move was yet another smart decision for the flourishing brand. (The sudden appearance of two dozen job openings in New York journalism could account for the proliferation of well-wishes.) Even the New York Times, which will no doubt face serious rivalry from a Politico-backed Capital, was unusually complimentary, calling Capital “a competitor to New York’s newspapers and niche publications, at least among a core set of news fiends.”

Nevertheless, there were some dissenting voices, mainly among those who felt that Politico’s influence might somehow taint Capital’s purity. Referring to Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei as Politico’s “co-overlord,” Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner wrote that “Capital will, like the egos of many Politico-related entities, swell to four times its current size.”

On Twitter, amid the glut of congratulatory posts, a few Capital fans expressed a similar concern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least one commenter felt the sale of Capital was akin to a Faustian bargain, as Twitter user Zach Schonfeld pointed out. But the relative scarcity of such criticism only highlights the atypical lack of controversy surrounding the purchase, the financial details of which were not disclosed.

If the New York move is successful, expect Politico to extend its brand into other cities as well. Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, VandeHei called the country’s largest city “an attractive market to test our brand of journalism, our approach to the business side of journalism, to see if it can work.”  

The sale is not the only Politico news to break on Monday. The company’s print version debuted a fresh new look, with sleek typefaces designed for the narrow columns of newsprint. As Dylan Byers, Politico’s media reporter, put it, the old fonts -- Century and Franklin Gothic -- were typefaces “you would find preinstalled with any copy of Microsoft Word.”

Politico is owned by the privately owned Allbritton Communications Co., based in Arlington, Va. Read Allbritton’s full letter here, or watch VandeHei’s “Morning Joe” segment below.

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