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Guest Thinkers

Politico and the (Bleak?) Future of Online News

The profile of Politico reporter Mike Allen in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine has drawn the ire of a couple prominent media authorities, who criticize Politico and Allen—as did the Times’ piece itself—for being gossipy, sensationalist, driven by inside information, and generally lax in its journalistic standards. Are these sour grapes from those jealous of Politico’s access or is the future of online news bleak?

Though Politico employs over fifty reporters, editors and analysts, it would seem that the depth of its influence is driven by Mike Allen and his wide network of Washington friend-informants. That Allen’s daily, email called the Playbook, makes its way into White House Advisor David Axelrod’s morning meetings is evidence of his pull inside the Beltway, but at what cost does this come to journalistic standards?

Dan Kennedy at Media Nation says Politico’s techniques demonstrate a deep bias for power and that Allen himself has an immature vision of politics as a mere baseball game, which he calls for his news junkie followers. The Columbia Journalism Review laments much of what emerges in Allen’s profile in the Times, particularly how he and Politico see their responsibility as influencing politics rather than merely reporting on it.

New, seemingly innocuous words replace old, troublesome ones. Politico seeks to “drive” the conversation in Washington rather than “influence” it and certain news stories are “marketed” to draw traffic to the site rather than “run for their journalist content.”

Politico seems to rely solely on the grit of its journalists to get a scoop rather than its power as an institution. This is a characteristic experts in the media field recognize as particular to online sources without the large resource pool of traditional newspapers. It is an inherent quality that makes online sources weaker in terms of being able to sustain a concentration of resources on one particular story. The ephemeral nature of online stories also makes it necessary for them to aggressively push their scoops by inflating headlines and stretching facts to fit the entertainment needs of its audience—witness Politico’s unreliable reporting on Nancy Pelosi’s conflict with President Obama during health care negotiations.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, user Peter Morgan.


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