Politico: Tidy in its infancy

WASHINGTON, D.C. Politico is such a brand-new news organization, clutter hasn’t had a chance to pile up on the reporters’ desks. Each desk was tidy; I was horrified.

Three weeks into this venture, former Washington Post staffer of 21 years John Harris led us into a sleek conference room and began to pontificate on the state of national journalism today.

As Politico’s editor-in-chief, Harris is one of two Post staffers that jumped ship to found the paper as a free tabloid and website that covers the workings of Washington. Linked with a cable news television station that uses its reporters heavily for on-air commentary, the idea is a synergy between TV and print that’ll boost the fledging newspaper’s profile while offering up its hacks on air pundits-down-the-hall.

So these reporters are like in-house outside correspondents, I asked.

Exactly, the prim young woman in charge of this arrangement told me.

Harris explained to us why he decided to leave the Post. Conventional print newspapers are undergoing a painful transition at the moment, with layoffs and restructuring the norm to satisfy owners and investors.

It’s a dramatic and traumatic time for the world of conventional newspapers, he told us.

I just didn’t want to be there for that, he said of Post which has already laid off 10 percent of its newsroom and that he predicts should expect another round of bloodletting.

Co-founded with another Post staffer, Jim VanderHei, he said the idea was the seeded by a number of late-night conversations about what is and isn’t working in the stodgy world of mainstream print newspapers.

Harris began to tell us his story as he leaned back in his black leather chair at the head of the sleek conference table tucked in the bowels of the office safely insulated from the newsroom by the human resources and fianance departments. These offices were more spacious, more sterile and hummed with a quiet and forbidding sense of efficiency that only HR and finance can.

I always get in trouble– I get quoted using these drug metaphors, Harris said. But we had a number of late-night ‘pass the bong conversations. The result, he said, is the Politico which hopes to meld top talent from the Washington press corps with aggressive use of the internet and self-promotion through the cable news station.

While an ambitious undertaking, Harris and VanderHei have only been able to launch this experiment because of their partnership with financier Robert L. Allbritton who is on the masthead as publisher.

Responding to my question about the prospects of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, I was told it’s not an accident where she is.

Harris, who covered the Clinton White House for six years and wrote a best-selling book on that presidency called The Survivor, praised the junior senator and former first lady as a formidable politician.

She has gone from one of the most controversial politicians to one of the most disciplined, he said. I do think she’s at a disadvantage that there’s a real yearning to turn the page in American politics.

He added: The question is whether her awesome organizational capabilities are sufficient to overcome this fatigue.

Should Sen. Clinton prevail in the 2008 election, Harris noted, this country will have only had two political dynasties the Bush and Clinton families at the nation’s held since 1991.

Both families have quite awesome organizational machines, Harris noted.

Staying in the vein of New York politicians running for high office, Harris was fairly dismissive of former NYC Mayor Rudolph Guiliani’s propect as a relatively social-liberal being nominated by the GOP. Former New York Governor, George Pataki, is even a longer shot, he said.

How does a socially liberal conservative get nominated (by the Republican Pary); I don’t get it, he said.

Full Disclosure: At the end of our visit, we were given Politico coffee mugs souvenir gifts (which without question influenced this glowing vignette).

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