Case Study – Politico

Politico was too ambitiously structured for a start up and it was serendipitous that a rich investor in the business of communication with a desire for a newspaper and two experienced journalists yearning to break the traditional mould got together. It’s not everyday that happens. And it just felt like they went overboard like kids in a Candy store just because they had all this money thrown at their project. With Huff Post not even paying their reporters who are also less well known one presumes (I’m no expert on American journalists) they still managed to exceed Politico’s unique views. It seems in the end that they got excited with the idea and overstaffed themselves, over thought the entire project and while it is a success one feels it would have achieved that same level of success with far less human and financial capital.

It also provides a caveat for websites relying on advertising for revenue and throws on its head the idea that print journalism is dead. If one print reader is worth 200 times more than one unique visitor online and the newspaper with a ultra local circulation of 27,000 can pull in 60% of the revenue, it means that the enterprise could break even with less readership albeit quality readership.  It meant that lobbyists and other groups merely wanted their ads to target those in the seats of power and influence and couldn’t really care about a wider audience – well noted by the Politico team themselves.

I’m also wondering if ethnically oriented startups or specific web sites like what I envisage will ever be able to garner enough interest in an American Investor. A reflection of this lack of interest lies in a conversation I once had with Rory Stewart who was then the head of the Carr Centre at the Kennedy School. I was arguing that with a specific South Asia Institute at the School it should focus more on Sri Lanka and set our several geopolitical reasons why. But he was realistic in his answer. He said the focus is India, Pakistan if you advocate Sri Lanka, then find a rich Sri Lankan investor to pump in some money.

So despite a large online readership Politico could not monetise it. Can it happen at all then with this business model?

I feel Politico in the end is delivering more of the same, that not only readers but Washington influentials will be able to get that material elsewhere – there are always good political journalists peppering the media landscape. It failed to provide the wow factor or the service factor. It failed to provide a mission, champion a cause and in failing to do so became one of the crowd – Albeit the hip crowd. But just as the Huff post’s draw was its independent liberal small enterprise  persona (not anymore after the AOL takeover) I think being a maverick, taking a contrarian view, fighting a cause, specializing in investigative articles etc usually provides the influence that can generate at least sufficient funds to sustain a business. But hey I’m still new here and the indecent amounts of money that get’s thrown around still makes me reel with disbelief. But that’s an outsider’s view. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

Again Politico had everything going for them, a ready and willing investor, the right political atmosphere (the elections) to launch and really take off, media aristocracy at its helm, a huge staff, web designers, the site programmed individually, gigs on TV shows to advertise the site, tremendous publicity – perfect conditions and yet no wow! It doesn’t seem to have retained the influence factor.

I really believe in the influence model. Again lot to say on this. Influencing the power centre and/or the people so each needs different approach. To balance societal and commercial influence. I think it can be achieved especially in these days when information and news websites abound, by being perceived as standing up for something.

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