Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Newsonomics: Is Tronc about to go on the market?
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Sept. 28, 2015, 11:46 a.m.

Politico plans to have operations in every U.S. state capital and many other world capitals within five years, according to an internal memo obtained by the Huffington Post.

The expansion plans hardly come as a surprise, as Politico earlier this year launched a Brussels-based European edition, created a handful of state editions of its Playbook newsletters, and rebranded Capital, which it bought in 2013, as Politico New York.

“With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries,” cofounders Jim VandeHei and John Harris wrote in the memo.

Does journalism in state capitals need saving? The total number of newspaper reporters covering statehouses fell 35 percent between 2003 and 2014, according to a 2014 Pew study. That drop outpaced the 30 percent decline in overall newspaper staffing over that time. And the study found that of the reporters that do cover statehouses, only 47 percent covered them full-time.

In lieu of newspapers, a new crop of startups have popped up across the country to cover statehouses, some nonprofit, some ideological, some targeting capital insiders explicitly. Sites such as VTDigger, The Connecticut Mirror, and, most famously, The Texas Tribune now offer comprehensive statehouse coverage in their respective states. But these startups are unevenly distributed, with many state capitals seeing little or no new efforts to supplement declining old ones.

Politico chose to skip Texas in its initial state expansion plans, perhaps in deference to the Tribune’s eminence.

But Politico hasn’t shied away from competition in the past: Its 2007 launch was a direct attack on the traditional Washington journalism establishment. And its recently debuted products have also taken on direct competitors. Here in Massachusetts, the Politico Playbook newsletter goes up against established products such as the MASSterList newsletter and The Boston Globe’s Political Happy Hour newsletter.

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