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Politico is a Washington-based website and newspaper that focuses on American politics.

Politico was founded in 2007 and is owned by Allbritton Communications, a media company that also owns eight television stations, the New York local news site Capital New York, and, briefly, the defunct Washington-based local news website TBD. As of mid-2013, it had a staff of about 230, including the largest White House contingent of any news organization.

Politico publishes a free 33,000-circulation newspaper Monday to Friday when Congress is in session and on Wednesdays when not — but far more of its readership comes through its website, which drew more than four million unique visitors per month as of 2011 and ranks as one of the United States’ most popular newspaper websites. As of 2011, about half of its revenue came from its newspaper. It also runs Politico Pro, a thousands-of-dollars-per-year subscription service for information on energy, technology and health care. It announced plans to expand the service in 2012, and in 2013 planned to add three new verticals to the service.

As an organization specifically geared toward Washington insiders, Politico covers both policy issues and political minutiae and gossip, looking at issues through the lens of political power. Playbook, the daily morning email newsletter penned by Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, exemplifies that ethos. Overall, Politico aims to use the speed of the web to drive the political news cycle both online and in traditional media, a philosophy summed up by the newsroom’s motto, “Win the morning, win the afternoon.”

The organization was initially intended as a congressional newspaper to compete with Roll Call and The Hill and was originally titled The Capitol Leader before it was renamed and its direction shifted. Politico’s founding editors were two former Washington Post reporters, John Harris and Jim VandeHei, both of whom are still editors.

Politico is supported largely by print advertising and was profitable by 2009. Allbritton said it continued to be profitable in 2013. In May 2013, it announced it would begin testing various metered pay plans with readers in six states and outside the U.S., though the announcement said it was unlikely the pay plan would ever be implemented in Washington, D.C.

Politico became prominent during the 2008 presidential campaign, quickly becoming known as a “must-read” for political junkies and insiders. It expanded immediately after the election, adding staff members, expanding its paper’s circulation and printing more often, and remained a central publication among Washington insiders several years later. It won its first Pulitzer Prize in 2012, for editorial cartooning.

Politico began sharing content with newspapers shortly after it launched, partnering with newspapers in key states in the presidential primary campaign as well as USA Today in early 2007. In 2008, it launched the Politico Network, now known as the Politico Media Group, a group of more than 100 newspapers and magazines that has access to Politico’s content and national advertising. Politico also began partnering with Reuters in 2008 to distribute its articles on Reuters’ news wires and sell ads on newspaper websites that ran the articles.

Allbritton bought Capital New York in 2013 and the following year introduced a paywall with a $3,500 annual fee.

In May 2011, Politico announced a content-sharing partnership in print and online with the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, including its PolitiFact project. Politico also partners with the book publisher Random House to produce a series of e-books.

Politico has been among the leaders of a drive toward shorter, more incremental political news stories on the web, as well as a faster political news cycle and more sensationalistic political coverage. It began signaling a move into longform journalism as well in 2013, relaunching its magazine and announcing plans for deeper and more analytical pieces.

Politico’s critics have said it is overly occupied with driving political discussion, focuses on the trivial and is unable to see beyond the Washington culture in which it is steeped. Allen’s Playbook in particular has been accused of giving advertisers flattering coverage. Former staffers have complained of long hours and a breakneck pace that can sometimes lead to the publication of unconfirmed stories.

Video: A 2009 Charlie Rose interview with Politico executives

A 2009 Beet.tv interview with John Harris on Politico’s video and syndication strategies

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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: March 27, 2014.
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