THE PLANK JULY 1, 2009
In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, the magazine's media critic Michael Wolff writes a surprisingly positive 3400-word column about Politico. Not everyone shares this glowing assessment of the web-print startup. Last month, Politico’s chief foreign policy writer David Cloud resigned after only six months on the job. “It wasn't a good fit for me,” Cloud told me by phone this afternoon. Cloud joined Politico in January. In making the announcement, Politico’s top editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei stressed that Cloud’s hiring represented Politico’s commitment to broadening its coverage outside the horse race of Beltway politics. “David's hiring is part of our ongoing effort to expand coverage of Washington governance, the new administration and national defense,” they wrote in a staff memo on January 14. But Cloud didn’t take to Politico’s model of obsessive, politics-only reporting, and its freewheeling newsroom where staffers are expected to file news, often on multiple beats simultaneously. “Partly what I found, having come from the New York Times, there weren't [enough] resources,” Cloud explained. “They needed someone to cover the waterfront: foreign policy, defense, Obama's position in the world, which are all important things. I didn't want to be the sole person opining or reporting on these matters. It was too much of a burden at that point in my career.”“One of my frustrations about the place,” Cloud continued, “I’m used to covering those things straight, by straight I didn’t mean they were pressuring me to inject some point of view into a story. It’s all done through the lens, ‘what does this mean for Obama?’ It’s an important lens to view things through, but it’s not the only lens I wanted to view those events through.”Cloud's hiring, and departure, represent a significant marker in Politico's evolution. When I spoke with Politico's owner Robert Allbritton earlier this year, he told me that Politico was branching beyond its scoops and blogs, and he held up Cloud as an example of Politico's maturation. "I would rather spend my money on a superstar like David Cloud
than on an investigative unit. Someone like Cloud is going to turn
stories twice week, rather than someone who turns a story once a
quarter." Harris said that he remains a fan of Cloud, and that his departure doesn't signfy a shift away from policy. "I think he had trouble making the transition from a very traditional background from the New York Times to a less than traditional style at Politico." Harris added that at Politico, policy and politics can't necessarily be separated. "I think it's an error to have politics on the left side of their brain, and on the right side is policy."
In reading the Wolff piece, what I found most interesting is the evolution in his own thinking about Politico. Last fall, I interviewed Wolff in the course of reporting my TNR piece “The Scoop Factory.” I was interested in Wolff’s take, both because he’s been an astute media observer for years, and is also a first-person participant in the Web-news game with his aggregator Newser.com. When I asked Wolff what he thought of Politico last October, he was dismissive. “It’s the highest form of naivet