It was supposed to be something new, the TV ads and subway billboards promised us. Something altogether different, and better. An inside look at the seamy underbelly of politics and the people that practice the dirty profession. The Politico, a new web-oriented newspaper founded by former Washington Post political reporters Jim VandeHei and John Harris, launched today, just in time for the State of the Union address. As it turns out, the Politico looks like most other news websites. Sure, there are some innovations, like reader-powered editorials and $100 payments for successful local reporting by amateurs. We get to know where Hillary went on her vacation. And at last, we can read what ace reporter Mike Allen is reading. There are the expected first-day bloopers: a font that's hard to read, some goofy HTML formatting errors, pixelated video clips. But otherwise, there's nothing remarkable about The Politico thus far.
It's a particularly inauspicious time to be launching a new newspaper, with dead-tree media companies struggling with revenue models that can overcome the Internet's free culture (exemplified by craigslist, the newspaper-killer). And it's not as if the politicos left an institution that doesn't get Web 2.0: Washingtonpost.com has long since embraced blogs, video and audio, and comments, as has NYTimes.com. The technological features are relatively easy; Slashdot pioneered many of them eons ago. Figuring out out to monetize these innovations is the hard part. "Sell the company for $1.65 bllion to Google" doesn't exactly work as a business model for newspapers, unfortunately.
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