Where’s the Politico of finance?

By Felix Salmon
March 29, 2010
list of naive editorial-side people without business-side experience: John Harris, the editor-in-chief of Politico.

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Add another name to the list of naive editorial-side people without business-side experience: John Harris, the editor-in-chief of Politico.

Our fundamental model is not driven by traffic. It’s trying to be as essential to the conversation of Washington insiders, people who live and breathe this, whose careers depend upon it.

That’s a rather small audience. Our core audience is kind of at the center of the circle. That’s the one we care about.

And that’s not chasing traffic. That’s not chasing a huge number. But for the readers who matter most to us, does our content matter to them? Is it indispensable?

If we can answer that with a yes, then we’re succeeding. If not, or somebody else beats us to it, then we’re not.

It’s occasionally remarked upon that there really isn’t a Politico for finance, and there should be. At one point, it seemed that Henry Blodget might have aspirations in that direction, but those seem to have been abandoned in a quest for cheap pageviews: ZeroHedge breaks more news than Clusterstock does, and Clusterstock is definitely more an analysis aggregator than a news originator.

I have no problem with a business model of adding value through aggregation, but the barriers to entry are much lower than they are for a news site staffed by smart, experienced, opinionated and well-sourced journalists. Creating that kind of thing might be prohibitively expensive: it would probably cost at least as much as Lex or Heard on the Street or Reuters Breakingviews, all of which have editorial-side payrolls running into the millions of dollars per year. But a Politico-of-finance could carve out a franchise at least as valuable as that of Politico itself, and could I think become very established surprisingly quickly, if it had a critical mass of name-brand journalists at launch.

Update: Spiers weighs in, calling Harris “disingenuous”. But I think she misses his point. If you own Harris’s “center of the circle”, by providing essential content, then all manner of monetization opportunities are likely to emerge — including high traffic. Going for quality first, and getting traffic as a consequence, is doing things the right way round. Going for traffic first, never mind the quality, is liable to backfire.

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Felix: “Going for quality first, and getting traffic as a consequence, is doing things the right way round.”

Yes, but nowhere does Harris talk about quality. He talks about catering to a small group of insiders. Or is there an assumption that these insiders care more about quality than the unwashed masses? Seems to me this is a recipe for journalism that focuses on catering to the vanities and political interests of their sources and readers.

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