Finally a web launch that I can unambiguously welcome. John Harris' new political website Politico combines all the best things about the Internet -- immediacy, informality, uncluttered design, a deep verticalized focus, genuine expertise. What I particularly like is that the site is authoritative without being pompous, serious without being patronising. Politico is written by experts who aren't shoving their expertise down the readers' throat.
Best of all, Politico has neither endless bloggers nor infinite forums that create worthless user-generated content. This is a website written by experienced political journalists for people who want to be educated by experts. If you want to really learn about American politics, go to Politico. If you want to know what uninformed people think about politics, read a blog.
Harris explained to Ruth Seymour on KCRW's "The Politics of Culture" that his goal at Politico is to encourage journalists to have fun with their writing. Harris, who left the Washington Post to start-up Politico, wants his journalists to relax, to really enjoy their writing. While this may sound like marketing spin, I think Harris is onto something important here. The problem with many print journalists these days is that they really aren't having much fun. Working as a writer at a traditional newspaper is poorly paid and highly pressurized and, given the endless cuts and layoffs, quite depressing. It's not surprising, therefore,that much American newspaper journalism is unnaturally serious and wooden.
Paul Grabowicz, who runs the new media program at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism, told me the same thing when I interviewed him for afterTV last year. Journalists, he explained, are generally extremely smart and funny people -- but this all-too-rarely come through in their writing. Grabowicz blamed print newspaper obsessive concern with objectivity and fairness for the fact that much print journalism is boring. Because reporters are terrified of being seen to be biased, their work loses its vitality.
I hope newspaper editors are looking at Politico carefully. John Harris' start-up proves that reading a specialized news resource focused exclusively on politics doesn't have to be like watching C-SPAN. And he shows that a news website can be eminently readable without giving in to the tyranny of the blog.