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The great future of journalism

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Axel Springer’s acquisition of Politico tells us at least three very clear things. The first: even in this age dominated by technology, journalists do journalism. The second: to do great journalism you need great journalists and you need a lot of them. The third: with digital, the users of a paid news site are less than before, but they are willing to pay much more than before for great journalism.

The story of Politico, its irresistible rise, since the site went online, at 5:07 am on January 23, 2017, is a great story of journalists. Meanwhile, it is the story of the two founders, John Harris and Jin VandeHei. In the fall of 2006, they were among Washington’s top journalists working for a journalism institution, the Washington Post. Here they propose for the first time the birth of an online newspaper to tell politics in a different way but they are not understood. Then they find a publisher (Robert Albritton), drop the Post and launch their startup. “We are not crazy” they say in the opening post, “but we believe that this moment of crisis in publishing opens up new possibilities. And the newspapers that will be able to better seize these opportunities are not the generalist ones that appeal to everyone and that have dominated the market so far. The future we are betting on belongs to those who will organize themselves on specialized topics and who will cover them with a fresh and enlightening language for a specialized target “. It was, in fact, January 23, 2007 and those two had already understood that the web was not killing journalism, but was asking journalism to evolve.

Politico’s first move was to recruit some of the best journalists on the market; the second, to hire many. Other than cuts. When a few years ago I visited the editorial office of Politico in Brussels (headquarters of Politico.eu, which was already a partnership with Axel Springer), I was amazed to discover that only there were the same number of journalists as the entire news agency. that I was directing at the time. I say it better: we had a person to cover what was happening in Brussels, they eighty. There was no game.

Meanwhile, VandeHei left his partner to found a new newspaper (successful: Axios), and the publisher of Politico added another one, Protocol (also successful). Other than the publishing crisis, in short. The acquisition announced yesterday is hardly surprising: Axel Springer has been on the frontier of digital innovation for years. Not surprising but comforting: journalism, if it is able to evolve, has a great future.


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