Two prominent Washington Post political reporters are leaving the newspaper to join a new Web-focused venture, underscoring how new media is stealing talent from some of the most venerable brands in journalism.
John Harris, the Post’s national political editor, and reporter Jim VandeHei are expected to lead the new multimedia venture, which also includes a soon-to-be launched Capitol Hill newspaper called the Capitol Leader. The venture is backed by Allbritton Communications Co. and will have at its disposal the resources of WJLA-TV, the Washington ABC affiliate owned by Allbritton, and regular features on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and “CBS This Morning.”
“We’ve had long conversations over beers about what’s next in journalism and what’s possible on the Web for some time,” said Mr. Harris, 43 years old.
Allbritton approached Mr. VandeHei, 35, shortly before the election, Mr. Harris said, but discussions didn’t get serious until after both men were finished handling the Post’s election coverage. Allbritton executives were originally looking for someone to fill the top editing post of the Capitol Leader but Mr. VandeHei told them the only way to get top talent would be to pursue a more ambitious idea of using the Web more aggressively.
Harris and VandeHei are part of the Post’s first team (and Harris is the author, along with Mark Halperin of The Way To Win), and their departure not only has to shock the paper, it also signals a new competition for talent from non-traditional sources for first tier journalism talent as those new media sources begin to understand that there is money to be made via reporting and posting in new publications with a cyberspace reach into online ad revenue.
During the dot com boom some old media talent found themselves courted by the start-ups, but now they will find new media companies calling with the ability to pay top dollar. Bill Sammon’s move from the Washington Times to the Washington Examiner was the first such move, and this double steal from the Beltway’s most important old media giant to a start-up is a signal the new era has arrived.
As Dean notes below, Powerline is running a contest on the nation’s worst newspaper, which is rigged since everyone knows it is the Los Angeles Times.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great journalists to be found among the ruins of MSM. Who will get the next call from new media, and does old media have to think quickly about long term contracts for their best talent.
When journalists start signing up agents, then the new day will officially be here. Which suggests great questions for Harris and VandeHei: How long are their deals, and did they negotiate them for themselves?
UPDATE:New media start-ups looking for new media talent to steal would be well advised to start with Ed Driscoll, who has the best Michael Richards’ round-up here.