Allbritton Buys Capital NY, VandeHei Named President

By Betsy Rothstein Comment

Watch out New York. Politico owner Robert Allbritton just took a bite out of the journalism industry there by purchasing Capital New York, an online news site created by  Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran.

Politico‘s Executive Editor Jim VandeHei has been named President of the new venture. He will remain in his role at Politico in Washington and still spend the majority of his time there. Benson and McGeveran will remain as co-editors. Katherine Lehr will be VandeHei’s number 2 and will be moving to Manhattan. In the next month they will hire on two dozen new reporters, with more to follow. Cally Stolbach, central on Politico‘s business team, will split her time between Washington and New York as Capital‘s new Director of Business Development.

Things could turn into a bloodsport. Word on the street is that they’ll be poaching the “best and brightest” from New York publications. Inside sources explain to FishbowlDC that it’s clear they see weakness in the New York Times as they saw in WaPo in 2007. They think they can go into their core areas – city and state politics, media – and beat them at their own game by instituting a new one. “It’s game-on with the Post and Bezos,” said one source. “We all have different approaches and audiences, but the fight for dominance was just taken to a whole new level.”

See Allbritton’s lengthy memo. It was dispatched to staff last night just after midnight.

Subject: Start spread the news….


I promised a few months back to update you regularly on my plans for growing this company and building new ones in the media space. I am excited to announce I have purchased our first new digital media company – Capital New York.

You are going to love the spirit and smarts animating this publication. It was started a few years back by a group of editors and reporters who share our DNA and eagerness to take on incumbents in media.

I have very big ambitions for this publication: to do in New York what we did in Washington with POLITICO. We are making a substantial investment to sharpen the focus of Capital and vastly expand its reportorial presence.

The publication will focus laser-like on New York and its power centers, including the media, city and state politics, culture and business. It will target a sophisticated insider audience of New York’s most powerful.

You know well my strong interest in helping build profitable new media companies. The future for serious, nonpartisan, news-driven publications is uncertain. You have created a template here at POLITICO that works, and I am thrilled to expand on it and test it in new markets, starting with New York.

I believe firmly that publications with intense focus on a specific set of topics can break through quickly, editorially and financially. To succeed, these publications must exist in areas where reader interest is very strong and the potential to sell targeted ads and subscriptions is very high.

Any company that has these characteristics can work. But for them to work exceptionally well, they need inspired leadership on both the editorial and business sides.

Capital has – or will soon have – it all.

It starts with the editorial product. Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran, the co-founders and co-editors of the publication, are enthusiastic about guiding Capital through its expansion and reinvention. They are wired like all of you: They are smart, driven and brimming with new ideas. More importantly, they are great guys and just as hungry as us to prove there is a robust future for serious journalism. I would not have purchased the company if they had not agreed to join us for this great experiment.

They will remain as co-editors and are equally excited to grow the company, drawing on our shared experience and expertise in making targeted publications successful. They will run the publication day to day.

The original POLITICO gang – John Harris, Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Kim Kingsley – will all be instrumental in advising and helping guide the expansion of the new company while continuing all their work on POLITICO.

The trick for me is smartly using POLITICO talent to help lift the new publication without putting our own success at any risk. I have come up with a solution that works well for everyone.

I have asked VandeHei to be in charge of this venture, serving as President.

No one better understands what it takes to build a successful media entity in the 21st century than Harris and VandeHei. Jim will stay based in D.C. while he continues his primary assignment charting the strategic direction of POLITICO.

To make it easier on Jim and all of us, Katherine Lehr, who has distinguished herself as a rising leader and operational expert, will move to New York to serve as his point person in the office. She will be Vice President of Operations. Katherine is a Kim Kingsley protégé, which we all know means she’s exceptionally competent and versatile, two essential ingredients for thriving in this new role.

Cally Stolbach will also be joining Capital as Director of Business Development. Cally, who has been a central part of POLITICO’s business team, will split her time between New York and D.C. helping to craft and execute the business strategy.

This is a big moment for me and all of us. We are in the middle of the biggest expansion of POLITICO since our inception, as we put the finishing touches on our new magazine and plunge even deeper into both politics with strategic hires like Todd Purdum, and policy with strategic expansion into new verticals like education, agriculture and trade.

Jim and John have a very smart plan for aligning Capital’s expansion with our own efforts here to take advantage of our considerable business expertise.

I will keep you posted as we unveil new hires and specifics about our coverage plans and timing.

Thank you for reading this – and for giving me confidence that what you have built can help guide future, similarly successful ventures in new media.