Layoffs at Politico? HuffPost, Please.

When HuffPost‘s Michael Calderone left in Politico in March of 2010, no love was lost on either end. The whys of that are hard to decipher — he broke news and worked at a feverish pace as most reporters there do — but the fit was never a good one. Which may help explain his rollout of anti-Politico stories in recent months, the latest of which has Politico laying people off, even though the decisions appear to be nothing of the kind. In June of last year, Calderone wrote a lengthy insiders piece on his former employer. In it, he reported on the “stressful, hamster wheel” environment in which a “handful of reporters receive preferential treatment from company leadership, while the majority are left drifting in a far off galaxy.”

In his most recent story on Politico, Calderone reported that two people have been let go in recent days — Photo Editor Jay Westcott, who opted to go public with the news on Facebook and Twitter and Jess Kamen, a technology reporter.

So two people were shown the door. As Politico’s Editor-in-Chief John Harris eventually told Calderone for his story, publisher Robert Allbritton has given them the green light to expand and bring on 30 new hires in 2013 — does this sound like a season of layoffs? To be sure, the word “layoff” is a loaded one and HuffPost, a Politico competitor, was sure to use it in their headline. The word, like it or not, denotes a company that’s struggling. On Sunday, WaPo media writer Erik Wemple also questioned Calderone’s use of the word. “Here’s one instance in which terminology matters a great deal,’ he wrote. “‘Layoffs,’ after all, sends a signal that the organization is shrinking, unable to meet its budgets with current staffing levels. If that’s the case here, it’s a giant story…” If not, he added, it’s a “far less consequential story.”

But Politico, struggling? WaPo recently made big offers to Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman. Both rejected them to stay.

In Wemple’s story we learn that Politicos such as Harris, Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, Haberman, Danielle Jones and Kim Kingsley have all signed multi-year contracts, crushing any impression that an exodus is underway. “He got played by bad sources because a few junior people left,” a media observer explained. “Politico has people come and go every week, so some variation of his dumb and naïve story could run most months.”

Asked to comment on whether he holds any ill will against his former employer and whether “layoffs” was a proper word to use, Calderone remarked to FishbowlDC…

1. Do you think two people can be categorized as layoffs? And how so if the publication says it is bringing on 30 in the coming year?

“When I wrote the piece, I could confirm that two Politico staffers had been laid off and heard about another, which I wasn’t able to immediately confirm. It wasn’t clear at the time, and isn’t now, exactly how many staffers were let go. I never wrote there were mass layoffs or suggested major retrenchment, but simply that there were layoffs amid restructuring. I believe that description is accurate.
In reporting the piece, I gave Politico several hours to respond. John Harris referred questions to Kim Kingsley, who didn’t respond before publication. As you surely know, news of staff dismissals and departures at media companies rarely holds for long. So after a few hours, I decided to publish and update if I got a response (which is exactly how I operated when reporting on the media for Politico). Shortly after my article was published, Harris agreed to speak on the record and mentioned Politico’s plans to increase staff by 30. I think it’s important to include what Politico’s management says its future plans will be and immediately updated the piece accordingly. However, I think the main news on Monday was what happened (some Politico staffers laid off) rather than what management says will happen (30 staffers being added through 2013). Of course, if Politico makes a major expansion move in 2013, I’d love to break that news, too.”
2. Do you hold a grudge against your former employer? Some say they think you do based on the stories you’ve written since you left.
“I don’t hold any grudge against my former employer and I’d challenge anyone to find inaccuracies in my previous reporting on Politico. I’m not sure exactly how to argue with what “some say” about my reporting while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. It’s odd for anyone to take such a cowardly route considering I’m quite accessible on Twitter for a public conversations about my reporting or over email for private ones.”