- Founder Jim Brady depart a few months after the site went live.
- Layoffs of a good percentage of the remaining staff a few months after that.
- A never totally clear plan to become more of an entertainment site.
- A grueling, year-and-a-half slog to the finish line as remaining staff members--me included--slipped away, until the last, John Hendel, quit in 2012.
It’s an unexceptional May night whose possibilities seem more or less drained—the kind of night when even a Nationals game against the woeful Marlins looks like a high point—when Jordana Parra stops outside CBS Radio’s box at the ballpark. Parra has just recognized Tommy McFly’s voice.
After a quick back-and-forth, Parra is invited into the box to meet McFly, who cohosts the weekday morning show on CBS’s local affiliate, WIAD, with Jen Richer and Kelly Collis. Richer snaps a few photos, which later turn up on Facebook, and records a phone greeting for Parra’s son.
Are hugs exchanged? You’d better believe hugs are exchanged. This is a moment to celebrate: The Tommy Show has added a new member to “the Fresh Family.” (WIAD is marketed as 94.7 Fresh FM.) “It felt like I’ve known them forever,” Parra says.
The European Federation of Journalists sent a letter to Politico CEO Jim VandeHei Thursday, expressing a number of concerns:
- About reports it "is hiring journalists to cover Europe who are actually based in the 'right-to-work' state of Virginia."
- What the union characterizes as VandeHei's "refusal to acknowledge the union drive occuring in your own newsroom."
- And finally, "news reports suggesting that Mike Elk, Labor reporter at POLITICO and union organizer, has been fired." (Presumably, the union means news reports like this one. And this one. And this one...)
Politico Europe launched this past April with an office in Brussels. Reached by email, Elk said he was "just enjoying vacation" and directed me to labor lawyer Bruce Jett for clarity on his employment status. I've requested comment from him, and from Politico, and will update with anything I hear back.
Here's the letter:
Jeff Bezos runs Amazon, which a New York Times article this weekend described as a fairly horrifying place to work:
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another's ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are "unreasonably high." The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another's bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: "I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.")
Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post. But Post spokesperson Kris Coratti says Amazon's hard-driving culture, which the Times article lays at Bezos' feet--"You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can't choose two out of three," reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld quote him as saying in 1997--hasn't implanted itself at his newspaper.
"Jeff's involvement has made it possible for The Post to focus on growth and innovation, and to experiment in new and exciting ways," Coratti writes. "The culture here is built on camaraderie, enthusiasm and empowerment, which has resulted in new products like ARC and 'Rainbow,'"--a digital platform it's developed and plans to sell to other outlets and a digital innovations team, respectively--"as well as our enormous growth in audience, among other things."
Indeed, while the Times article describes many people at Amazon weeping at their desks, the Post's new desks look like they could inspire only joy.
Mike Elk, who had an unusual tenure as a Politico labor reporter, may soon leave the publication. "I don't know what's going on," Elk tells Washingtonian. Last week, he says, he had what he felt would be a "very adversarial conversation" with Politico Pro editor Marty Kady, and says he invoked his Weingarten rights, which allow an employee union representation during interviews. "The publication has not given any information to the union," Elk says. "We know nothing right now." Reached by phone, Kady could not comment. Elk is no longer listed on Politico Pro's masthead. After this story published, the Huffington Post also reported Elk appeared to be on his way out.
Politico employees do not have a union, but that's not for lack of trying on Elk's part. He started a drive to organize Politico's newsroom earlier this year. Since that began, he'd racked up barely any bylines, an unusual situation at a publication where many journalists file multiple stories a day. Some in the newsroom thought management couldn't touch him since he started the union drive. But in an interview with Washingtonian last month he said he was an at-will employee and didn't have any sort of employment contract that would make it tough for Politico to cut ties with him.
Late last month, Elk covered a Bernie Sanders campaign event and asked the Vermont senator and presidential candidate whether he thought Politico should make it easier for its staffers to organize. (Sanders said yes.) Not long afterward, my screen lit up with instant messages from some of Elk’s mortified coworkers. Some were actually open to joining a union. Soliciting public solidarity from a candidate they were supposed to be covering? Not so much.
Elk, 29, doesn’t just cover labor—he’s a true believer. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he assumed he’d end up as an organizer like his father, Gene, a longtime representative for United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, but in college he became interested in journalism. In 2010, after working briefly for a progressive think tank, Elk joined the left-wing monthly In These Times. When he was laid off last June because a grant ended, Elk started a GoFundMe campaign to continue his reporting about a union drive at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.
Then in September, to his surprise, Politico hired him.
Elk’s principles have made him a curiosity among the strivers of the Washington press. Upon landing at Politico, he asked to work from home, claiming that secondary traumatic stress—resulting from the suicide of a story subject—made office work difficult. “I was getting overstimulated looking at the TVs in the newsroom,” he told me.
His attempts to organize the newsroom won far more attention than his writing. In October, he’ll convene a conference in Louisville where he and other organizers will issue statements of principles about reporters in the digital age. (For instance, Elk suggests they should be able to work 40-hour weeks.)
Earlier in July, Elk told me Politico has a “culture of fear.” But later that month, he told me he had come to some accommodation with his employer. (I sought comment from Politico management multiple times but have got nothing on the record.) He said the publication has agreed to pay for a psychiatrist from Walter Reed to help with his stress, and that when Politico moved offices, he got a quiet desk near a window, which he found more salubrious. He also said his story drought was ending and called his tussles with Politico merely a “little bit of turbulence as the airplane’s going up.”
Politico labor reporter Mike Elk has been trying to organize his newsroom since early this year. On Thursday he emailed around something else he and others have been working on--a statement about the rights of people who work in newsrooms, with a particular focus on digital newsrooms.
Among the rights they call for: overtime protections, less restrictive social media policies when journalists are off the clock, and protections against age discrimination. Journalists at Vice, Gawker, and Salon have all recently voted to organize.
The statement will be unveiled formally this October at a convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Reached by phone, Elk says he and others involved in the conference published the statement this week to mark the appearance of a website called Media Workers Unite.
Washington Post HR asked employees to stop printing out so much stuff in preparation for the publication's imminent move to new offices. In part, that's because "There will be far less storage space, table space, and desk space than we have today," human resources VP Wayne Connell told Post staffers in a memo.
The Washington Post is moving soon (to a building with a Dan Brown connection, no less!), and a note to employees from HR VP Wayne Connell talks about some sweet features of the new digs--standing desks for those who want them, a better way to book conference rooms.
But to get there, people need to clean up! Because the new desks will have less space, whether you're standing or sitting. "The #1 thing you can do to prepare for this move is: purge," Connell writes. The company has set up "a 'pack' of individual workstations on the 6th floor to help visualize just how much (read: little) space you’ll have at 1301 K St." Here's what those desks look like.
And moreover, stop printing out so much crap, Washington Post employees! "[I]f you are highly attuned to frequent printing, now would be a good time to unlearn that habit," Connell writes. "You won’t have much room for piles of printed documents in the new space; best not to print them in the first place."
Once dubbed “the prince of DC media” by the New Republic, Ezra Klein, founder of the Washington Post’s influential Wonkblog, stunned publishing circles early last year when he bolted the Post for Jim Bankoff’s Vox Media. Known for his data-driven analysis and his access to policymakers all the way to the Oval Office, Klein had a vision for a new website and a new way of writing about Washington that would explain the issues behind the horse-race stories and filibuster fights.
Now there’s another change: This spring, Klein’s newsroom began exporting its revolution, with its signature “card stacks” spreading across the internet as embeddable backgrounders to accompany daily news stories. We talked to Klein, 31, about his obsession with explaining and about life at a web start-up.
If the measure of a conservative publication is how bonkers it makes members of the media, the Washington Free Beacon, a three-year-old news website, has been a spectacular success.
David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, has called it a “dumping ground for Republican opposition research.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf torched its “flawed, soulless mission.” In June, after the Beacon charged that a New York Times scoop about Marco Rubio bore the fingerprints of Democratic oppo trolls, the newspaper declined the Beacon’s request for comment, noting its record of responding to “serious inquiries.”