Allbritton Eying Politico Expansion Beyond New York and US

His acquisition of Capital New York could be just the beginning.

By: Harry Jaffe

Robert Allbritton’s expansion of his Politico brand to New York might be only the beginning of Allbritton Communication’s foray beyond Washington, DC.

The publisher announced Monday morning that his privately held company had acquired Capital New York, a three-year-old news website. He hopes to turn it into a version of Politico for the Empire State.

And he tells Washingtonian he might be eyeing other potential targets.

“If it works in New York,” he says, “we will look around for the next best place.”

Allbritton declined to name cities that might be ripe for Politico’s high-intensity approach to covering politics and media, but likely venues could include Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and LA.

“Outside the US might work, too,” he says.

Allbritton, 44, signaled his intention of venturing into new territory when he sold his company’s seven television stations six weeks ago for just under $1 billion. At that time he was already in discussion with the owners of Capital New York, Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran.

“We’ve been talking to these guys on and off for years,” Allbritton says. Benson and McGeveran run in the “same circle” as Politico writers Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman. They also have ties to Politico editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei. “Over the spring and summer, our conversations became more serious,” Allbritton says.

The deal closed last week.

Benson and McGeveran, both former New York Observer editors, financed their website by themselves but later raised $1.7 million in financing, according to the New York Times. The purchase price to Allbritton was not made public. Benson and McGeveran will stay on as editors, with a much larger staff thanks to the infusion of Allbritton cash. VandeHei will become president of Capital New York.

Robert Allbritton got into the banking business after college when his father, Joe Allbritton, owned Riggs National Bank as well as Allbritton Communications. The younger Allbritton became CEO of Allbritton Communications in 2001. In DC the media company owned ABC affiliate WJLA, News Channel 8, and Politico, which Allbritton started with Harris and VandeHei in 2007.

Politico quickly made a splash with its constant and at times breathless coverage of all things political on Capitol Hill. While Politico is active in the digital space, it has derived much of its revenue and profits from its print newspaper, which carries lucrative print advertising. Allbritton’s New York venture will not have a print venue and will have to derive its profits solely on digital news. That could be a challenge, even if the publication can attract paid subscribers.

“Hopefully,” Allbritton says, “it will be fun and profitable. Just as we’ve been accused of being myopically focused on things inside the Beltway, we plan to do the same thing in New York.”

Allbritton, who lives with his wife and family in Georgetown, says he has no plans to move to Manhattan.