News & Politics

First Look: Protocol, Robert Allbritton’s New Tech Publication

A new brand for a big Beltway name—and it's not about 2020

Let the record show that on February 5, 2020, a publication named Protocol debuted with nothing to say about the questions of protocol that roiled Washington that day. That’s because Protocol covers the world of tech, which happily existed outside of politics—until, you know, it helped Donald Trump get in the position of violating protocol. So while Protocol’s first morning includes a story about how Democrats’ Iowa caucus app bit it so hard, its initial lineup is free–blessedly so–of the catalog of pettiness that passed for US political discourse the morning after Trump’s State of the Union speech.

Protocol is owned by Robert Allbritton, who also owns Politico. Politico covers the tech industry, as do lots of other major outlets in the United States. Publications focused exclusively on tech aren’t exactly difficult to find, either. So why do we need Protocol? Allbritton has said he expects it to reach “C-suite kinds of folks,” a group that will never include me unless things go very, very wrong in an organization. I decided to read it anyway.

Protocol launches with a very good slate of talent. Its executive editor, Tim Grieve, has worked as Politico’s managing editor, as well as the vice president for news at McClatchy, and editor-in-chief of National Journal. Managing editor Joanna Pearlstein started covering tech in the early ’90s for Macworld and worked for Wired for a decade and a half. It’s hired journalists from the New York Times, Vox Media, and Yahoo Finance.

The publication announced itself to my inbox this morning with “Source Code,” a newsletter that, like most of the ones I get, I have no memory of signing up for. Good thing it’s a fun read, organized in the guided-journey, bullet pointed style of news reminiscent of Axios (here’s what editors have decided is today’s big story, here are things you should know today, and so on). Editor-at-large David Pierce seems like an affable Virgil and served up a couple of nuggets I look forward to trying to impress people with over the course of the day: 28.6 million people have signed up for Disney+! Amazon’s got new vans in the works! Apple still pays Steve Wozniak!

The relative importance of those discrete pieces of information may fade by happy hour, but Lauren Hepler‘s report about Silicon Valley’s tech buses reaching further and further into the California hinterlands backs up Protocol’s argument that tech touches more parts of life in America than one might think, and Linda Kinstler‘s article about tech firms hiring ethicists–not tethicists, sorry—hits lots of unexpected notes, like when one CEO tells her, “Success is bad stuff not happening, and that’s a very hard thing to measure.”

As stated earlier, I’m not a C-suite kind of person—is there such a thing as an M-suite? I might work my way up there before I die—so stories about how coronavirus might affect supply chains or the experts who advise executives how not to get hacked like Jeff Bezos don’t do much for me. (Here’s my nonexpert advice: Don’t send anybody racy photos, and don’t click on attachments. That’ll be $2,000, Mr. Master of the Universe, and I take Venmo and PayPal.)

Protocol looks dandy on a phone as well as on a computer screen. You can get Source Code as an audio briefing, and if you’d like to interfere with your coworkers’ GIF consumption, you can add Protocol to your company’s Slack. It’s assembling a team of voices called Braintrust, which might be excellent for anyone who wants to know what, for example, Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s Responsible AI Lead, thinks about the big questions in tech. Right now, that seems unlikely to me, but a lot of people thought there was no reason for Politico to exist when it launched, and now its DNA has been spliced into most of the US’s most prominent outlets. Protocol may have made its debut at a time when US politics are particularly insane, but it feels like a bet that Americans might someday be able to discuss, say, cloud computing without getting into a knock-down fight about culture. And if not, I expect Protocol to adopt Politico’s philosophy of covering the stuffing out that battle anyway.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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