Inside Politico’s stressful, hamster wheel environment

Michael Calderone’s Huffington magazine piece on Politico is out — it describes the newsroom’s “stressful, hamster wheel environment” and star system, among other things — but you have to pay for the iPad app. If you don’t want to part with 99 cents, Joe Pompeo has the best “morsels” and The Atlantic Wire’s Eric Randall shares his favorite passage from “Inside the Cult: Politico at a Crossroads”:

Politico staffers routinely talk of a Politico “star-system” in which a handful of reporters in the VandeHarris orbit receive preferential treatment from company leadership, while the majority are left drifting in a far off journalistic galaxy. One former staffer likens the newsroom to The Hunger Games, in which young people fight to the death for the enjoyment of a privileged class.

UPDATE: I just bought the app. Here’s more from the piece:

Having built a sizable and still-expanding newsroom of 225 editorial and business staffers, Politico has to size up new revenue streams and reshape the franchise in such a way that staffers speculate the company’s co-founders [John Harris and Jim VandeHei] may not stick around a few years from now.

Calderone, a former Politico media reporter, says the two “worry about Politico’s future with a post-Depression sense of paranoia” and that “even when times are flush, there’s a gnawing fear that the bottom could drop out at any moment.”

Calderone reports Politico’s traffic during the first five months of 2012 is down, from an average of 4.229 million unique visitors in 2011 to 4.165 million so far this year — numbers that suggest “Politico has captured just about as big an audience as it can for its unique brand of non-stop political news.

VandeHei noted that Politico is geared toward a niche audience and doesn’t have to continuously grow traffic as do more general interest sites that don’t command premium ad rates.

Politico has long had trouble retaining talent in its newsroom, where staffers either thrive or barely survive in a male-dominated, hard-driving environment defined by frantic 5 a.m. emails from editors and weekend assignments. There have been so many departures lately that Politico editors have done away with the traditional going-away cake in the newsroom, which staffers jokingly call the “awkward cake” given what they describe as Harris’ sometimes clumsy send-offs.

UPDATE II: I invited John Harris to comment on Calderone’s piece. He responded: “Thanks, Jim. I have not read it yet but will. I expect we’ll probably pass on extending a comment but I appreciate your offer.”

* Politico’s newsroom is “The Hunger Games” (The Atlantic Wire)
* Politico is at an editorial crossroads (Capital New York)
* Buy the latest issue of Huffington magazine at the iTunes store (apple.com)
* March 2010: Michael Calderone leaves Politico as mini-exodus continues (Huffington Post)

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