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Politico Issues 'Cultural Manifesto' In Quest To Save Nonpartisan Political Journalism

06/22/2015 10:52 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- Politico Chief Executive Jim VandeHei issued a “cultural manifesto” Monday to staffers as the company moves into a new Rosslyn, Virginia, headquarters and continues an expansion in several states and Europe.

The news organization's culture, VandeHei wrote, is a "living, breathing thing" that "needs to be defined, nurtured and ingrained."

VandeHei, who co-founded Politico and has fondly described it as a “cult,” is known for rally-the-troops newsroom speeches and outlining ambitious goals in staff memos like the one sent Monday and obtained by The Huffington Post.

“Our common purpose is to help save nonpartisan political journalism in a profitable and lasting way,” VandeHei wrote. “We believe a functional world and smart people need trustworthy news -- and that finding a solution to funding journalism of consequence is an urgent and worthy mission. We have a unique, scalable solution for doing this: Create the most indispensable source of political and policy news and information in Washington, in the states and around the world. Our editorial, business and technology are -- and always should be -- precisely aligned around this mission.”

VandeHei wrote that the company’s goal is not to chase traffic, but to target politics and policy insiders. Indeed, Politico’s core business is now largely built around subscription-based Pro verticals focused on key areas like defense, technology, health care and education. Its site Capital New York -- soon to be Politico New York -- also offers premium packages focused around media, state and city politics. (The Columbia Journalism Review published a deep look Monday at Politico's evolution).

It’s not enough for Politico staffers to read Monday’s memo, according to VandeHei, who advised staffers to “learn it” and “live it.”

And here it is:

Team,

This is a big, fun moment for us. We are now in our new offices in Rosslyn and fully setting in motion years of explosive growth and expansion in Washington, every corner of the country and around the globe.

[Owner Robert Allbritton] has invested a lot of money, time and attention into the creation of this sleek and collaborative incubator for our ideas. And it’s not just about office space. Robert is making a substantial financial and personal commitment to create a durable and profitable global company that protects and expands nonpartisan journalism of consequence. Our ambitions are audacious, but doable. We have a tested and profitable formula that works and scales. But it only works, and certainly only scales, if all of us can teach and preach what makes POLITICO unique.

This starts with the POLITICO Culture, the core of our company.

Attached and below you will find an updated version of the cultural manifesto.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.

We need to grow and evolve together. It’s the only way this company will continue to thrive. Of course, “culture” is not a mandate from the mountaintop. It’s a living, breathing thing. One that needs to be defined, nurtured and ingrained.

So we are taking a number of steps in the coming weeks and months to help protect and sharpen our company’s strengths, including bi-annual surveys of your views and regular engagement with your managers on this topic. More to come on this at the bottom of the email.

Please enjoy this moment, thank those who helped make it happen and get ready to blow away the competition again. Game on.

VandeHei

POLITICO CULTURE

CLARITY: Our common purpose is to help save nonpartisan political journalism in a profitable and lasting way. We believe a functional world and smart people need trustworthy news — and that finding a solution to funding journalism of consequence is an urgent and worthy mission.We have a unique, scalable solution for doing this: Create the most indispensable source of political and policy news and information in Washington, in the states and around the world. Our editorial, business and technology are — and always should be — precisely aligned around this mission. While others wildly chase mass audience with an uncertain business plan, we know we can capture influential political readers with journalism aimed directly at them, monetized via a smart, proven business model that balances content, advertising and events. We know this can scale — and that it will be virtually impossible for competitors to catch us if we continue to quickly and methodically build it out into the states and around the world.

TALENT: No algorithm or social site will win our war. Talent will. You have heard us say it a million times: This place isn’t for everyone. People who thrive here are highly talented, self-motivated doers who are brimming with passion and a desire to win. They are agile and competitive. They are optimistic and respectful.We can never have enough people who want to, and can, get big things done. It’s not just about finding people with great résumés, it’s about finding great fits. It's our leadership team's responsibility to set the high-performance, can-do tone for the enterprise; managers’ job to demand and teach it; everyone's mandate to live it.

CANDOR: Everyone should speak candidly and respectfully with those above, below and beside themselves. Two things will not be tolerated: dishonesty and indirection. People are at their best when they know precisely where they stand, how they will be judged and where they are headed. You should always know how you are doing in the eyes of your colleagues and bosses. We are committed to delivering honest performance appraisals and facing tough discussions head on. We should be equally quick and candid in praising people when they get things right, or go the extra mile in trying. Never underestimate how much people at every level of every organization appreciate recognition for the work they do. All of us should practice and celebrate respectful candor.

AGILITY: Complacency almost killed our industry — and it will kill us too if we ever let it take root and spread. We need to constantly push ourselves to roll the dice on everything from the voice of stories we write to the business ideas we pursue. The media industry is often terribly uncreative, so we should fully expect others to copy our innovations. It’s your job to help us constantly reinvent and sharpen ourselves by thinking what can be done better, smarter and more creatively. Be impatient. Move fast as hell to try new things and adjust on the go. It's better to move quickly and get a few things wrong then to think yourself into paralysis. At the same time, don’t be afraid to fail. People will only experiment and take risks if they know they will not be punished for failing. We must have a common understanding that not all experiments, even wise ones with high degrees of success, work. The trick is learning from each risk taken — and smartly applying what’s learned to the next challenge, so we can be better than today.

FUN: You work for a hot brand doing important work with some of the smartest people in the world. You are helping solve the future of journalism — and should take pride in this mission. We can never emphasize this enough: People want to know their work has meaning. It does at POLITICO. We want to make this the best place to work in journalism, where high-achieving people thrive and get rewarded and take on new challenges. We don’t focus our energy on internal drama or frivolous bull sessions, but on taking calculated risks, pushing ourselves and applauding success. We all work hard and need to feel good about what we do — and toast those times we get it right. This isn't done best with a simple happy hour or email blast. It's done in the day-to-day trenches when all of us take time to celebrate the big wins and cool moments. Life is too short not to enjoy winning.

HERE ARE THE CONCRETE STEPS WE ARE TAKING TO TEACH, PREACH AND PRACTICE OUR CULTURAL PRACTICES:

Employee Engagement Surveys: Keep me honest. I’ve said that candor is important, and I want to give you an opportunity to share openly with the leadership team and me what’s working here and what’s not. In the coming months, you’ll receive our first Employee Engagement Survey. Our goal is to hear from you through these surveys regularly, so that we can respond and track how we’re doing year over year.

Journalism Boot Camp: It’s important that we speak the same language and that all editors, writers and producers do things the POLITICO Way. Our goal is to have one program that works for our teams in Washington, the states and internationally. We’ll begin a boot camp series this summer that will run quarterly moving forward. All current and new editorial staff will get to participate.

Leadership Retreats: I’ve hosted a series of weekly leadership team discussions over the past few weeks and a more concentrated offsite management retreat in April. We have more scheduled for the months ahead and it’s those conversations that are helping to ensure every employee has a clear sense of where we’re going, how we’re getting there and how you fit into that overall mission.

Semi-Annual Staff Meetings: We’ll assemble the staff twice yearly to share what we’re up to and what’s coming down the road, to hear from you, and to have some fun together outside the workday. We’ll end the summer with a fun event in September, and we’ll come together again early next year to recap 2015 and lay out our plans for the new year.

Emerging Leaders Series: We’re pulling together a series of conversations with POLITICO’s rising stars to discuss lessons in leadership, share ideas and talk about POLITICO’s Culture. The first one was at my house last Tuesday night.
Culture Conversations: As I wrote above, we want everyone on our team to embrace and live by the tenets I outlined. That’s why we’re asking managers to set up conversations on the topic of POLITICO’s Culture in the next two weeks. I encourage all of you to ask questions and to share your ideas. We want the words in this memo to become a reality you’re feeling in this organization each and every day.

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