Rick Berke, who spent 27 years at The New York Times as a political reporter, editor and high-ranking newsroom manager, is heading to Politico as executive editor, according to memos from both newsrooms.
Berke will fill the position left by Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, who is moving upstairs to become CEO of both Politico and the recently acquired Capital New York.
In a staff memo, editor-in-chief John Harris said that, with his co-founder moving to the business side of the operation, there was talk internally of a finding "a Rick Berke-type" person to join the newsroom leadership team.
Harris, a former Washington Post political reporter and editor, recalled competing against Berke, who he called "one of the most formidable political reporters in the country in the 1990s and early 2000s." More recently, Harris wrote, Berke has been teaching "other reporters and editors to produce this work, and to helping the Times imagine its future in an age of nonstop disruption and innovation for newspapers."
"My own conversations with Rick made clear two things," Harris wrote. "One, as a political junkie, he is a deep admirer of the publication all of us have helped build. Two, what intrigued him most about the possibility of joining us was joining a growing operation that already has a great team."
Politico likes to talk about driving conversations, and in hiring Berke, the publication is certainly getting tongues wagging among political media watchers in D.C. and Times Kremlinologists in New York.
For years, Berke was viewed internally as Jill Abramson's right-hand man and possibly the paper's top editor down the line. But when Abramson ascended to the executive editor job in 2011, the managing editor job went to Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, who is viewed internally as Abramson's likely successor.
Last year, Jim Romenesko reported that The Washington Post had offered a managing editor job to Berke, who ended up staying at The Times. In February, Berke shifted off the Times' masthead to become senior editor and director of video content development.
As Politico's executive editor, Berke is now immediately in contention to lead Washington's politics (and increasingly policy) behemoth if Harris were to someday step down.
It's unlikely Berke would have been the Times next executive editor, given Baquet's current position, but he may have moved up to managing editor or been considered for executive editor in the future. For that reason, Berke's departure could help clear the path a bit for other high-ranking Times managers, such as assistant managing editors Susan Chira, Matthews Purdy and Larry Ingrassia or political editor Carolyn Ryan (who recently poached Politico's Jonathan Martin).
Abramson, who was the subject of a controversial Politico piece earlier this year, relayed the "sad news" to staff in a Thursday memo. She called Berke a "gifted editor" and "fabulous political reporter."
Abramson's terse memo and Harris's lengthy memo -- each obtained by HuffPost -- are below:
I have sad news. Rick Berke is leaving The Times to become executive editor of Politico. He's been a newsroom treasure in so many important roles here and he's also been a great colleague and friend to so many of us. I don't have to tell any of you what a gifted editor he is and having competed against him in the old days, he is one fabulous political reporter. He has our love and gratitude as he embarks on this new chapter.
From John Harris
Subject: A Rick Berke-type at POLITICO
In recent months, as we contemplated Jim's move to the CEO post, we began thinking about our newsroom leadership team. This place has never been better run--more creative, more productive, more fun to be around. It's also true that, at nearly 200 journalists, it has never been bigger, with more diverse responsibilities, and therefore more complex and demanding to manage.
Danielle Jones, helping us brainstorm, suggested we needed a "Rick Berke-type." Jim and I knew exactly what she meant. Rick was one of the most formidable political reporters in the country in the 1990s and early 2000s--take it from someone who competed against him--and then a decade ago went into management at the New York Times. He discovered --I sense at first perhaps even a bit to his own surprise--that he really liked managing newsrooms and was a natural at it. He has devoted this phase of his career not to writing the kind of stories that made me say "Damn it--why didn't I do that?" but to helping inspire and teach other reporters and editors to produce this work, and to helping the Times imagine its future in an age of nonstop disruption and innovation for newspapers.
A growing publication like POLITICO, which already has several people who fit that description, can always urgently use more. So, yes, I agreed with Danielle--we should find a Rick Berke-type. Robert Allbritton directed us to go find someone.
We have succeeded. His name is Rick Berke, currently of the New York Times. He will join us next month as executive editor, reporting to me, and joining our senior newsroom leadership team of Danielle Jones, Marty Kady, Rachel Smolkin, Bill Nichols and Susan Glasser. Those of you who know Rick and his reputation already know what others will soon learn: This is really great news for POLITICO.
A brief bio of Rick: He is a native of the capital, growing up in the Bethesda suburbs. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He worked, among other places, for several years at the Baltimore Evening Sun before joining the Times in 1986. While there, he covered the White House, Congress, domestic policy, and national politics. He has been Washington editor and assistant managing editor for news, among other titles. Current and former Times colleagues, including our own Todd Purdum, are uniformly lavish in praising his gifts as a supportive and collegial colleague and a font of great, high-impact ideas.
My own conversations with Rick made clear two things. One, as a political junkie, he is a deep admirer of the publication all of us have helped build. Two, what intrigued him most about the possibility of joining us was joining a growing operation that already has a great team. We talked in detail about how POLITICO became the place it is today, and the more Rick learned about the personalities and passions of this place the more enthusiasm he expressed about making our newsroom his new professional home. His mission is to help our current leadership team summon even more of what's already great.
This mission is a reflection of our existing circumstances. The core group of leaders currently by my side--the people who really run this place and make its reputation shine--has never been stronger. Bill Nichols, our indispensable player, on so many occasions, is my right-hand on many of the most sensitive issues relating to our continued expansion, our outside reputation, and our ethical responsibilities. Susan Glasser is deep in her project of vaulting POLITICO into a whole new realm of magazine enterprise and opinion journalism. Rachel Smolkin, in just a short-time, is in charge of what Ben Bradlee always called "the daily miracle"--directing our coverage on a day-to-day and even hour-to-hour basis. Marty Kady in recent weeks has performed a miracle of his own, leading the recruiting for and launch of three new policy verticals.
And, as you all know, Danielle, our deputy editor in chief, is involved in key parts of all these assignments, helping make me and the rest of the members of our leadership vastly more effective. It is hard to put a single job description on what she does, which involves coverage, recruiting, administration, and new product launches, but the common theme is her skill at coaxing the best out of the only asset any newsroom has, which is people. She is truly the linchpin of the recent strides we have taken over the past year, and her responsibilities continue to grow. She was a key player in helping bring Rick here, and will lead the efforts to ensure he has a successful transition.
Rick's arrival requires no restructuring of our current organizational structure or responsibilities. Managing editors Rachel Smolkin will continue to run the day across the newsroom, and Marty Kady will run the policy teams with special emphasis on meeting the growing demands of Pro subscribers. Rick's emphasis will be to help the entire team think broadly about the news--What are our opportunities for maximum impact? Where do we want to be a year from now? --as well as take on some specific projects at my direction as they emerge. He is going to be a very engaged presence in the newsroom, sharing his ideas and listening to other people's. His presence will help me and all of us do more of what we enjoy most--to get away from the inbox and our offices to spend more time with the people who make the POLITICO magic, the reporters.
Rick will be visiting in person soon to begin the process of getting to know all of you. In the meantime, as I hope you can really appreciate, this is a big deal, and one more terrific step forward for POLITICO.