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BREAKING: VandeHei, Harris Leave Washington Post To Start New, Multimedia News Venture

And Capitol Leader, as you thought you knew it, is not what it used to be.

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(Photo Credits)

Some of you may have looked at Capitol Leader’s decision to push back their publication launch as, well, a sign that they may not have had their act together.

Well, not so fast…

Huge, huge moves taking place in Washington this morning as two of the Washington Post’s top rockstars (and two of the best political reporters in the country, period) — Jim VandeHei (above, left) and John Harris (above, right) — announced this morning that they are leaving the Washington Post to recreate the Capitol Leader and start something much bigger, sources tell FishbowlDC.

It’s complicated and things are still being ironed out, but we’ll do our best to explain when you click below to read more…


VandeHei and Harris are starting a new multi-platform company (owned by Albritton Communications, which also owns the Capitol Leader) anchored on the Web that just does politics (a sort of one-stop shopping for your political news and coverage online). The decision by both VandeHei and Harris is premised on the belief that the “old media” way of doing things simply doesn’t work for political coverage. Their venture seeks to be a new, more conversational, more provocative and more interactive way of delivering political news that is truly down the middle of the political spectrum (i.e. without inherent institutional biases). Their website will place a heavy emphasis on video, interactivity and databases.

VandeHei and Harris’ new venture will also include a partnership with CBS News. This partnership will include appearances on “Face the Nation” every other week as well as appearances on CBS’ morning and evening news programs.

They’ve been given an impressive budget to go out and hire roughly six additional top, top political reporters (expect another big announcement/hire soon) at salaries competitive with those at the nation’s top newspapers. They are currently in talks to steal away top reporters from networks, magazines and newspapers.

Whereas the original Capitol Leader business plan aimed to compete with Roll Call and The Hill, the new plan–under VandeHei and Harris–is aiming to take on the political coverage of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Now, what does this mean for The Capitol Leader newspaper as we’ve come to know it? Well, these new developments mean that, as best we can tell, the Capitol Leader’s entire original business plan is being retweaked (hence the delay in their start date).

Here’s what we know:

Yes, the Capitol Leader’s print edition will come out sometime in January, but the revised January 3 date is not set in stone yet.

The print edition will always include writings from the “Rockstar set” of VandeHei, Harris and whomever else they pick up.

Both the paper and the VandeHei/Harris online venture will share the same primary website. Will the whole enchilada still be called Capitol Leader? Our sources tell us that it’s possible that a new name is in the works and may be unveiled in the next couple of weeks.

This website will, more than likely, primarily be a venue for the new VandeHei/Harris venture (even though the Capitol Leader articles written by the Capitol Leader’s Dead Tree Edition staff will still appear online).

Side question: Who the heck is going to replace these fellas at the Washington Post? Is the Post going to look outside (Roll Call, The Hill, etc.) for the replacements? Or inside?

And this clearly is just one more frustrating sign for the Post. The past year has seen…

…the loss of Jim VandeHei and John Harris.
the loss of David von Drehle.
the loss of Mark Leibovich.
the doom and gloom memo from Len Downie.
ongoing circulation woes.

(what else are we forgetting?)

Len Downie and Phil Bennett just sent out a note to Posties saying:

    November 20, 2006

    To: Newsroom Staff

    From: Len and Phil

    As Len wrote in his memo last week, change in the newsroom will focus attention and investment on our highest priority journalism. Reporting on national politics is one of these areas. We are planning to expand our coverage of national politics in the newspaper and online to deepen its breadth and boldness, its mix of insight and detail, its credibility at Internet speed.

    We had hoped that John Harris and Jim VandeHei would help lead this effort on the web, but John and Jim have decided to join a new politics website. We will feel their departure keenly. John and Jim have been valued colleagues and friends to many of us. We’re grateful for the fine journalism they’ve contributed to The Post.

    Starting next week, AME/Enterprise Bill Hamilton will be the acting national politics editor. Bill will work with us and the next AME/National to reconfigure the role of the politics editor, giving it greater range over coverage of Washington politics and the presidential campaigns. We will also post soon for new politics reporting jobs on the national staff that will increase the expertise of our file in the newspaper and online.

    Once we select the next AME/National, Liz Spayd will move into her new role as Editor of washingtonpost.com to help Jim Brady and his team launch a new online politics initiative. This venture will unite the resources of The Post newsroom and washingtonpost.com in original and innovative ways, some modelled on the pioneering work of Chris Cillizza and The Fix. As Caroline Little and Jim outline in a separate message today, the web site will be adding positions for reporting on politics.

    We’re proud of the trust, record of scoops, reputation for analysis and the huge audience earned by Washington Post political journalism. We believe that by adding new ideas and new resources we can also increase the number of readers for whom The Post is the essential guide to American politics.

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