By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A new source of Mass. political coverage

Did you know that Republican congressional candidate Nathan Bech wants U.S. Rep. John Olver to save the planet by not sending mail to constituents who don’t want it? Or that Watertown councilor Jonathan Hecht is running hard for a state rep’s seat? Or that former Ted Kennedy aide Melody Barnes has signed on with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign?

These are just a few of the tidbits you can glean at, which slipped quietly into view in mid-June. The goal of the Politicker project is to provide intensive coverage of state and local politics, combining original reporting with blogging on what other media outlets are saying.

I mentioned Politicker earlier this year when James Pindell, who blogged the New Hampshire primary for, left to become the national managing editor. So far, Politicker has set up shop in about 15 states, according to the list under “PolitickerMA Partners.” The goal is to launch a Politicker site in all 50 states.

In an instant-message conversation with my Reinventing the News students this past spring, Pindell said Politicker’s revenue base will likely be issue-oriented ads aimed at the political and public-policy community in Massachusetts. Smart move. It doesn’t strike me that anyone is going to read Politicker other than serious political junkies. The mass media are giving way to many little niches, and Politicker aims to occupy one of those niches.

Politicker reminds me of a slicker, which Pindell ran during the 2004 primary season, and which no longer exists. (Politicker appears to have acquired the name, as it now forwards to Pindell’s earlier project became briefly famous for sponsoring a contest to find a wife for Dennis Kucinich, who was then single. It was great fun, though Elizabeth Harper, the woman whom the congressman later married, was not one of the contestants.

Another similarity to PoliticsNH is the presence of an anonymous columnist. At PolitickerMA, the nom de opinion is “Wally Edge.” In a story in the New York Times back in February, Politicker founder Robert Sommer (who’s also publisher of the New York Observer) described the undercover columnists who are being turned loose in each state as “the secret sauce,” and could include lobbyists, political consultants and former officeholders. Edge’s views seem benign enough so far, but I’m skeptical about this innovation. I’d rather such insiders be identified so we know their associations and potential conflicts.

PolitickerMA’s staff reporter is Jeremy Jacobs, a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism who has worked for The Hill, among other places.

An early fan of PolitickerMA is Bay Windows editor Laura Kiritsy, who writes that the site “has already provided me with hours of late-night, on-deadline procrastinating thrills.” Kiritsy especially likes the lists of best and worst Massachusetts campaigns, which are pretty amusing.

Oddly enough, there are no RSS feeds [correction below] at PolitickerMA, though you can sign up for a daily e-mail.

As the news-media landscape morphs into something totally new, PolitickerMA is the sort of project that’s worth keeping a close eye on.

Neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald provides the kind of small-bore coverage that is Politicker’s purview, especially as they shrink their staffs.

State House News Service does a good job of covering the Legislature, but it charges high subscription fees and is aimed mostly at media and political professionals.

Blue Mass Group rounds a lot of political news, but it’s partisan and almost wholly dependent on what its members can find in other media.

Politicker is exciting because it suggests a possible way out of the morass in which journalism finds itself these days. If it succeeds, it will occupy a sweet spot between full-service news organizations, which are shrinking, and citizen journalism, which is important but which does not meet the need for a reliable, edited news report.

And it gives young journalists who wish to cover politics some reason to hope that they’ll be able to make a living at it.

Correction: Robert David Sullivan has found an RSS feed. I was deceived by the lack of an RSS symbol in Firefox.

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  1. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, I browsed the site and the national site as well. Frankly, if this is to succeed, the writing/editing will have to improve a lot. Try reading Pindell’s piece on Russert. Feels like an early first draft to me. OK, maybe it’s a blog, but still–how about giving it a read or two before pubbing. Mark

  2. Dan Kennedy

    PolitickerMA is going to consist of a lot of quick hits, so we’ll need to judge it on that basis — not on how deep or well-written it is. As for waiting, well, gosh, yes, let me just lay down and die on the chance to be one of the first to write about it!

  3. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, My point was that the Politicker folks should give their stuff a read or two before pressing the pub button. Mark

  4. Robert David Sullivan

    Dan:I have a PolitickerMA feed on Bloglines, and it’s working fine. (I prefer that to e-mails.) The URL that seems to work is:

  5. Peter Porcupine

    DK – it strikes me as a local-option Politico, another publication which has grown with mushroom speed (I mean, really, in a single year going from an obscure web site to running a Presidential debate???).We don’t know what the payrolls are, but MSM should look at both to see why internet CAN work.

  6. Anonymous

    EB# here Dan,Sorry to be the killjoy. But Jeremy Jacobs absolutly blows as an NHL franchise owner. Why does anyone think he will be any better as a political reporter.I’m sorry, I don’t see it. This is the same guy that let them trade Joe Thornton.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    EB: What’s the NHL? Is that, like, hockey?

  8. Justine Lam

    Hi Dan, Thanks for covering our latest state site, We appreciate your comments on the different features, our coverage, and the benefits of reading our political news site. BTW, thanks Robert for adding the rss feed are working on making that feed button more prominent on each page.Best, Justine LamDirector of Online

  9. Peter Porcupine

    DK – see there? When’s the last time a publication bothered to THANK you, instead of just whine when you castigate them? The people will go far!

  10. Mark M.

    Justine Lam was the e-campaign director for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. She knows a thing or two about building grassroots support I guess.

  11. jvwalt

    In some states, Politicker is getting a reputation for skewing right. I can’t personally confirm that it’s true, but I’d read it for a while before accepting it as an unbiased source.

  12. Anonymous

    JV – Relax. I’ve been reading it, and here in MA, it skews decidedly left.

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