Politico reporter Jonathan Martin is jumping from the six-year-old politics site to become the national political correspondent for the New York Times. A release from the New York Times says this is a big move:
The job is a storied and special one at The Times, and has been home to such giants as Robin Toner, Adam Nagourney, Rick Berke, and, of course, R. W. Apple.
As big a move as it is for the New York Times, it may be double for Politico, for Martin offers the sort of reporting that the site badly needs. In its short time on the planet, Politico has perfected fast-moving news and analysis pieces — reacting to strange statements and developments on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the political universe and breaking its fair share of news stories, too.
Martin gave Politico a higher gear, however. In October 2011, for instance, he anchored a Politico team that scooped everyone on the story of sexual harassment accusations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. Critics slighted the story for reliance on anonymous sources, but it held up as the media hopped on and dug deeper.
Note: The Cain piece was very much a team project, with co-bylines from Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Kenneth P. Vogel. The video below, of the calm Martin questioning Cain about the story, is a Washington classic.
Martin came up through National Journal’s The Hotline and the National Review, a conservative political journal, and his oeuvre at Politico reflects a mastery of Republican politics. Look back to the early days of the last presidential election. In March 2011, Martin wrote about how Rick Santorum could make a play for Iowa. Here’s a look:
He barely registers in most early polling. He was crushed at the polls five years ago when he sought reelection. He even acknowledges the widespread belief that he can’t possibly win the Republican presidential nomination.
And yet Rick Santorum could alter the course of the Iowa caucuses.
National Republicans may scoff at the notion that Santorum – whose Senate career ended in 2006 with an 18-point loss – could be a player, but he’s signed up strategists here who know the state well, and veteran Iowa activists think he could have an opening.
In a marsh of soggy political analysis, this Martin piece was dead on: Santorum would go on to win the Iowa caucuses and deliver a boisterous primary challenge to Mitt Romney.
Other faves from the JMart reading list: This shoe-leather-heavy report on how aides to Vice President Joe Biden try to stage-manage him—and, in the process, help to “stamp the spontaneity and life out of modern politics.” And try this one, about how President Obama’s rise to the presidency hasn’t prompted or preceded a wave of African-American accession to high elected offices across the land. Politico does a lot of reporting, but Martin was singular among the site’s staffers in mixing conceptual enterprise with the phone calls and scene description.
It’s no coincidence that Martin is departing for the New York Times, a place that already publishes long-marinating stories of precisely the sort that Martin has done at Politico. Though Politico has valued Martin’s reporting, it’s a fair bet that he’ll have more gurus, more storytelling playmates at the New York Times. His work product could well improve.
Politico is a hive of talented and hard-working reporters, so there’ll be others who can step up to replace Martin’s in-depth stuff. An open question, however, is whether the site’s culture will support the grooming. A significant chunk of the newsroom, after all, funnels into Politico Pro, the subscription service whose specialty is rapid-fire e-mail updates and policy analysis work — content that’s far afield from the political narratives that Martin crafted and that enticed the New York Times. How Politico will fill this gap is unclear. A request to interview Executive Editor Jim VandeHei didn’t fetch a reply.
To whom will Politico up-and-comers now look for inspiration on long-form stuff? Not to the very upper reaches of the masthead, that’s for sure. VandeHei, to his hustling credit, occasionally produces step-back journalism on bigger-picture Washington, often in collaboration with Mike Allen, “one of Washington’s top journalists.” Those efforts are occasionally fun and spicy but rarely, if ever, meet the standard set by Martin.
It could be that newsrooms have trouble accommodating two metabolic rates. Though many legacy outlets — including the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — churn out a goodly amount of the deep stories that Martin did at Politico, those organizations scramble to match Politico in posting and updating politics-related breaking-news pieces as they pile up over the course of the day. Whatever the challenges, Politico says it’s up for them: “[T]here are immediate opportunities to welcome top journalists from outside POLITICO — as well as newer journalists with JMart-like potential–into our newsroom and we are going to be aggressive in doing so,” reads a Politico memo on the matter.