Allbritton adds New York site to Politico empire

September 9, 2013

Six weeks after he sold $1 billion worth of television properties, Washington media scion Robert Allbritton has started putting the cash to work by acquiring a scrappy Web site called Capital New York, hoping to replicate the success of his Rosslyn, Va.-based Politico.

“I have very big ambitions for this publication: to do in New York what we did in Washington with Politico,” Allbritton said Monday in a statement to his staff. “We are making a substantial investment to sharpen the focus of Capital and vastly expand its reportorial presence.”

Allbritton said the three-year-old Web site “will focus laser-like on New York and its power centers, including the media, city and state politics, culture and business. It will target a sophisticated insider audience of New York’s most powerful.”

The price was not disclosed.

The move follows Allbritton’s statement that he wanted to double down on digital media when he put his television stations on the market in May. He sold the stations — including flagship ABC affiliate WJLA-7 — to Sinclair Broadcast Group of Baltimore.

The acquisition allows Allbritton to use a relatively small investment of several million dollars to enter a high-profile, highly competitive market and experiment with a business model that could pay off.

Politico co-founder and executive editor Jim VandeHei, who will remain in Washington, will become president of Capital New York.

Capital New York has fewer than 10 editorial employees, but VandeHei said he plans to expand the staff so he can blanket three news beats: New York’s City Hall, Albany politics and the business of media.

“Our hopes are to hire two-dozen editorial employees in the next 30 to 45 days, and all in those three areas,” VandeHei said. “The idea is to go in heavy.”

Capital New York co-founders Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran will stay on to run the Web site.

”It sounds like they are going to hire a bunch of people in New York, which is good,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a Washington-based media watchdog group. “Capital New York appears to be under-resourced, and the types of things that Capital New York does is in line with the kinds of stories Politico wants to write.”

Capital New York is expected to follow Politico’s business playbook, which is a combination of issue-based advertising, subscription revenue and sponsored events. Politico is experimenting with a paywall.

Three years ago, Allbritton created Politico Pro, a subscription service that delves into areas such as health care and energy. Subscribers pay thousands of dollars a year for the reports.

“The concerns, if there are any, have to do with how much of the information, which might be of interest to the broader public, will be hidden behind very expensive subscriptions and paywalls,” Aaron said.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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