Politico Editor Susan Glasser has positioned herself as a champion of empowering female journalists. In spring 2014, after Jill Abramson was fired as the executive editor of the New York Times, Glasser wrote an essay titled, “Editing While Female: Field notes from one of journalism’s most dangerous jobs.” In it, Glasser, then the editor of Politico Magazine, revisited her painful time as leader of The Washington Post’s national news department in the 2000s — a job from which she was removed after 17 months.
Part of the problem with her tenure, she suggested, was her own industry: “[M]edia reporters are an obsessive bunch, and they like nothing more than a good controversial-woman-editor story.”
Like any modern editor, Glasser is mindful of anniversaries. To commemorate the year since Abramson’s dismissal, Glasser — now the editor of Politico — participated in a discussion with three other female luminaries in journalism: Abramson, National Geographic Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg and Slate Editor in Chief Julia Turner. It was a forward-looking talk, with the participants focusing on the challenge of girding the ranks of journalism with women leaders. “I’m looking at a newsroom that clearly has more young women than young men at the youngest levels,” said Glasser. “And yet, of course, from the 30 or 35 and up—you know, a smaller number of women. And that’s the pipeline problem.”
What Glasser failed to mention is her own involvement in Politico’s “pipeline problem.” She took the reins of Politico’s newsroom just after the midterm elections last November. In the roughly six months since that ascension, Politico has lost nearly 30 female staffers from its newsroom, including several in leadership positions. Male departures number around 10.
A list of the women who have headed for the door:
- Katy Bachman
- Andrea Bitely
- Carrie Budoff Brown
- Paige Cunningham
- Kate Davidson
- Daniella Diaz
- Kim Dixon
- Jennifer Epstein
- Ashley Gold
- Maggie Haberman
- Julia Haslanger
- Dianna Heitz
- Jessica Huff
- Libby Isenstein
- Molly Jay
- Hilary Krieger
- MJ Lee
- Alysha Love
- Mary Beth Marklein
- Erica Martinson
- Lucy McCalmont
- Laura McGann
- LaRonda Peterson
- Lois Romano
- Judy Shapleigh
- Stephanie Simon
- Kelsey Snell
- Rachel Van Dongen
- Kendall Breitman
Circling back to Glasser’s reference to the leadership pipeline, consider the managers in the group of departed female staffers. McGann, Van Dongen, Heitz and Peterson had all served as deputy managing editors; Romano was an events manager; Bitely managed social media; Krieger was a deputy White House editor. Another recent departure, Christine Delargy, was Politico’s executive producer of video.
They’ve dispersed to the competition, for the most part. Several (Lee, Heitz, Krieger and others) have decamped to CNN’s digital politics team, lured by Rachel Smolkin, another top Politico editor who left before Glasser took over. Others have gone to Vox.com (McGann), the Huffington Post (McCalmont), the New York Times (Haberman), Bloomberg Politics (Epstein) and so on. Brown and Dixon moved to Politico’s news venture in Europe.
As we’ve noted before in this space, Politico is a newsroom inclined toward turnover. For one, it has always been a lair of workaholism, replete with aggressive reporters connected to the Internet at work, in line for coffee, in bed and beyond. The talented reporters and editors recruited by founding editors Jim VandeHei and John Harris over the years have moved on to legacy news outlets from CNN to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times. Frequently the offers vault the upstart Politico employees to higher tax brackets.
Another consideration is leadership changeover. Personnel changes commonly accompany a change at the top, and Glasser has set high expectations for Politico, telling this blog that she wanted not only to continue Politico’s quick-twitch-news tradition but also to nail long-form pieces at the same time.
All that said, the female exodus is striking, especially considering that the entire newsroom headcount hovers around 160 staffers. Should Politico continue bleeding staff at this rate — unthinkable! — it’ll turn over half its staff in Glasser’s first year. It’s a wonder that editors have time to do anything but interview, given the openings advertised on the Politico jobs page. Talent recruiter Katy Theranger left in March. Politico’s personnel struggles could help explain why the expansion into other states will be managed from the offices of Capital New York (to be rebranded Politico New York, or actually POLITICO New York; maybe even POLITICO NEW YORK), as VandeHei explained in a recent memo.
“We were excited about this project when they ran it by us,” says Tom McGeveran, co-founder co-editor of Capital New York. Company ownership, says McGeveran, is happy with how the group has managed state politics coverage in New York and “would like to see it in the other states.” New Jersey and Florida are first. Politico’s media coverage team will also merge with Capital’s. “Susan and Tom have extremely ambitious plans in this space for us; Tom will be the editor,” noted the memo from VandeHei, now the CEO of Politico.
Since taking control of the Politico newsroom, Glasser has sought to import her own pipeline, hiring veteran women editors such as Marilyn Thompson (Reuters, The Washington Post), Maura Reynolds (Associated Press, Los Angeles Times), Eva Rodriguez (The Washington Post), design ace Janet Michaud (The Washington Post) and events head Luiza Savage (Maclean’s). The Erik Wemple Blog sought comment from Glasser on her comments on female leadership and her own staffing levels. A response came not from Glasser but rather from Chief Operating Officer Kim Kingsley:
Your obsession with Susan is unsettling and strange. For a company loaded with top women leaders, and one growing rapidly in Washington, the states and around the world, and one churning out better content than ever, your fixation on who left and when and what does it mean seems never-ending and tedious. But thank you for your intense interest in Politico.
The staff transformation adds a new chapter to Politico’s gender history. In the site’s early years, women editors and reporters took note of a locker-room ambiance heavy on sports analogies. VandeHei and Harris had a tendency to team up with other fellows in co-bylining their stories. Looking back at the formative age, Kingsley told Elle magazine, “Early on, the men would have impromptu meetings behind closed doors to talk about the future. … I always looked at those rooms and wanted a seat at the table. After a while, I just started opening the door, walking in, and sitting at the table.”
And VandeHei said in a 2014 memo, “Not long ago, we were a young publication that was not meeting our own standards for getting our most talented women in top positions.”
Over time, indeed, complaints from female staffers mellowed. Politico’s bosses listened and adjusted. A hiccup occurred last spring, however, after Abramson’s firing. At a “Politico University” confab convened to enlighten staffers, then-Executive Editor Rick Berke gave air to views that Abramson was an inept manager. Female staffers emerged with enough anger to power many e-mails and text messages. Berke resigned later in 2014, never having been vested with the authority to run the place.
With Glasser’s elevation to editor, the Rosslyn-based site’s editors could justifiably beat their chests about their gender achievements. Not only did they have Glasser — who’d done wonders with Foreign Policy magazine and Politico Magazine — running the newsroom, they also had Kingsley in the role of master operations chief, pushing Politico into the events biz and promoting its reporters on TV and radio. Danielle Jones, meanwhile, serves as executive vice president of expansion, a busy role these days in light of Politico’s moves into Europe and various states.
Those who didn’t immediately associate Politico with women ruling the world were forced to. “Women Rule,” an events series stacked with strong and successful females, did the trick. A former staffer involved in the formulation of the series told the Erik Wemple Blog that it was motivated in part to counter “the image that they had a problem with women, internally and externally.” An inquiry to Kingsley on this matter failed to fetch an on-the-record response.
As for the current situation, Kingsley is right that Politico has several “top women leaders,” and she’s one of them. She’s also right that Politico is doing good journalism. Recent highlights include a deep and lucid investigative report on the U.S. government’s faulty oversight of pipelines. The Capitol Hill team, too, has busted out a significant scoop on House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s relationship with an airline lobbyist. Josh Gerstein continues to pump out indispensable work. The media team consisting of Hadas Gold, Dylan Byers and Jack Shafer gives fresh vigor to the pairing of news and analysis.
So why is a solid journalistic outfit with women in charge losing so many women? Let’s ask those who’ve left! The Erik Wemple Blog contacted a dozen departed women staffers. Not a one would consent to an on-the-record interview about the circumstances surrounding her departure.