Days after HuffPost announced a round of layoffs, one of its longtime voices is making a leap of his own accord: Sam Stein, the site’s senior politics editor, is joining the Daily Beast in a similar capacity. He joins a 10-strong D.C. bureau at the Daily Beast, a site that has made a series of big-name hires in recent weeks, including luring former Guardian reporter Spencer Ackerman and former Gawker Media president Heather Dietrick.
“I think, for me, it’s always the player as much as the position, and Sam had a demonstrated record of being able to run and mentor reporters, to make reporters better,” said John Avlon, the Daily Beast’s editor in chief, in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. “He can edit and he can write and he also crucially understands the value of a team culture.”
The move truncates a long, long string of Sam Stein URLs at HuffPost, which was known as the Huffington Post back when he came aboard. Nearly a decade ago, Stein was among three staffers — Nico Pitney and Jason Linkins were the others — who launched the site’s Washington bureau in a one-office room at the Watergate. It later moved to R Street NW, then to its current location on Pennsylvania Avenue a stone’s throw from the White House. He covered Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and made history in February 2009 when he became the first legitimate online-only reporter to pose a question to the president at a press conference. He became politics editor in 2011.
With that position came controversy. In the early stages of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the then-Huffington Post decided to relegate its coverage of the candidate to the entertainment section — a move that Stein struggled to defend during a discussion on “Morning Joe.” “This is us acknowledging that we live in a political system in which entertainment is very good,” said Stein, who is an MSNBC contributor and a regular on “Morning Joe.”
Stein was an important player in transitioning the Huffington Post’s early reputation as an aggregation factory to a place that did its own, original reporting. In 2013, for instance, he did some deep reporting on the impact of sequestration budget cuts. Another good example was a November 2016 Stein story on how the Clinton operation neglected battleground states.
Stein’s departure from HuffPost — which was rebranded this past spring, about eight months after founder Arianna Huffington left the company — comes amid a wave of changes. In December, the site announced the hiring of former New York Times associate masthead editor Lydia Polgreen, who started with a stated mission of getting the “Huffington Post back in touch with its fundamental roots in reporting.” NB: That quote came before the rebranding exercise.
In early May came the news that Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim would be leaving HuffPost (this was a week or so after the rebranding) for the Intercept. Stein appeared to be a logical successor for the top D.C. position. He confirmed to the Erik Wemple Blog that he’d applied for the job. Then, he says, the Daily Beast’s offer surfaced and “it seemed too good to pass up.” “It was hard to see the layoffs and hard to see Grim go, but I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t get the offer,” says Stein.
At the Daily Beast, Stein will be among about 10 D.C. bureau staffers, a team that includes White House reporters Lachlan Markay — formerly of the conservative Washington Free Beacon — and Asawin Suebsaeng — formerly of Mother Jones. Such partnerships, says Stein, were “alluring” to him as he evaluated the Daily Beast offer. “What I like about the Daily Beast — they had, like, an interesting way of combining reporters,” he says, noting that he’d never had that sort of opportunity at the Huffington Post/HuffPost. “That was a huge draw.”
Another consideration: The Daily Beast, with Kimberly Dozier and Ackerman, has made a mark on national security reporting, an area where Stein wants to spend more time. “They have a nose for that type of stuff and I’ve never been able to penetrate it personally,” says Stein.
With Stein’s addition, the Daily Beast is furthering its presence on cable news, a platform that already trafficks in Daily Beast mentions. Avlon is a longtime CNN analyst, as is Dozier. “We jokingly refer to that as our advertising budget,” says Avlon, who runs a news operation of about 40 staffers.
Here’s the memo from Polgreen, including her announcement that Whitney Snyder will serve as the interim leader of the site’s politics team:
It is my sad duty to tell you that our colleague Sam Stein is leaving us for The Daily Beast. Sam has been with us from the earliest days, starting our political reporting juggernaut from modest digs at the Watergate alongside Jason Linkins and Nico Pitney.
Back then, there was a lot of skepticism toward a site that existed only online. But Sam, as the site’s first reporter, changed the site’s reputation with his tireless reporting and plentiful scoops.
In 2009, Sam made history, becoming the first reporter from an online-only media outlet to ask a question of the president at a press conference. (To see a young Sam question Obama, watch it here.)
Sam made history again when he interviewed President Obama, getting HuffPost its first sit-down with a president.
Sam’s reporting has always been marked by an outsized concern for how policy affects ordinary people. In 2013, he won a Sidney Award for reporting that highlighted how sequestration gutted services for some of the most vulnerable Americans.
Sam was also always pushing HuffPost to experiment and innovate, launching Drinking and Talking, ’16 and President and the popular Candidate Confessional podcast (whose second season will be coming out soon) where he and Jason Cherkis interviewed candidates who had lost their runs for political office, giving a perspective not often found in political reporting.
I asked Amanda Terkel to sum up his tenure, and she said it best: “Sam made HuffPost a place where people loved coming each day and wanted to work hard and work together for the right reasons. He set an example for the rest of the site through his passion for reporting and his tireless work ethic that will carry on long after he leaves.”
I have asked Whitney Snyder to serve as interim leader of the politics team. He will divide his time between DC and New York until a permanent Politics Director is named. Whitney and Jim Rich will be in DC on Tuesday to answer any questions.