“Bring Some of the Old Playbook Back”: Politico’s Juicing Up Its Morning Mainstay as Team Biden Comes to Town

Now Playbook is changing hands once again and expanding from two authors to four, with a dedicated editor and plans to further branch out into platforms where the franchise has already established a foothold—audio, video, and events, as well as a third daily edition of the flagship newsletter. The new crew, which will make its debut on Tuesday, consists of Ryan Lizza, the former New Yorker staff writer who joined Politico in 2019 as chief White House correspondent; Rachael Bade, who returns to Politico after two years working her congressional sources for The Washington Post; Tara Palmeri, a Politico alumna who put the publication’s European edition on the map in 2015 after making a name for herself on Page Six; and Eugene Daniels, a rising star Politico reporter and video whiz. They will report to Mike Zapler, one of Politico’s top newsroom managers, who will now edit and oversee Playbook full-time.

“I wanted to see, what if we created a kind of small team of elite journalists, people who can go deeper with [Joe] Biden and own the Hill but also rove the salons of Georgetown, or wherever the elite will be gathering, and bring it all together for the D.C. insider audience we care about,” Kaminski told me earlier this week. “We really wanted to push harder both into official Washington and unofficial Washington, and you need a larger team to be able to do that.”

The newsletter gold rush that has been stoking excitement in journalism circles lately is predicated on a model in which individual writers and reporters can earn legit salaries by charging readers for their daily blasts. Traditional media outlets, on the other hand, monetize their email newsletters either by using them to boost subscriptions or selling advertising against them. Playbook, whose policy-minded sponsors range from Google and Amazon to the American Petroleum Institute and Blue Cross Blue Shield, is in the latter camp. Its rates have more than doubled over the past year, now commanding $300,000 a week on average. With its influential list of some 300,000 readers, the franchise generated at least $10 million in 2020 and will be an even higher eight-figure proposition in 2021. Most of this year’s inventory is already sold out. (By the way, I used to write a media newsletter for Politico.)

I was on a Zoom happy hour with the four new coauthors right as the House of Representatives was tallying up bipartisan votes to put Donald Trump on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. My read on the reboot is that Playbook is about to get substantially saucier. You can expect more dish, more gossip, more scene, a bit more of a certain rakish tabloid sensibility that will help snap you awake at 6 a.m. A little less khaki, a little more denim. (And if L’Affaire Shapiro is any indication, more of a willingness to push some buttons.)

“I want to bring some of the old Playbook back,” said Palmeri. “That flavor that, when I was working at the New York Post, it felt like I had to watch what was popping on Playbook at all times.”

“There’s something very freeing about being able to take the best tips and gossip you’re hearing and putting it in a daily newsletter,” Bade chimed in.

“The juiciest anecdote from a magazine piece that everyone’s gonna talk about for three days,” Palmeri agreed.

Added Lizza, “There’s gotta be one new scoop in there every day, one conceptual or intellectual scoop every day; it’s gotta have the big headlines; there’s gotta be aggregation where we’re finding things you haven’t seen anywhere else; and finally, some sort of dessert at the end, something fun that will have people racing to the bottom.”

I asked the group what else will be different when the new Playbook lifts off on Tuesday.

“Covering new power in Washington, D.C.,” said Daniels.

Such as?

“The first woman of color, the first person of color to be vice president, she’s at the top of that power shift,” Daniels said. “People in Congress like Cori Bush, Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, even Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

What are the biggest story lines for Playbook in the coming months?

“Right now the big story is this divide in the Republican Party,” said Lizza. “We have Liz Cheney strongly embracing impeachment and a lot of her more right-wing colleagues just as strongly finding it abhorrent. I actually think we’re overstating how big that divide is gonna be in the next six months. When you have unified control by Democrats, historically the divisions within the Republican Party disappear really fast.”

“The thing I’m going to be watching is how far the left moves Biden in terms of policy making,” said Bade. “[Nancy] Pelosi has this extremely narrow majority, and the voice of the Squad is only getting louder. They have the ability to really band together, like the Freedom Caucus did, if they want to try and push Biden to the left.”

Daniels: “For me I think it is going to be fascinating to see how Joe Biden, a president who has spent his entire life in Washington, D.C., but a completely different Washington, D.C., approaches all of that. He talks about bringing people together, like the fissures in the country can be fixed. This will be a test of that.”

Palmeri’s response was the one that had me wanting to fast-forward through the next four or five months.

“Once coronavirus is finally over, once we finally all get our vaccines, D.C.’s gonna come back to life again,” she said. “Hopefully this summer, people, influencers, they’ll emerge. They’ll come out. They’ll be in the bars, in the restaurants. There will be human interaction again, and with human interaction, there will be stories. We’ll document the town.”

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