The much discussed US politics venture The Politico has gone live, on the eve of the State of the Union address. It’s got a fascinating remit:

The Politico’s goals are simple. Over the past several weeks, we set out to assemble the most talented and interesting collection of journalists – established names as well as promising young people – that we could find. Now, we will turn these reporters loose on the subject we love: national politics.

We will focus on three arenas. The first is Congress and the constant flow of agendas, personalities and power struggles that define daily life on Capitol Hill. The second is the 2008 presidential campaign, a race already churning and one likely to shape history in ways far beyond the typical election. The third is lobbying and advocacy, a part of the capital economy undergoing rapid growth and change. It is a business alive with interesting and influential characters whose impact is dimly understood and insufficiently covered.

The bright sparks in our press galleries seem to find that last one a little hard to come to grips – even though if anything deserves a little light to be shone on its affairs, it’s lobbying.

The Politico is more than a website. It’s a multimedia enterprise. It will produce a free tabloid that will go to political offices and hangouts as well government agencies and special interest groups, lobbyists and political consultancies. Deals have been struck to have staffers appear on the CBS network, the DC local cable news channel, and radio.

It leads today with a report on Hillary Clinton’s efforts to be blacker that Barack Obama:

Far from conceding African-American support to the most credible candidate ever of African descent, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Clintons are pushing aggressively for the help of their longtime allies in the black business, political and entertainment elite. Clinton’s supporters say she intends to make the Illinois senator fight for every black endorsement and every black vote. It’s a strategy that pushes Obama to decide just how black he can afford to be: Will he pitch himself to African-American voters as the black candidate, or hew to the post-racial line that’s helped make him sensationally popular with white Democrats?

And columnist Ben Smith mentions a Crikey friend:

I thought I’d begin this thing on comfortable terrain, with a small advance on a reportorial obsession of mine: Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Here’s how close they’ve grown: Murdoch’s daughter-in-law, Kathryn, is currently employed by none other than the Clinton Foundation…

[T]he Murdoch-Clinton relationship has always been less about Hillary than about Bill. But even if he doesn’t endorse her, their ties can help dial down a conservative noise machine in which Fox News and The New York Post are quite major players.

“People want their news faster and more conversationally,” says Jim VandeHei, The Politico’s executive editor. “Waiting for a story that breaks at 10 am and writing for the next day’s paper is over.”

COO Fred Ryan says the calibre of The Politico’s reporting will distinguish it from other online sources, like blogs. It’s signed some stars, reporters from the Washington Post, Time magazine and US News and World Report.

“The model that we’re following is a bit different,” Ryan told Newsday TV. “Some of these other outlets have a model where you hire somebody who’s 24 or 25-years- old, pay them $30,000 a year and they stay for a little while and then move on. You get the level of sources and insight and understanding of the process that you would expect for somebody who is early in his or her career.”

It took five years for DC’s cable news channel to break even. Ryan says “We are definitely looking at the long term.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey