'Passing the Bong' to Remake Politics

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He is, we think, speaking figuratively when describing late-night "pass the bong" conversations with fellow former Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei about building a new political journalism model on the Internet. But as Editor-in-Chief John Harris gets ready to debut a thrice-weekly paper and website called the Politico, he concedes that he, Executive Editor VandeHei, and the Allbritton Communications team aim to "provide a needle in the vein" to those hooked on politics, starting January 23. "We're political junkies," says Harris, a former Post editor and reporter, "and we're writing for political junkies." News sources are eager for change, too: Bush political adviser Karl Rove has even talked up the Politico to allies.

Leave the Post for the Web? They're not crazy, says former Minneapolis Star Tribune Editor Tim McGuire. Considering the mass layoffs at fading newspapers, he says, "this is a sanity test, and they are passing." The money is good, rumored at $250,000 for the two top editors and generous for the small staff of big names. But Harris says it's more than cash: The industry is changing, and now's the time to pounce since readers are more in tune with the Web. He and VandeHei are maybe on to something. Since raiding other publications for staff, competitors like the Post have stepped up Web operations and hiring. "We've shaken everybody by the lapels," says Harris.