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Is The Politico Throwing Spaghetti on the Wall?

When it comes to digital strategy, it seems like The Politico is and will throw spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.

I attended an event yesterday evening hosted by the public-private business organization Rosslyn Renaissance with The Politico's executive editor Jim VandeHei and chief political correspondent Mike Allen (hat tip: FishbowlDC). 

I asked VandeHei about how The Politico plans to distribute its content through social networks since he mentioned that while promoting his news outfit at colleges he noticed that many young people were interested in politics.  If The Politico is so willing to get its content and people on so many newspapers, TV networks, and radio stations, why not Facebook and MySpace as well?  Or should it create its own social network like American Public Media's Gather and Campaigns and Elections magazine's MyPoliticalPages?

VandeHei said that he hoped to do both, but I didn't sense that The Politico had a vision about how it will do that.  Thus, it seems in some cases that he and his colleagues are and will throw spaghetti on the wall.  Granted, in many ways the Internet is still the Wild, Wild West, but that does not grant anyone license to haphazardly stagger on-line or exist in perpetual beta as is the style now — even Wired.com has reverted back to beta.

You can throw spaghetti at multiple walls and make it stick, but that requires a strategy.

It is important to note that from what we hear at The Bivings Group, such an Internet strategy — or lack of one – is common in news media.  More established news sites are just as fickle.  They launch heaps of blogs with little commitment to make them succeed partly because they don't know what to expect, how to set appropriate goals, and measure performance of new media offerings.  Etc. 

Part of this experimental tendency, which is admirable since so many news outlets seem too timid to follow evolving media trends, stems from how VandeHei feels excited that The Politico is not a "Name of Record" since such a reputation constrains other news outlets to remain safe by covering the boring stuff like Presidential press conferences where nothing happens and not failing with unproven new media ventures.

Further, I was slightly concerned when Allen mentioned that The Politico tells its reporters that garnering links is a key focus of the story writing process.  Are they trying to sex up the spaghetti they're throwing at the wall?  While I'm sure that quality content and breaking news is the goal there, as a search engine optimizer who reads a lot of literature about the importance of sexy content that baits others to link to it I get a little weary when the mainstream media thirsts for links.  Journalists should provide information, not spice. 

Also both Allen and VandeHei told the audience to digg Politico articles.  Throwing spaghetti at digg isn't a panacea for excelling on-line.  For instance, diggers and other social news site users don't always crave the highest quality news (see my previous paragraph).  Also, if The Politico wants some diggs, it should publish pieces that worship and berate Ron Paul while purposefully including errors.  The strong digg army that rallies around virtually any Paul related mention in the mainstream media will love it.

However, the fact that The Politico is willing to experiment with new media and blending multiple media (aren't newspapers doing video and audio now?) might make it a great trailblazer.  Other news media organizations can see where it succeeds and fails.  Let's hope that it develops a coherent strategy to trail blaze and not stagger.