RealClearPolitics hit by surprise layoffs

Large, surprise layoffs are under way at RealClearPolitics, which has blossomed from the dream of two Chicago businessmen junkies into a journalism staple for politics junkies.

Co-founder Tom Bevan confirmed that 20 of 70 full-time employees will exit as an economically driven restructuring takes place, with two verticals closing, including one on sports.The bread and butter politics unit is not unscathed, and those notified included Alexis Simendinger, its respected White House correspondent.

"We are not immune to economics," said Bevan. "The year after a presidential election is always our most challenging. That's part of the cycle we deal with."

Bevan declined to speak to whether there is also an unexpected  and negative de facto Trump Effect, with some advertisers scared off by the unexpected presidential election result and changing marketing plans hatched when it was assumed Hillary Clinton would win. In some cases, but not all, Trump has been a windfall for certain media.

There had been little warning of the move for employees, especially amid some recent and seemingly significant hiring.

 In 2000 RealClearPolitics opened for business as an aggregator of political news and polling. It wasn't until later that it even had a small office on a then-rather desolate stretch on Chicago's North Side. It was the brainchild of Bevan, an advertising account executive, and John McIntyre, an options trader, who both love politics.

Over time, they expanded, notably starting an operation in Washington that had grown substantially over the years and hired top-notch talent such as Simendinger, who came from National Journal, and Carl Cannon, son of legendary Washington Post and San Jose Mercury reporter Lou Cannon and a veteran of several major organizations, including the Baltimore Sun. Cannon remains.

As the years went by, it's become a must-read for many, especially given its handy aggregation and analysis of polling during campaign seasons. For example, its averaging of multiple polls in a presidential campaign is depended on and trusted reflexively by other media.

In 2015 Crest Media, which owns the Middle East news outlet Al-Monitor, and the original owners bought out a large equity stake that had been possessed by Forbes Media.

"We're thrilled to have Crest Media as a partner," said Bevan at the time. "They share our vision of building a powerhouse brand for online news, analysis and information. Al-Monitor in just a few years has become a first-class source for top quality reporting and analysis on the Middle East."

"RealClearPolitics can make one of the rarest claims in media today, which is that it's a category of one," said Jason Woods, president of Crest Media.

The news surprised employees, especially since the organization had recently added a defense reporter, a new social media editor, editors for various so-called politics verticals and a videographer.

RealClearPolitics' partial allure and potential Achilles heel have been one and the same, namely it's a free site that has relied mostly on advertising, outside investment and corporate underwriting.

That space is very competitive, especially in Washington with the growth of many politics-oriented rivals. It is also likely that some advertisers, like some citizens, have become anxious during the early months of the Trump administration and are keeping their distance from a capital environment they deem toxic.

Bevan said five or six part-time employees are impacted. Eleven verticals will remain. 

 

Correction: The original version had the great Lou Cannon working at the Los Angeles Times. He worked at The Washington Post after the San Jose Mercury. He was one of the great chroniclers of Ronald Reagan, among other achievements.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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