June 21, 2016

When Mike Allen launched Playbook in 2007, he promised to deliver his agenda-setting newsletter to a D.C. crowd obsessed with Treos (remember those?) and BlackBerrys.

That same year, Apple debuted the iPhone, an event that helped accelerate the shift to mobile news that Playbook finds itself retooling for as its whirling dervish author prepares to leave Politico.

“Playbook was created for the BlackBerry because that’s where people were in 2007 and 2008,” said Jake Sherman, who, along with Anna Palmer, is taking over for Allen next month. “People are still on their phones, but they’re on iPhones. They’re on Snapchat. And they’re on Twitter. Their first read is now Facebook. But we want to make sure that the dozens of people we talk to about Playbook still say it’s their first read in the morning.”

The two face a big challenge replacing Allen, who built Playbook into a literal franchise with his inexhaustible combination of scoops, mutual back-scratching, flattery and a work ethic that verged on legendary. Also awaiting the duo is the task of maintaining a consistent editorial voice whilst divvying up the work between themselves and colleague Daniel Lippman, who also assisted Allen. And, of course, Playbook has spawned a legion of competitors they’ll have to contend with: Morning Consult, CNN’s Politics Nightcap and the Daily 202 from a revived Washington Post, among others.

That task will tackled with new digital flair, however. In announcing Playbook’s changing of the guard Sunday night, Politico editor-in-chief John Harris noted that the newsletter is slated to undergo a makeover after nine years “marked by dramatic changes in how news is consumed.” In many ways, the changes awaiting Playbook are a crystallization of the trends in news consumption and distribution that have transpired since it launched nearly a decade ago.

For example, Palmer and Sherman say the further compression of the news cycle may require Playbook’s authors to brief their audiences in some fashion more than once per day. These “bursts of information” will be published on a separate Playbook website called Playbook Plus, but they also might be delivered to readers via email alert or, possibly, push notifications on a standalone app.

“We want to give the community what it wants,” Palmer said. “The news cycle has changed from 10 years ago, when just the newsletter was great. Sometimes, news doesn’t hold like it used to.”

Another concession to the changing news business: Playbook will launch social media accounts separate from Politico’s main feeds to give the newsletter a bigger footprint on social networks. In a nod to D.C. movers who screenshot sections of Playbook and post them on Twitter, Politico is also also adding a feature that allows readers to share tidbits directly from the newsletter.

Palmer and Sherman noted that the newsletter will be presented in more ways than just text. Reflecting the burgeoning boom in podcasting, they’re considering 90-second audio briefings “to give people digestible information as quickly as possible”; likely candidates would seem to be morning commuters who may not be able to read on their drive into work.

Overall, the emphasis seems to be on turning Playbook into an editorial product designed to be consumed on multiple platforms, at multiple times during the day, not just scanned once on smartphones by Washington influencers before they roll out of bed.

“We’re going to come to our readers on platforms where they’re consuming the news,” Sherman said. “Playbook is going to go from winning the morning to owning the day.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

More News

Back to News