Outgoing Politico Editor Never Fit In: ‘He’s Old School, We’re New School’

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September 8, 2014 4:55 pm
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Rick Berke’s resignation Sunday evening as executive editor of Politico may have caught some off guard. But at least one journalist there said it was clear that Berke never meshed at the Rosslyn, Va.-based outlet.

“This was no surprise to any of the editors or to anyone who knows how this place runs,” the journalist told TPM, disputing the characterization of Berke’s resignation as “abrupt.”

Berke joined Politico last year after serving at the New York Times since 1986 as a reporter, bureau chief and senior editor. He replaced Jim VandeHei, who had been promoted to president and CEO of Politico and and Capital New York only days prior.

When Berke left the Times, the paper’s former executive editor Jill Abramson hailed him as a “newsroom treasure in so many important roles here.”

In announcing the hire, John Harris, the editor-in-chief who co-founded Politico with VandeHei, described Berke as a great fit for the Washington-obsessed outlet.

“My own conversations with Rick made clear two things,” Harris wrote in a memo to staff. “One, as a political junkie, he is a deep admirer of the publication all of us have helped build. Two, what intrigued him most about the possibility of joining us was joining a growing operation that already has a great team.”

But that initial cohesion didn’t last. In memos sent to Politico staff on Sunday, Berke, VandeHei and Harris each alluded to strategic differences that led to the change at the top.

The journalist, who requested to speak to TPM anonymously, said those differences were clear early on.

“Jim and John needed someone who could provide vision for the newsroom, who could empower individual editors, who was innovative, creative, tough,” he said. “And it was clear from the beginning Rick was never going to be that guy. If you ask around here, any editor, anyone who’s involved in these conversations would tell you something similar.”

“I think the biggest thing was: he’s old school, we’re new school,” the journalist added.

When reached by phone on Monday afternoon, Berke declined to comment.

“I’m making a policy not to talk to anyone. I just don’t want to stir up anything,” he told TPM.

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