National Journal editor wants to ‘win the morning’ (and then some)

Michael Calderone
October 25, 2010
National Journal relaunches
National Journal relaunches

Editor-in-chief Ron Fournier has ambitious goals for the just-relaunched National Journal.

"We have got to win the morning," Fournier said. "We've got to win the afternoon. And we've got to win the evening. We got to win the night. We got to win the overnight. We got to win the week. We got to win the year."

Fournier, speaking Monday about the Beltway magazine's redesign in print and online,  said that National Journal staffers will also have to "out-think everybody," "out-work everybody," and "out-clever everybody." However, he claimed there's no specific competitor in mind, even though his goals echoed Politico's "win the morning" mantra (which I know all too well as a former staffer).

In June, Fournier joined the National Journal Group to help transform the newsroom culture to stress breaking news and quick takes on politics and policy. The idea is to feature such content all day for a free online site while also remaining committed to producing high-quality journalism that costs subscribers in excess of $2,000 a year. Fournier spent the two previous years shaking up the Washington bureau of the Associated Press, where some staffers objected to his rapid changes to the news organization's style.

Since Fournier took the helm, the National Journal has been on an aggressive hiring spree, scooping up big-name journalists like Major Garrett (Fox News), Matt Cooper (Time, Newsweek) and Michael Hirsch (Newsweek), and filling the newsroom with talent from Politico and the Washington bureaus of the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.

Other capital journalists have taken due note of the National Journal's new ambitions — usually with more than a bit of skepticism.

"National Journal needed to reinvent itself a decade or more ago," Politico editor-in-chief John  Harris scoffed Monday to the New York Times. "It's pretty late in the day."

"Quality is all that matters in this market," Harris added. "You either break news and write smart analysis, or you don't. No amount of PR can change that. Politico has cornered that market and [Atlantic Media owner] David Bradley, Fournier and [editorial director Ron] Brownstein seem to agree because they made unsuccessful overtures to almost all of our top people."

FishbowlDC's Betsy Rothstein mentioned during Monday's Q&A that Politico's brass also talks of winning the morning. But Fournier didn't bite on talk of a National Journal-Politico feud, suggesting instead that his publication will take all comers when it comes to politics and policy — regardless of format or platform.

"Anybody who wants to get a story first, we're going to compete against them," Fournier responded. "Anyone who wants to write the story, written deeply and contextually, with a little bit of history to it, and get beyond the breaking news story, but talk about why it really matters to people, and why it matters to policy makers, we're going to compete against them."

"Anybody who wants to write a 500-word analysis in two hours, we're going to compete against them," Fournier continued. "Anybody who wants to write a 3,400-word story that takes two weeks to write, we're going to compete against them. Anybody who wants to deliver fast information on iPad, we're going to compete against them. Anybody who wants to do it in a daily newspaper, we want to compete against them. What I don't know, I can't find anyone else there doing all those things."