Linzer Steps Down as Politico’s Executive Editor

From a Washington Post story by Sarah Ellison headlined “Dafna Linzer abruptly steps down as Politico’s executive editor”:

Dafna Linzer is leaving her role as executive editor of Politico a year after she took the job.

When Politico announced her hiring in late March 2022, editor in chief Matthew Kaminski called the move “one of the critical steps” the organization was taking “to position Politico for a great new era.”

Her hiring came on the heels of media juggernaut Axel Springer’s $1 billion acquisition of Politico in the fall of 2021. The German publisher has poured significant investment into the digital news site.

Linzer, who was once a national security reporter for The Washington Post, came to Politico after serving as a managing editor for politics at NBC News and as an investigative journalist for ProPublica.

During her first week on the job, Politico scored the biggest scoop of its 15-plus year existence, a story about a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that would strike down Roe v. Wade. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called the leak “a singular and egregious breach” of trust, but the story brought journalistic accolades to Politico and is widely seen as a front-runner to win a Pulitzer this spring.

But her tenure was marked by tension with Kaminski, her immediate boss. Linzer chafed under Kaminski’s leadership and told colleagues that she took the job expecting that he would be elevated to a different role, but that did not happen.

Others at Politico pointed to her brusque management style and said that as Politico was embarking in a major expansion, top newsroom managers could not agree on how to execute that expansion. Concerns about advertising revenue have created significant pressure inside the newsroom, according to current and former Politico staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Last month, the Daily Beast reported on a public confrontation at Politico’s 118th Congress kickoff event at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station between Linzer and a young reporter who planned to leave Politico for The Washington Post, writing that Linzer was “aggravated” and caused the reporter to become “visibly upset.”

In a note to the newsroom, Kaminski wrote: “In her time with us, Dafna has made important and lasting contributions to the publication — for which we are grateful. She brought great talents to the newsroom. She worked closely with our Washington and politics teams and with our leadership team to shape key pillars of the strategy unveiled in December that we are now working to implement.”

But he added that he and Linzer “saw ourselves diverging over the best way” to help Politico be “the world’s premier source of news on politics, policy, and power.” He added that the two of them “first began discussing the possibility of this move last December.”

Her last day will be at the end of the month.

Politico CEO Goli Sheikholeslami told staff that “continuity” was the goal for the immediate future but added that she had asked Kaminski to “partner with me on a deeper and more comprehensive look at our newsroom structure (in the U.S.), to answer whether we are best positioned to succeed in Washington and the states that we operate in.”

Linzer, in a note to the newsroom, wrote of her pride in the Roe scoop and touted Politico’s midterm coverage as “the best in the business.” She highlighted the organization’s investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and wrote that “our journalism across the board simply flourished in a year of tremendous change for the publication.”

During Linzer’s tenure, Politico hired high-profile names such as Heidi Przybyla from NBC and Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin from the New York Times. Burns had been at Politico from its earliest days, and his return to the newsroom was the result of a long courtship by Politico founding editor John Harris.

Politico, which was founded in 2007 by two former Washington Post journalists with a digital-friendly focus on in-depth political news, quickly inspired imitators of its own — notably Axios was founded in 2016 by Politico veterans Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz; and Punchbowl, launched in 2021 with Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan, who worked together for years as star Capitol Hill reporters at Politico.

The crowded market for deeply reported congressional coverage has created intense competition for advertising dollars, even as many groups are reining in ad spending for fear of a possible recession.

Axel Springer just last month announced a restructuring of its German operations, and CEO Mathias Döpfner has signaled his aggressive ambitions to expand in the United States.

The company, one of Europe’s largest news organizations, is unique for its major U.S. presence. Döpfner has said he plans to streamline its corporate structure in Germany and cut back on its print editions as the company moves into being a digital-only publisher.

Sarah Ellison is a staff writer based in New York for The Washington Post. Previously, she wrote for Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, where she started as a news assistant in Paris.

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