I jokingly refer to Politico as Republico, but it's a half-hearted joke, because it's provably true. If the background in that photo doesn't prove it, maybe Mike Allen's pay-to-play scandal will.
A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable. And its practitioner is expanding the franchise. Today, Allen disclosed in “Playbook” that he’ll be collaborating in the production of “Capital Playbook,” a newsletter stemming from Capital New York, the news site that Politico acquired earlier this year. Also today, the New York Times, as part of a reorganization of its Washington/political coverage, announced that it would be launching a “morning news tip sheet that sets up the Washington day for our readers.”
Back in the early days of the blogosphere a similar scheme hatched for small-potatoes bloggers. Write sponsored posts, get paid. Many jumped at it as a revenue source, but not every blogger disclosed which posts were sponsored and which weren't, causing a huge flare of controversy. How is Politico's scheme any different?
If Politico wants to bill themselves as the megaphone for the US Chamber of Commerce, the Peterson Foundation and others, that's fine as long everyone knows they shouldn't be viewed as any kind of serious news outlet.
It's hard to make online sites break even, much less be profitable. Staying independent means scraping for money to stay live while preserving integrity and independence. It's a difficult path to walk, but pay-to-play isn't the answer, especially when your reach has such influence on the conversation.