Politico Pierces the ‘Brussels Bubble’ With U.S.-Style Coverage

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Ryan Heath, a senior correspondent at Politico, writes the Brussels Playbook, a popular newsletter. Credit Cedric Gerbehaye for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — The offices of Politico Europe, the Brussels outpost of the American political news organization, are less than a five-minute walk from the Maelbeek subway station where a suicide bomber killed more than a dozen people in the terrorist attacks here last month.

The niche publication normally focuses on the inner workings and power dynamics of the European Union’s sprawling institutions, so acts of Islamic terrorism are not exactly its standard offering. But to Matthew Kaminski, Politico Europe’s executive editor, it was an event that lent itself naturally to Politico’s brand of swift, flood-the-zone news coverage.

“We have the biggest newsroom in this town,” Mr. Kaminski said of the more than 40 journalists now under his command, “and this was a hit on our community.”

Before the bombings, sharp coverage in Politico had already branded Belgium a failed state, after it was revealed that last November’s terrorist attacks on Paris had also been organized in a neglected neighborhood of central Brussels. The sustained scrutiny in Politico, addressed to an international, English-speaking audience, rankled many in Belgium’s famously parochial establishment — as the more deferential members of the country’s French- and Dutch-language media looked on. Just three days before the Brussels attacks, a spokesman for the prime minister dismissed Politico’s analysis on Twitter as “biased as always.”

“We were on site, pushing that button every day,” said Ryan Heath, a senior correspondent who writes Politico’s widely read Brussels Playbook newsletter.

“It had a multiplier effect,” Mr. Heath said, “and that did not go down well.”

The Brussels attacks punctuated what had already been an unusually newsy first year for Politico’s European venture, which was started last April in partnership with the German publishing group Axel Springer. In addition to terrorism and security, subjects like the migration crisis, the ongoing war in Ukraine, grinding debt talks with Greece and the prospect of a British exit from the 28-member European Union not only kept the Continent in the headlines but also served to remind Europeans — and the rest of the world — of the importance of the often arcane policy debates taking place in Brussels.

Much like the original Politico, which was founded in 2007, its European incarnation covers its beat like a village paper, harnessing the immediacy of the Internet to deliver breaking news at a brisk tempo to a core readership of political and civic insiders. Its granular coverage of everything from ministerial summit meetings to regulatory committee hearings is leavened with tidbits from errant emails and restaurant recommendations, as well as revealing anecdotes about the biggest power brokers in Brussels.

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