Inside the (anonymous) Edge
By Al Diamon
Created Nov 16 2007 - 9:53pm
November 16, 2007
Wally Edge seems to be plugged in to Maine politics. And New Jersey politics. And politics in New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont and Oregon. Keeps him pretty busy, I imagine.
Or it would if Wally Edge were real. But he - or she - isn't. Edge is a pseudonym, apparently being used by a bunch of people in different states to write political columns, all of which are called "The Inside Edge," and all of which appear on Web sites run by the Observer Media Group, the parent company of the New York Observer newspaper. Earlier this year, Observer bought the site PoliticsNJ.com from the original Edge (who borrowed his moniker from Wallace Edge, an early-20th-century Garden State governor and senator), renamed it PolitickerNJ.com, and is now spreading the franchise across the country.
PolitickerME.com went on line earlier this month, complete with its own Edge, who may or may not be the same Edge who writes for other Politicker sites, although all the Edges' styles are as similar as the taste of Big Macs in Maine and New Jersey. Which would make Edge the Ronald McDonald of the blogosphere.
A Google search reveals the first Edge launched his site in 2000 and quickly became a must-read for everyone involved in New Jersey's twisted political climate. Since then, bloggers and others have made attempts to uncover Edge's identity, dredging up tenuous links to everything from a right-wing California foundation to a Garden State public relations firm. He's been accused of being a front for Republicans (by Democrats) and Democrats (by Republicans), although an independent reading (by me) of the PolitickerNJ site doesn't reveal any obvious slant.
So far, Maine's Edge is following in that tradition. PolitickerME.com, which bills itself as "Insider Politics For Political Insiders" has offered unfettered opinions on the prospects of Democrats running for governor in 2010 (Attorney General Steve Rowe is summed up as "Forrest Gump meets Mr. Smith") and Republican gubernatorial hopefuls ("It's hard to describe Senator [Dana] Dow. It's almost as if Elmer Fudd and Mrs. Einstein had children together"). There's been solid reporting - of the type almost never seen in Maine dailies - by both Edge and somebody identified only as "Editor" on prospective legislative candidates for next year's elections and their chances of victory. Ex-Lewiston Sun Journal reporter Jessica Alaimo is also providing convention coverage (a little too conventional for my taste) of candidates and campaigns. Her coverage of a Portland debate among Democratic congressional hopefuls was actually less informative than the Portland Press Herald's story on the same event. And how often do I say something like that. Alaimo is also turning out feature stories, although her first one - on 1st District congressional candidate Chellie Pingree and her daughter, state House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree - offered almost no new information and seemed obsessed with the fact they lived on an island with "very unique" issues.
Politicker is promising to cover elections at all levels, from mayoral races to top-of-the-ticket contests, which seems like an ambitious undertaking for such a small staff. To date, local coverage has mostly consisted of an extensive - and useful - selection of links to newspaper Web sites, updated daily. But Edge and company still have time to do some further gearing up before next year's balloting.
Which leaves us with the leisure to ponder this question: Why all the secrecy?
It could be the original Edge adopted his alter ego as a marketing ploy. Being mysterious increased the buzz about his site, and speculation about his identity may have drawn more page hits than interest in political trivia. If that approach worked in Jersey, maybe it'll fly in Maine, too.
Or it's possible Edge is a pol, himself (or herself) and wears a mask to avoid repercussions from colleagues and constituents. In which case, the site has an enormous ethical problem, since the columnist could hardly be honest with both readers in cyberspace and contacts in the real world. On the other hand, what politician is?
Best bet: Edge is a journalist. The secret identity allows her (or him) to write stuff that wouldn't fly in the mainstream media, while possibly maintaining a day job as an allegedly objective reporter or editor. But, as with the politician, this scenario leaves open the possibility somebody is being lied to on occasion in one format or the other.
It would be interesting to know why Edge prefers to hide behind his historical pseudonym, and it would certainly increase the credibility of the Politicker site. But since Edge didn't respond to an e-mailed request for an interview, and Alaimo promised to call back but didn't, all I can do is offer the above speculations.
Ethics aren't the only measure by which Politicker could fall short. At the time Edge sold the New Jersey site to Observer, he claimed in one of his columns that it had over 20,000 regular readers, which doesn't seem like all that many for such a populous state. Its new publisher has stated in interviews that the original Politicker is profitable, but, so far, Maine's site has few paid ads, none of them local. If the idea behind expanding to other states was to attract big advertisers, it's not yet clear that strategy is working. Given the shaky finances of the state's other Internet news outlets (See "Where are the Web riches?"), PolitickerME.com's long-term survival will require more than deep secrets. It also demands deep pockets.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.