What a week at Crosscut.com.
The non-profit online site, known for its news analysis and longer essays, gave its readers a bit of a jolt on Monday, with the headline, "Embarrassing email suggests Constantine affair."
Comments from readers ranged from "good exclusive" to "this is disgusting, take it off."
Monday was the debut as reporters Josh Feit and Erica Barnett, formerly of Publicola.com, joined the Crosscut staff. Publicola, known for its edgy and wonky coverage of local and state government, shut down last week due to financial issues.
Editor and founder David Brewster reached out to Feit and Barnett to bring their daily news headlines to Crosscut. "Politics, and breaking news, stuff that is more interest to younger people, and all of that, is a real need for Crosscut to have, and so it seemed like a very natural match," Brewster said.
One of the first stories Feit generated on Monday, was about an e-mail that a woman apparently sent to the wrong people, revealing a romantic relationship gone sour with King County Executive Dow Constantine. Feit said such a controversial story was unplanned, but happened to break on his first day.
"I would say, in what universe is this not a story? You're dealing with a very public powerful person, powerful man," Feit said.
Constantine has had a long-time relationship with a woman he has known since college, but he's not married. The woman with whom he acknowledges having a "brief relationship" is married, but separated.
"I was proud we did the story in a very responsible way," Brewster said.
But on a site where readers are accustomed to extended essays on subjects like density, urban environmentalism and culture, the Constantine story sent shockwaves.
"Simply, wow. Quite a vicious debut," wrote one commenter. "Train wreck," wrote another.
"Seriously," wrote one reader. "This is news?"
Feit insists, Constantine's conduct is newsworthy and it's not about whether the executive is legally in a marriage. "He is in a long-term relationship with the same woman for years, lives with her, so I think to say it's not an affair is weird, or is kind of a get-out-of-jail free card that I don't understand, it's not like he's on the dating circuit, he's living with someone, we all know that," Feit said.
Dan Savage, news editor at the Stranger newspaper where Feit once worked, was critical in a blog post. "We don't know what sort of agreement Constantine has with the lady with whom he lives. Do they have an open relationship? Are they monogamish?" Savage wrote, saying there's no news to report. "We don't know. And didn't need to."
Brewster says he's comfortable with how Crosscut played the story. While Crosscut's traditional content might attract readers to check in every few days, Brewster hopes Feit and Barnett will deliver the kind of breaking news headlines that will attract readers back every day. Their previous site Publicola developed a loyal following among politicians and insiders with its daily coverage of government (at times, "wonky" Feit admits) and campaigns, mixed in with commentary. Feit believes it's coverage that fills a void and plays a role in the political dialogue.
As for the Constantine story, both The Seattle Times and Seattle PI picked up on Crosscut's story. On KUOW radio, Constantine maintained it's a private matter. "My personal life is my personal life, which I tried to tell those alleged reporters but which they chose to ignore," Constantine said.