The political blogosphere lit up earlier today when 29-year-old Ezra Klein announced he was leaving The Washington Post to build his own news site with Vox Media (publishers of The Verge and SB Nation). Klein quickly rose to fame in policy circles with his explainer approach to wonky policy topics and eventually grew his own team on The Post’s “Wonkblog” channel.
But, tensions grew into impasse after the The Post’s leadership, including new owner Jeff Bezos, rejected Klein’s plan for a new media venture, which reportedly cost somewhere in the eight-figure range.
According to Klein in a post on The Verge, his unnamed media venture will focus on explanatory journalism and somehow be a clearinghouse for information on new topics.
The venture’s job-announcement webpage on Vox explains its mission: “We’ll have regular coverage of everything from tax policy to True Detective, but instead of letting that reporting gather dust in an archive, we’ll use it to build and continuously update a comprehensive set of explainers of the topics we cover. We want to create the single best resources for news consumers anywhere.”
Klein further explained to The New York Times, “We really wanted to build something from the ground up that helps people understand the news better. We are not just trying to scale Wonkblog, we want to improve the technology of news, and Vox has a vision of how to solve some of that.”
The one notable product that Klein built while at the Post was “Know More,” a scrollable, graph-friendly newsfeed that encouraged users to click deeper into explanations and explore their curiosity. Presumably, Klein will be building out more sophisticated versions of this product which allows readers to learn as much as they want about a topic, rather than trying to squeeze all the necessary information into the story itself, or scattered links.
It’s also unknown how Klein’s “Project X” will cooperate with Vox media’s other properties, most notable, The Verge. Over the past year, The Verge has quickly expanded from tech to general news, including live coverage of the Grammy’s tonight.
If Klein does, indeed, create a successful venture, it will be the second missed opportunity for The Post. The founders of Politico first proposed their hyper-political blog site to the Post before starting what is now essential reading on Capitol Hill.
There was hope that when Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post that he would inject so much needed web-savvy into the old media veins of the struggling print establishment.
Still, +10 million dollars is a big investment; Wonkblog averages around 4 million unique page views a month and doesn’t have a lucrative events series that bolsters other digital properties, such as Re/code (formerly AllThingsD) and your humble tech blog, TechCrunch.
The New York Time’s David Carr was optimistic: “Organizations like BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Vice and Vox, which have huge traffic but are still relatively small in terms of profit, will eventually mature into the legacy media of tomorrow.”
The difference between BuzzFeed and Klein’s venture, however, is that Klein doesn’t traffic in, well, traffic. Many household name media properties fish a huge audience with gossip and shareable listicles.
Even Politico, for all its success, isn’t entirely an oasis of reasoned dialog and nuanced explanations. D.C. has its own versions of people and gaffe-watching.
For the most part, Wonkblog has stuck to serious news, however friendly it was to scanning. If Klein can bring in big bucks and traffic with a formula that leaves the American people more informed, he will have made an important contribution to the 4th estate.
If he fails, it might prove that the future of political media might just need more “Sexiest Bachelors Of Congress“.