Popular blogger Ezra Klein had made a name for himself at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog by contextualizing current events and offering a level of detail that print newspapers, TV, and radio have often failed to provide in their limited space or airtime. At the age of 29, he has a proven knack for explaining the world clearly, but his aspirations for changing the future of journalism have been far less clear.
Speculation over Mr Klein’s career ended recently when he announced that he would be leaving the Post, taking with him a series of other talented individuals, including Dylan Matthews, Melissa Bell, and Matthew Yglesias of Slate fame.
In order to “improve the technology of news”, Ezra Klein has made plans to found a new journalism venture at Vox Media. His upcoming publication, currently dubbed Project X, seeks to “reimagine” how journalists explain current events by taking full advantage of the technology platform behind Vox sites such as The Verge, sports blog SB Nation, and others.
Mr Klein framed his new project in terms of new media versus legacy media, a familiar battleground for the digital age. “We treat the emphasis on the newness of information as an important virtue rather than a painful compromise.” Whereas newspapers have used their limited space to focus simply on the latest information, Klein argues that new media, lacking old media’s constraints, can restore context to the practice of current events.
In recent years, big-name journalists have occasionally abandoned well-established news companies in favor of online start-ups. Two Washington Post journalists founded the daily political newspaper Politico, which rivals many of its more established competitors; technology news site Re/code was formed by former Dow Jones employees; and statistician Nate Silver, who accurately calculated the results of the 2012 US presidential election using polling data, left the New York Times to write for ESPN.
Vox CEO Jim Bankoff, however, insists that there is a special merit in journalists using new technology platforms to create something innovative. “It is not as simple as journalists going to a digital site and doubling their salary. Many of these people, including Ezra, have a vision of creating something remarkable. … We like to think that we are using technology in serve of creativity, journalism, and storytelling.”
How coherent and feasible is Mr Klein’s “vision”? Perhaps he has been so opaque about his plans because he has little assurance as to how his grand vision will play out over the long run. George Packer of the New Yorker critiqued the jargon of his announcement, comparing it to the “assured, technical-sounding, empty language of [journalists’] beat.” What exactly will the “informing-our-audience business” involve, and how can digital media from Vox guarantee the level of quality that Mr Klein hopes for? Such questions have been left conspicuously unanswered.
Even if “Project X” fails to deliver on its promise of transforming the future of journalism, the apparent takeaway—as David Carr of the New York Times writes—is that “it’s becoming apparent that digital publishing is its own thing, not an additional platform for established news companies.”