Ezra Klein is leaving Vox, the web site he began for the New York Instances, in an A-list digital media exodus
Klein, 36, left The Post in 2014 to start Vox with two colleagues, Melissa Bell and Matthew Yglesias. The website, which publishes analytical articles detailing everything from Boeing’s problems with the 737 Max jet to Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian connections, is part of a constellation of specialized news and commentary sites from Vox Media, including SB Nation (Sports), Curbed (real estate) and Esser (food). Vox is based in Washington and New York.
Despite multi-million dollar investments by Wall Street companies and traditional media companies, many of the top names in digital media are struggling to reap the profits that once resulted from the epoch-making transition from traditional print and broadcast media to online media revealed. This has resulted in layoffs, declining capital investment and a major cut in the industry.
The fierce competition for advertising and subscription money, high overheads and, more recently, the pandemic have made it difficult to generate high returns. Many of the leading digital news sites have stopped making a profit after more than a decade of operation.
On Wednesday, HuffPost (formerly the Huffington Post) and BuzzFeed, two of the most beloved and promising newbies of the past, agreed on a financial transaction in which BuzzFeed will acquire its rival and share content with HuffPost’s parent company Verizon Media. The purchase is primarily made through an exchange of shares, an indication that cash – once the common currency for such deals – is less available for such deals.
The deal was another in a series of consolidation efforts among online news providers, all of which aimed to create larger, more competitive conglomerates.
Vox Media started the wave of mergers in September 2019 when plans to acquire New York Media, publisher of New York magazine, were announced. Vice Media, the millennial digital media company, announced plans a month later to purchase Refinery29, which is aimed at young women. That same month, Group Nine Media, a conglomerate of once independent digital media brands, bought the entertainment site PopSugar.
Klein and Williams are the second and third executives at Vox to walk away from the site in the past week. Co-founder Yglesias announced that he would start his own newsletter last week.
“Vox was built on a kind of analytical concept [Klein’s] originally, ”said Jill Abramson, former editor-in-chief of the New York Times, who wrote a book comparing traditional media like The New York Times and The Post with younger digital upstarts like Vice and BuzzFeed. “He brought the explainer to a high art.”
The exodus of personalities back to traditional outlets “is sad because all of these news outlets that we have been calling upstarts are really digital advertising addicts and it’s the kiss of death,” added Abramson.
She described the recent wave of mergers as “marriages of weakness,” not strength. And the departure of editorial stars from these companies is not good for the profession. “These journalists and outlets make original quality products that were healthy for our job – and it’s not healthy for every single one of these highly talented digital journalists to be with them [New York] Times.”
Other digital news stars have taken a similar path, in some cases back to mainstream branch jobs. Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith left the publication earlier this year to join the Times as a media columnist. HuffPost editor Lydia Polgreen left the website in March and joined a podcast company. Kara Swisher, another former Washington Post journalist who co-founded technology website Recode (now owned by Vox Media), became the Times writer and podcast host. And Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who co-founded the Intercept, said he quit last month to start a newsletter.
Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media, in a statement credited Klein and Williams with having Vox “built into the powerhouse it is today,” adding that it “is no longer dependent on individuals. It is a talented team of hundreds of people who contribute to success every day. “
“I am extremely grateful to Ezra and Lauren for helping bring Vox Media’s Vox property into today’s powerhouse. In addition to being a leader in podcasts and TV shows, Vox has the largest YouTube channel in the news category. Ezra and Lauren know better than anyone that Vox is no longer dependent on individuals. It’s a talented team of hundreds of people who contribute to its success every day. We wish both of them all the best for the future and look forward to further developing, growing and making Vox something special in the years to come. “
When Klein announced that he would be hiring on Friday, the Times said he had “helped set the standard for modern explanatory journalism early in his career, and he has done so across virtually all media.”
Jeremy Barr contributed to this report.