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The Baffler, Explanation for what, Vox ?

David Johnson explains Vox.

In its brief history, Vox has become a model in an industry that's moved from entrenchment to retrenchment. Vox's rapid growth, its dream team of policy bloggers, its cachet with the White House, its ability to attract blue-chip advertisers such as Chevrolet and Campbell's Soup, and its tech innovation have become the envy of competitors. Why? What is the secret of Vox.com and its thriving parent company Vox Media, which, according to a report this spring in Bloomberg Technology, is profitable and valued at $1 billion? Are there applicable lessons for the dwindling segments of the media industry that still care primarily about journalism? Or, is the Vox Media success story largely the product of clever--perhaps even deceptive--marketing?

Targeting an audience advertiser crave:

'who, exactly, are the promontories in this broad range? Let the enterprising Vox staff explain: "We want to find the grad student whose research will change everything, the Hill staffer who sees a better way, the entrepreneur who's figured out what's wrong with the system, the industry leader with a vision of what could be different." If these are the ingredients of a broad range of thought and a freewheeling exchange of opinions...'

The Vox creation myth begins, suitably enough, in a mood of liberal dissatisfaction. Ezra Klein conceived Vox from a trio of frustrations he had with old media institutions like the Washington Post.
First, he felt that the top newspapers made readers like him feel stupid. He found, at least as a young reader before embarking on a career in journalism, that he could easily understand only about 25 percent of a given article he would read in the New York Times. Sure, the Times would sometimes help readers out with sidebars and other explanatory supplements, but it never harnessed the potential of the web and the space afforded by digital formats to optimize the explanatory power of journalism.

Second, he believed that old media were slaves to the news--i.e., the ephemeral fodder of the cable-driven news cycle--instead of what really mattered. While traditional media is constrained by what happens in the world day to day, Klein felt he could build a better media company by detaching from the news to focus on truths that were, if not exactly timeless, then at least less time-sensitive.

Third, as a digital-only journalist, he felt hemmed in by the limits of the Washington Post's technology, which was geared, in his view, toward producing print newspaper articles for regular subscribers. This backward-looking business model limited the ability of Klein and his Wonkblog team at the Post to produce content in the hypercompetitive, feed-the-beast, constantly updating digital sphere. Whatever one's news preference, it's clear that we all live in a new era of digital journalism as news syndication or wire service, and Klein has wisely embraced this truth. Most people consume their news content at all times of day via multiple routes--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, RSS feeds, newsletters, etc. As a result of this ever-shifting media diet, news producers can't assume that most of their readers are accessing their content directly from their own duly branded points of origin. Klein left the Post to found a company that understood itself as a wire service, in the way all digital publishers nowadays are wire services.


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