January 28, 2014

Many media observers initially greeted news that star blogger Ezra Klein planned to form a new journalistic venture with side-eyes aimed at his soon-to-be-ex-employer, The Washington Post. Since Klein announced Sunday that Vox Media would back his new operation, skepticism has rebounded in Klein’s direction. Grab your safety goggles, Ezra:

• The Web, “so elemental in making Ezra Klein a big and sudden success,” Jack Shafer writes, “is also his biggest threat.”

None of the wildly successful websites — not the Huffington Post, the Gawker galaxy of sites, the BuzzFeed verticals, Glam Media’s properties, nor Vox Media — can rely on a moat to protect them from new competition because 1) no regulation prevents new Web entrants, 2) thanks to Moore’s Law and more, the costs of entry keep falling, and 3) unless tethered by contracts, talent can easily become new competitors (in other words, any Ezra that Ezra discovers will likely pull an Ezra on him).

Yes, you. They’re talking about you. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

• “What the Web has never figured out is how to pay for reporting,” George Packer writes in The New Yorker. Reporting is “in desperately short supply,” he writes, and without it, “even the most prolific commenters will someday run out of things to say.” (Recently, New Yorker writers have not shown excessive enthusiasm about Web-based newsgathering.)

Klein says that the new site is going to be in the “informing-our-audience business,” which describes everything from the Times to Fox Sports to blogging (which is what Klein and his colleagues have made their names doing). Perhaps Klein isn’t ready to say clearly; perhaps he doesn’t yet know exactly what he and his colleagues will be doing at Vox. That might help explain why his former employer, the Post, didn’t agree to Klein’s terms for staying at the paper—which, according to reports making the rounds, included at least ten million dollars in funding, a large staff, and complete editorial independence.

• Online news is “becoming a very crowded market,” Internet analyst Neil Doshi told The Wall Street Journal’s William Launder. “There is a bubble mentality occurring right now.”

“People don’t appreciate how difficult it is to do interesting journalism that is monetizable and sustainable over time,” said Jim VandeHei, the president and CEO of Politico and Capital New York. “We would never build a media product based around [web] traffic and advertising. That is a fool’s play in this day and age,” Mr. VandeHei said.

• Klein “doesn’t mention business models” in his announcement, Dean Starkman writes:

He also expresses what strikes me as a rather optimistic view of Web production imperatives. … But, the Web has brought revolutionary changes to journalism (and many things) that have smashed old constraints in many ways, but as I’ve written, it has not necessarily bought journalists any more of their most precious resource: time.

• Wonkblog, Klein’s perch at The Washington Post, “is tiny,” writes Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson. Going off a Politico report about Wonkblog’s traffic, Carlson estimates the new Klein thing “will generate $500,000 in annual revenues for Vox in its first few years.”

That’s just the top line. For the bottom line figure, [Vox Media CEO Jim] Bankoff will probably need red ink. Klein already has 8 staffers and he wants to hire 22 more. Each staffer will probably cost at least $100,000 in salary and benefits.

• Jeff Jarvis is cautiously optimistic: Klein is “specializing in an asset type of news: the explainer,” he writes.

I think there’s a lot of value in that. You can get the latest on a story in so many places now — from Twitter, on TV, from wire services, and, yes, from news organizations. In all that coverage the old background paragraph — a vestige of the limitations of print — ill-served everyone: the novice is underserved (how can you catch up on the saga of Libya in five lines?) and the expert’s time is wasted (how much effort to we expend trying to skip over the old stuff in news articles?).

• And on a perhaps unrelated note, Nate Silver wrote an update on plans for his new breakout venture, which he is launching under the auspices of ESPN: “we’re going to have a lot of fun in exploring everything from baseball to burritos,” he writes.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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