Former Wonkblog Team To Create New Site For Vox Media

Ezra Klein and the team behind the Wonkblog at The Washington Post have found a new home. They are joining Vox Media, a digital outfit with sites serving sports fans, foodies and gamers — but little in the way of news about politics. The creation of the new site, tentatively called Project X, demonstrates the pull of digital media for entrepreneurial journalists.

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More journalists from a traditional media company are trying a new venture. Writer and blogger Ezra Klein and some of the team behind one of The Washington Post's visible features, Wonkblog, which analyzes policy issues in Washington, are moving on. They're joining Vox Media. That's a digital outfit with sites serving sports fans, foodies and gamers, among others, but little in the way of political coverage until now.

NPR's David Folkenflik reports on the creation of the new site tentatively called Project X, and what it says about our changing media.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Ezra Klein is the motivating force behind Project X. He tells NPR that he - and the rest of his team - intend to drill down on context, history, trends and expertise, everything about and use other than the latest headlines.

EZRA KLEIN: I think there's been a very damaging tendency in journalism to assume that the readers, they don't like what we call the vegetables, spinach, the kind of tough stuff - health care, things like that. What they want is a lighter, is more conflict-driven, is about horse race. You know, we found that's not true.

FOLKENFLIK: Joining Klein will be former Wonkblog colleagues, as well as Matt Yglesias of Slate. They're intending to bulk up beyond Wonkblog's confines of politics and policy to culture, science, sports and beyond.

Jim Bankoff is the chairman and CEO of Vox Media.

JIM BANKOFF, CHAIRMAN, CEO, VOX MEDIA: There's a lot of news out there. We're getting bombarded from all sources. And that puts an even greater need on people and talent who can help explain things.

FOLKENFLIK: Vox may be best known for its network of sports blog called SB Nation or its tech stories on the verge. But recently bought Curbed, which covers real estate and Eater, which covers food. Taken together, Vox's sites have about 65 million monthly unique visitors. The privately-held company makes a slight profit and its financial backers include Allen & Co. and Comcast.

Planet X's Melissa Bell, who used to oversee blog at The Post, said Vox once a natural fit for both financial and technical reasons.

MELISSA BELL: When Ezra and I first started talking about this last summer, it was a company that I brought up pretty regularly. They've been pushing the boundaries already with some of the same questions that we're asking.

FOLKENFLIK: Ken Doctor is a media analyst for Newsonomics. While many newspapers are struggling financially, Doctor says, some new sites have failed to take off too.

KEN DOCTOR: There are new news brands that can work, but they have to fight through the noise. That's the big challenge here when you're going independent and away from a huge traffic site like The Washington Post.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet, it's a Golden age for digital news name brands. Nate Silver sold his "538" blog to ESPN after running it within The New York Times. Andrew Sullivan created his own site relying on subscribers. While Yahoo made a big-ticket hire of The Times' tech writer, David Pogue.

Some critics have attacked The Washington Post for failing to satisfy the 29-year-old Klein's ambition and drive. But Klein told his bosses there that he intended to create a new standalone site apart from The Post. And asked whether the strapped paper's new owner wanted to invest $8 million in his new venture. The Post owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, declined. Now as Jim Bankoff says, it's Vox's chance to execute.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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