We are editor in chief and executive editor of Vox.com. You can ask us anything, but we recently interviewed the President of the United States so you might be interested in that.

Edit: It's really us! https://twitter.com/ezraklein/status/565961885347229697

Edit: We're having some technical problems where Reddit keeps eating our answers/telling us the servers are too busy. So if it looks like we're going a bit slow, that's why. Grr.

Edit: Gotta run. Thanks, folks! It's been fun!

Comments: 271 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

coolsnow726 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, I’ve been a fan of both of your writing for a while now. Matt in particular, I was deeply unsettled by your criticisms of Israel when I first discovered your posts on Crooked Timber back in the day; later on, when I found your blog on Slate, I pretty much read everything you wrote (at the very least, literally every blog post) from mid-2010 until you moved to Vox. You played a particularly pivotal role in helping me structure a worldview on the subjects of economics, politics, and the relationship between them. Thanks for writing guys!


1) Paywalls seem to be catching on in the digital media business. Do you see Vox transitioning to a paywall in the medium term? Do you think it will be necessary in the long-term? If not, how do you see Vox succeeding where, say, the NYT could not?

2) How would either of you (or both) structure your ideal system of representation and government? You can, of course, assume whatever norms underlying this society you wish, or whatever prioritization of values/ends this government should pursue.

3) This might sound more like a complaint, so it should be read in the context of my fandom noted above: when you guys left WaPo and Slate respectively, I expected Vox to be the best thing ever: an endless stream of Moneybox posts and healthcare wonkiness and interviews with Paul Ryan that went deep into the details of his core beliefs and how they translated into his budget, etc. Instead, we’ve been getting clickbait Jon Stewart aggregation mixed with some clickbait “political correctness” chastisement. (I’m using the term the way Chait did.) My question is… what happened? Is this sellout going to last forever? Is it just to get the site up and running, or are the Vox Media overlords going to demand this sort of thing forever?

4) Speaking of the Chait piece, Ezra, what did you think of it? Thanks again!

ezra_klein26 karma

There are a lot of questions here, so let me focus on 3, as I think I did some of the business stuff above, remaking the government will require some time, and on Chait's piece, this Yglesias joint mostly sums up my thoughts.

So, to 3: I ran Wonkblog, and I can say, with perfect certainty, there is more and deeper policy coverage on Vox than we were able to do on Wonkblog. That's not because we did a bad job at Wonkblog or even because we're doing a better job at Vox. It's just that we have an immigration reporter, an education reporter, a second economy reporter, a drugs reporter, etc. There's just much more policy work. And there's way more of the policy work than there is of Stewart aggregation (or even of Stewart + John Oliver aggregation, and I don't say that lightly.)

But I hear complaints like yours occasionally, and I think there are a few reasons why.

1) A lot of people experience Vox through what pops on social media, and John Oliver videos and controversial arguments about race and gender tend to pop on social media (though so do all kinds of things). So if your Vox experience is social media driven, it's biased towards what does well on social media, and it's easy to mistake that as somehow representative of the output. On Wonkblog, that stuff more or less didn't exist, so it never filled the channel.

2) We haven't done much yet to differentiate sections of the site and make them easy to follow individually. You should be able to follow the culture side without having to pick through policy coverage. You should be able to follow our policy coverage without having to click past science coverage. Etc and so on. This is a major priority for us in the coming months.

All that said, speaking as the guy who edits a lot of this stuff, there's honestly more econ and policy coverage than I am able to read in a day on Vox. One way to follow it more tightly, if you want to, is to bookmark our Policy and Politics section.

That_Lawyer_Guy15 karma

This might sound more like a complaint, so it should be read in the context of my fandom noted above: when you guys left WaPo and Slate respectively, I expected Vox to be the best thing ever: an endless stream of Moneybox posts and healthcare wonkiness and interviews with Paul Ryan that went deep into the details of his core beliefs and how they translated into his budget, etc. Instead, we’ve been getting clickbait Jon Stewart aggregation mixed with some clickbait “political correctness” chastisement. (I’m using the term the way Chait did.) My question is… what happened? Is this sellout going to last forever? Is it just to get the site up and running, or are the Vox Media overlords going to demand this sort of thing forever?

I hope they answer this one.

albino-rhino4 karma

According to Chait, Klein's response in the past has been that if it attracts attention, it has value by definition - see this article

ezra_klein23 karma

That's actually not my position. Lots of stuff attracts attention that's worthless. And I think what Chait is saying there is actually different: that my view is that it's only what thrives in the market that's worthwhile — which is also something I disagree with.

That said, I do take these signals seriously. The fact that social media responds so powerfully to content about race, gender, sexuality, etc is, to me, a signal that these kinds of identities shape people's experiences even more strongly than I thought, and as an editor, I need to think hard about whether we're covering them enough.

We're exiting a long period in journalism where there was very little signal about what readers cared about and where white, male gatekeepers had incredible control over what was "important" enough to make it into print/onto TV. It would be very surprising if the legacy of that period was an absolutely perfect distribution of journalistic resources across topics. And so I try to be very open to the idea that what most interests me isn't always a great guide to what's most important in the lives of my audience.

jmurray2019 karma

I really enjoy your site and find myself clicking on vox links all the time. But this deadspin article- 46 Times Vox Totally Fucked Up A Story, and then this correction AFTER the deadspin article, makes me wonder if what I'm reading is going to have a correction shortly after I read anything under the vox name. What are you doing to stop so many corrections from having to be issued?

ezra_klein24 karma

So,a few things here.

Like any news organization, Vox sometimes fucks things up, and no one is angrier when it happens than I am. But it's also a value of mine to be extremely, aggressively transparent when we fuck things up — so, for instance, minor errors do not present as "updates", nor are they just changed quietly, which is the norm in many places. Everything is a correction. That's done to make it painful on the author, and create more incentive to check your work. But it also makes it easy to make Vox look inaccurate.

Deadspin's piece had some real things we messed up, and some very small things that they made look worse than they were. In one case, for instance, we used a USDA chart, learned the data was wrong, got USDA to correct their chart, and then corrected our own post. I don't feel like we failed our readers on that one.

That said, internally, we log all corrections and any writer with an unusual number gets a lot more oversight. If I thought Vox got things wrong with unusual frequency, I would be very freaked out. But I don't think that's the case. I think Deadspin wanted to make us look bad, and did so, but that's not the same as us having an accuracy problem.

NUMBERS235716 karma

1 - Jonathan Chait said about Vox:

Vox's combo of wonky, fact-laden policy explainers + dogmatic fact-free identity politics polemics is weird

And later said by "identity politics" he means articles about race and gender bias. Matt wrote an article about the phrase "identity politics" but do either of you have a response to the claim that articles on Vox about race and gender bias are dogmatic and fact free?

2 - The liberal blogosphere has always been about objectivity and not neutrality - saying that the old media would always assume the truth is halfway between what the two sides think, even if one side is just plain wrong. I'm assuming you both agree with this critique, but how do you ensure that you don't replace it with just a lazy assumption that the liberal side is objectively right? Yall are both liberals and it seems like this would be an easy trap to fall into - to not even look at the conservative claims because you're used to thinking "we don't have to pretend both sides are equally valid", and always deciding that the liberal claim is correct, until it's more force of habit than conscientious looking at the facts.

I ask because I think this happens sometimes with your site, particularly on articles about violence against women. Here is an article about the murky nature of the "1 in 5" claim about rape in colleges. Yet other articles just treat it as fact. This one repeats the claim, but the chart under #2 and the fact that 72% of rapes are committed by intimate partners implies that only 10% of women are raped, so it's internally contradictory. (the second article also links to the third for sources, but the third doesn't have sources for everything. In particular the claim that 1.3 million women are vicitmized annually, which IIRC had a cite when I first read it, but the cite also said that a much higher number of men are victimized than the rest of your article says).

3 - It seems like a lot of cultural criticism on the left, including Vox, is more about identifying one's self with liberal causes than actual commentating on music, movies, etc. Like deBoer says. Do you think this is true?

4 - Ezra says that "Affirmative Consent" is a terrible law and he supports it because it will change cultural views around sex and consent and have a sort of chilling effect. Are you worried that it might just lead people to view sexual assault policies as alarmist, out of touch with reality, biased, and safely ignored anyway because they're so uncommonly enforced (due to non-reporting and other things)? I think they might end up being like anti-drug education, or what you're taught about sex and STDs - so over the top and alarmist that kids just roll their eyes at the whole thing and assume it's just adults trying to rein in on their fun.

5 - If you could either have single payer health insurance or personally rewrite the entire nation's zoning laws, which would you do?

ezra_klein15 karma

So, to the Chait line that "Vox's combo of wonky, fact-laden policy explainers + dogmatic fact-free identity politics polemics is weird," I genuinely find that to be an amusingly unself-conscious thing to write. I think it's true about Chait, actually, as well, but I'm not sure what it proves.

In this case, Chait didn't like Amanda Taub's response to his piece on political correctness. Whether you agree with Chait or you agree with Taub, though, these aren't questions we can solve with a study. It's easy to be fact-laden when we're talking health reform because there is evidence that lets us predict, with a reasonable albeit not perfect level of accuracy, whether a given policy change is likely to raise or lower the number of uninsured. And if you've already agreed on the premise that raising the number of uninsured is the goal, then you can have a wonky, fact laden debate.

But Chait's original article wasn't wonky or evidence-based because he's debating on the level of values. He feels that a particular mode of discourse is alarming, and he has some anecdotes to support that, but it's not something that can really be resolve by a fact. I can't show you, in one chart, whether it's good for the idea of privilege to dig deeper roots into our political discourse or not.

What I think is unintentionally revealing about that line from Chait is that it exposes a place where privilege really does matter. There are some debates that have become normalized in American politics and we all agree these are Serious debates to be having. So on tax policy, the underlying values questions are well understood and well sorted so we can move onto technocratic arguments about how to achieve goals. Then there are other issues where a lot of people don't even recognize there's an issue (transgender discrimination, say) and so the arguments are different and more values based and less technocratic and so it's easier to dismiss them. But that's a kind of status quo bias that simply benefits those whose issues are well recognized by the status quo.

NUMBERS23573 karma

There are some debates that have become normalized in American politics and we all agree these are Serious debates to be having.

I know what you mean, like with people saying that abortion is just opiate-for-the-masses and a distraction from real issues like top marginal tax rates (or, I'd argue, "bitter and cling to guns and religion").

That said, followup ... your stated goal is to explain the news. There is a question about how to differentiate 'explaining the news' and 'advocating your own viewpoint' (or if there's even a principled distinction there). Resorting to numbers and facts is a way of making sure articles are 'explanatory' beyond just being a policy argument, so even if you're advocating for single payer in some article, the facts in it are useful explanation for everyone, including someone against single payer, or without enough info to decide yet.

But Taub's article doesn't fit that mold. If there's a difference between "explaining" and just arguing the liberal side of an issue, then without the fact-heavy stuff, how do you make sure things are actually explanatory?

ezra_klein7 karma

Something I do want to be clear o because it definitely confuses people: the core mission of Vox, and a huge part of what we do, is explaining the news. If major news has happened in a day and we haven't done our best to guide our readers through it I feel like we have failed. But explanation is not the only thing we do. Sometimes we write what we think about the news! Sometimes we make jokes! Sometimes we post charts!

At the top of the New York Times, it says "All the news that's fit to print." But some of what they print is not news — it's recipes, or exercise advice, or op-ed columns. It's like that.

pangian9 karma

Matt, how tall are you? Has being short affected your ability as a journalist?

ezra_klein12 karma

lol to this. Matt's pretty tall.

irondeepbicycle8 karma

Most of the questions here are dealing with the structure/content of Vox, so I want to give you an actual policy question.

If either/both of you had to pick, in your opinion, the single worst public policy that is currently in effect in America, what would it be? This could be federal, state, city, etc. Use any judgment criteria you want.

Thanks! Love your work.

ezra_klein14 karma

I don't know if this is a policy, exactly, but I think the filibuster rule is just intensely destructive in the Senate. If that answer doesn't qualify, then I think mandatory minimum sentencing requirements are pretty insane.

arlipman8 karma

How will Vox monetize to stay viable? I cant believe that banner ads will cover the burn that is required to generate all of the content.

ezra_klein11 karma

Definitely agree that the future is not 100% banner ads. But that's different than saying that there isn't a good business around advertising/events. There are a lot of different ways to think about this, but the one I subscribe to is you ultimately need to be offering some kind of non-commoditized product to advertisers, as Google and Facebook are always going to win in the straight commoditized advertising game. That may be something about your audience, something about the kind of advertising you can create or can run, or some combination thereof.

There are also other revenue streams, including events and subscriptions. All in, though, I'm really optimistic about the business model, and what I've seen over the last year has made me much more so, not less so. I think there's an enormous amount of pessimism around the journalism business but I think that has more to do with a changeover both in business models and cost structures.

TequilaMockingbird237 karma

What happened to getting in the weeds? Sure, the explainers are great, but what about technical pieces digging into the minutiae of the SGR or Disproportionate Share Hospital stuff? That kind of wonkiness didn't survive the move from WaPo

two_off7 karma

Were you briefed before your interview with the president about topics you are or aren't allowed to talk about?

ezra_klein20 karma

Nope. There were no ground rules in terms of what we could or couldn't ask about, and the WH had no knowledge of our questions.

JrDCofficial6 karma

How much is Discover paying you to do this AMA rn?

ezra_klein11 karma

Not enough. It's never enough.

WcP6 karma

What do you guys think of the recent-ish trend of journalism/media startups going with a non-profit approach i.e. ProPublica, Marshall Project, CIR, etc.? Is this sustainable, a fad, or something different entirely?


ezra_klein8 karma

I think a lot of journalism has always been funded by Rich People Who Cared. See the Grahams, or the Sulzbergers, or the history of TNR. The resulting institutions haven't always been structured as nonprofits under the tax code, but that's often what they were, functionally. So I think it's great, but also less of a change than it may seem.

poetYH926 karma

I noticed that many of the writers you brought on board were some of the leading journalists in their respective fields.

Who is someone that you wish you could have brought to Vox but ultimately weren't able to do so?

ezra_klein7 karma

I'll never tell.

rgottley6 karma

Hi Ezra and Matt,

Thanks for doing this. I’m a big fan of y’all’s work and really appreciated what y’all have done with Vox. I enjoyed Matt’s work at Slate, and y’all made a great hire in Todd Van Der Werff, so it’s been easy to follow those guys over to a new site. So first, thanks for what y’all do, and I look forward to what y’all will be doing with this site in the future.

Since I follow Vox pretty closely I could have number of questions, but I’ll stick to my biggest concern about the publication. Since you started last year, Vox has had an almost entirely unabashed liberal perspective. Matt’s economic writing usually supports Democratic policies and opposes Republicans; the “Obamacare implementation went great and people love it” is a classic of the genre. Vox is also a pretty reliable home of liberal thought on identity politics, and Ezra’s "'Yes Means Yes' is a terrible law, and I completely support it” sticks out here.

I do generally agree with Vox’s political perspective, and I’m as in favor of the old saw that “reality has a well-known liberal bias” as anyone. I also wouldn’t necessarily hold a publication to a requirement for false objectivity — a publication has to make value judgments somewhere. But I think there is some truth to the claims of conservative critics that Vox isn’t so much dedicated to analyzing the roots of public policy as advancing a partisan perspective. I feel this editorial direction could lead to a lot of confirmation of already-held beliefs, and as much as I appreciate my beliefs being confirmed, it could really limit Vox’s wider appeal.

So, how do you respond to criticisms of Vox’s political perspective?

ezra_klein15 karma

So this is a serious issue, and one I think about a lot. We have some diversity of perspective at Vox — Tim Lee, for instance, is a libertarian who previously worked at Cato — but I take the point that in a lot of political controversies, our writers, at this moment and given this constellation of political forces, tend to end up somewhere on the center-left.

Some of that is happenstance. There are a few job offers I've made to right-leaning writers that, for all the normal reasons, didn't pan out. I'll make more in the future. I don't have an ideological test for candidates.

Some of the issue here, I think, speaks to this moment in politics. The minority party — which is what the GOP has broadly been for the last six years — is often less responsible on policy than the governing party. The long-term assumptions in Paul Ryan's budget really did get ludicrous, for instance (look at discretionary spending), in a way that a budget that had to go through a Mitt Romney OMB probably wouldn't have. One problem for the GOP in recent years is that Obama has been willing to accept some of their positions (like deep spending cuts, or chained CPI, or even an individual mandate), but they have, for rational political reasons, not wanted to compromise with him, and it's just left them less ideological room in which to craft sound policies. I think that may change when they retake power.

So I wonder if we were in a Mitt Romney administration whether Vox's politics would look different to folks. In a world where it's the Democratic Party that has to make messaging more than policy I think you'd see more stuff like this or this.

But then there's a deeper issue here which is that the word "explain" does not carry some special power, just as the word "report" never did. I try to hire journalists who I think are knowledgeable on their topics, responsible in their approach, and very committed to helping their audience. But at the end of the day, they're just people. We talk a lot internally about having a process that is openminded even if the end story comes to a clear conclusion, and about being extremely generous to arguments you disagree with. We don't always succeed on these fronts, but we're trying, and trying hard every day.

What I do think is important though is that we're transparent in both how we got to a conclusion and what that conclusion is. I'm much less comfortable reading something from a reporter who has a point of view but has hidden that point of view in the quotes of their sources and the structure of their story than a reporter who has a point of view and comes out and explains why they think it's the right one and lets you disagree.

Dingareth5 karma

What do y'all think of the blowback on the traditional media from the whole Youtube interview thing? Hank Green brought up a good point about this current generation not seeing them with the same trust that our parent's generation had, and if anything it's been exacerbated in the past week by this whole Brian Williams thing. Even Obama acknowledged it in your interview with him.

Also, along those same lines, you've (along with Buzzfeed and Slate) have taken flack for your revenue models with sponsored content, native advertising and the like. Vox has been very clear about sponsored content, but other organizations don't always have that decency. Are you guys looking into other ways of funding the site, or are you pretty content with click-baity listicles to drive traffic and sponsored content paying for the more hardcore journalistic pieces?

ezra_klein12 karma

I thought the constant criticisms of Glo-Zell were grossly classist.

hodgesmr3 karma

Is it ever hard to enunciate Vox and people hear Fox?

ezra_klein6 karma

The struggle is real.

falsehood3 karma

Hi Ezra and Matt! I've been reading since before y'all were quite as visible and am happy to see that Vox is doing well.

What does "Our Town", "The Newsroom," or "West Wing" not capture about living and working in DC? What should the rest of us know about working in your field?

ezra_klein9 karma

I have the basically the same problem with all those depictions of Washington/the media — namely, that they overrate the power of individual actors and underrate systemic/institutional forces. In general, I think a lot less of politics is about what individual elected officials think and feel and say and do than people realize. That's not to say that the individuals don't play a crucial role, or even that there's no room for individuals to matter, but it is to say that an enormous amount of the decisions folks make would be the same no matter who was making the decision, or how the meeting went, etc. The system is set up to make certain choices way more attractive than others.

kyle_n2 karma

what does the vox say?

ezra_klein7 karma

NUfan20162 karma

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck? Please answer in the wonkiest way possible.

ezra_klein7 karma

I've always thought this is easy: the 100-duck sized horses. I got a good kicking foot.

soanierana2 karma

I believe that you've said publicly your business model relies on some degree of "native advertising" or "sponsored content". How can you assure Vox readers that these sponsorship deals do not shape the news and opinion pieces?

For example, in an excellent recent piece by Julia Belluz, an editor of the Toronto Star suggested she/you could be in the tank for Merck, the company that makes Gardasil. Without more transparency regarding who is sponsoring what content on the site, how can readers know that you aren't in fact being paid by Merck to write news pieces defending their product?

ezra_klein7 karma

I think the site is very transparent on this stuff. If we had native advertising from Merck you would see pieces with a Merck byline. And even in that case, we would feel no compunction criticizing them. Hell, I literally work for Comcast (through my contributor relationship to MSNBC, which is owned by NBC, which is owned by Comcast) and we have no problem criticizing them, and do so routinely.

News outlets have long had advertisers of all kinds. It's long been on the outlet to act ethically. Native content doesn't change that at all.

soanierana1 karma

I used to read the Internet Food Association back in the day. What are some of your current favorite restaurants in the DC area?

Related: how many times per month do you eat Great Wall?

ezra_klein6 karma

Thik Khao, the new Lao place up in Columbia, is my current favorite. Mintwood is great if you want to spend a bit of money. I think the burger at Central is basically perfect. The cheese bread at Compass Rose is mindblowing. Bub and Pop's has great sandwiches. Doi Moi is good. Whenever I have an Amsterdam falafel I wonder why I don't eat more Amsterdam falafel.