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How Journalism Gets Done at Vox
August 27th, 2015

Like everyone else, I watched the Vox-Ezra Klein-Torbjorn Tannsjo-Brian Leiter fight yesterday. And truth be told, I don’t really have a dog in the fight. Vox.com is Vox.com, of course. But I don’t know Tannsjo at all and only know Leiter by reputation. (A friend of mine quipped, “They have to be like the Babe Ruth of assholes at Vox to out-asshole Leiter.”)

Also, I spend a lot of time on both sides of the editing/writing fence. I’ve had pieces get turned down, or spiked after acceptance. And I’ve had to do the rejection and spiking. This is all totally part of the writing life and part of being a professional is making your peace with this as part of the business.

What people who haven’t edited before may not understand is that the reasons for rejecting a piece can range from the straight-forward to the deeply complex. For instance, it could just be that the editor doesn’t like the piece. Or it could be that the editor likes the piece, but had previously rejected a similar piece by a long-time contributor, and doesn’t want to rub that other writer the wrong way. It could be that the editor likes the piece, but doesn’t have space to run it in a timely fashion. Or it could even be that the editor likes the piece, but thinks it would fit better at another publication.

There are hundreds of institutional, temporal, logistical, and relational considerations that go into these decisions, most of which the writer is never aware and which are too complicated and/or confidential to be explained. Which is why, to my mind, the ideal rejection is just explaining that the piece “isn’t quite right,” thanking the writer for the submission, and, if you have any good ideas on where the piece might find a home, then pointing the writer in the direction of another publication.

Again, I’ve been on both sides of those kinds of exchanges and if they follow that form, then both parties should be able to walk away happy.

All of that said, what’s offensive about the Vox situation isn’t that the site says they’re uncomfortable running a piece that implicitly questions the wisdom/morality of abortion and contraception. I don’t think that’s anything we didn’t know about the seriousness of the people at VOXDOTCOM already. (And on this score, I don’t think Ezra Klein’s explainer/non-apology really helped: Hey! We almost hired two pro-life people once!)

No, the really bad part is that Tannsjo hadn’t just submitted a piece on spec. Vox went to him and commissioned the piece. And then, when they didn’t like it, they did . . . nothing. They just sat on it.

That’s bad.

The writer/editor compact has two parts. The first is that writers should live with editorial decisions and be okay with them. But the second is that editors should deal with writers promptly, transparently, and courteously.

If you solicit a piece from someone, you owe them a great deal. They’ve just done a bunch of work for you, for free. You’re not obligated to publish them. But if you decide not to publish them, you’re obligated to let them know that fact immediately. You should apologize for the situation not working out. You should pay them a kill fee. And if you want to remain on good terms, you might help them find a different home for the piece.

You don’t just try to pocket-veto the piece and then, when pressed, send an email to the writer making it sound like it’s their fault for writing such an offensive, deviationist essay.

That’s the part of this episode which reveals things we didn’t already know about Vox.


Deadspin on Vox.com
January 1st, 2015

Deadspin is all up in Vox.com’s grill with a catalogue of 46 errors. It’s entertaining.

But I’m not entirely sure if this is a bug or a feature for Vox.com, since it seems like their model is basically to be Slate Double X for the general news reader. In which case viral hate-clicks are pretty valuable.

Update: Santino has his own list, which is pretty awesome, too. I’m more and more convinced that for Vox.com, these “mistakes” are actually part of their business strategy. Move fast and break shit, dudes!

Updated, again: And then there’s this from Sean Trende. It’s Click-Hole: Politics Edition!

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Another Data Point on VOXDOTCOM
July 16th, 2014

Refusal to correct an “error.” Though in Vox’s defense, it’s really hard to sort out what is and isn’t true if the “facts” aren’t on Google.


Santino. WFB. Juicevox Mafia.
April 30th, 2014

As a friend of mine delicately put it over email, OH MY GOD!

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so just go. Go. GO.






Disclaimer: The images you are about to see are merely historical recreations of what might have transpired based on meticulous research and the public record.


Meanwhile, over at juicevoxmedia . . .
March 14th, 2014

Galley Friend J.S. points us to this intensely funny piece asking Ezra Klein about whatever happened to the Loose Nuke hunters who were going to be fired because of the Sequester, or debt ceiling, or whatever. (Here’s the Klein explainer where he worries that “The people responsible for tracking down loose nukes will lose their jobs.”) Sample awesome:

Last year, Ezra Klein was among the first to break the news that if there were a ‘sequester’, the first item on the chopping block would be our unheralded crack squad of heroes who Track Down Loose Nukes. . . . [I]f the government budget is ever constrained in any way, you also gotta fire ‘em. Immediately. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, Ezra Klein doesn’t like it, President Obama doesn’t like it, but it’s the law.

Well now fast forward to 2014 and Ezra Klein is forming a new media whatchamacalit with Yggie, or Nate Silver or whoever the hell. Some 19 year olds. I know they all have close cropped brown hair and careful stubble and possibly thin hipster sideburns and glasses and they like Arcade Fire or The Arcade Fire (or is it An Arcade Fire). They are ‘wonks’ because they know how to make graphs on a spreadsheet, as so few people do. And they all, every last one of them, went to the Dalton school followed by Princeton. (Or Middlebury, whatever it’s called).

But I digress. Ezra’s media venture, or possibly app, which at press time I believe is going to be called “Vonk”, is going to explain the news to us. Because how often are you paying attention to the news and you’re reading or hearing the words and you’re like Yes yes, this is all very well and good, but where’s the part that explains what’s being said here? And that’s why there’s Vlok. Every piece of news, every event, will now be helpfully Explained to you, either by some kid who 2 years ago was getting up at 6:45 and grabbing his French horn case to catch the bus to that faraway magnet school, or by Ezra Klein who knows how to Explain what’s what because he apparently cultivated some friendships with and hangs out with some people who work in the White House.

It is to the latter then that I wish to direct our attention. Ezra Klein. He told us about the Loose Nuke Tracker-Downers. He warned us about the constitutional requirement to fire them immediately anytime a projected spent-dollar was eliminated from a budget. Again and again. And for this, we thank him. But we need him again. Because now it occurs to me: it’s been over a year since our Loose Nuke Tracker-Downers were almost fired. That means they’ve been on the job, 24/7, for more than a year. So here’s my question for Ezra Klein, and I sincerely hope he can discover, from his trendy fellow molecular-gastronomy aficionado White House contacts, and then tell to us, the answer to this question:

How many Loose Nukes have been Tracked Down in the past year? At least a ballpark figure please. And then what was done with them once they were Tracked Down?

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PC Comic Books
December 7th, 2015

There’s Korean Hulk now, but you probably knew that.

I have a piece over at Acculturated arguing that there’s a difference between replacing/reimagining a character for multi-cultural purposes (Spider-Man, Thor, Ms. Marvel, just about every stunt-casting done in the last five years) and creating new characters (Jessica Jones). My ur-example of a great character replacement which has nothing to do with political correctness: Ellen Yindel.


David Remnick’s New Yorker Is Racist
May 26th, 2015

And Vox.com has done the math to prove it. So problematic. SO PROBLEMATIC!

Where is the sweet meteor of death when you need it?


For the Yglesias Clip File
April 6th, 2015


For the Yglesias Clip File
April 2nd, 2015

Just a reminder: Matt Yglesias doesn’t know anything about the economics and sociology of the family, either.

Though I bet he skimmed through part of an Atlantic article on the stuff once and follows @stephaniecoontz on Twitter. Which totally makes him expert enough to write about the subject.

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George Packer vs. Ezra Klein
January 8th, 2015

On the subject of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Ezra Klein has taken a perfectly Voxian position–which is to say, come out with something so transparently foolish that there are only two possible explanations for it, and the more likely one is that he’s simply trolling for clicks. It’s the op-ed version of search-engine optimization. I wonder when the rest of the world is going to catch on and start treating Klein, Yglesias, et al accordingly.

We are at one of those rare moments suffused with such moral clarity that there’s no daylight between the Washington Free Beacon and the New Yorker. Seriously, take quick a taste test. Is this the Free Beacon or the New Yorker:

A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents. Islam today includes a substantial minority of believers who countenance, if they don’t actually carry out, a degree of violence in the application of their convictions that is currently unique. Charlie Hebdo had been nondenominational in its satire, sticking its finger into the sensitivities of Jews and Christians, too—but only Muslims responded with threats and acts of terrorism. For some believers, the violence serves a will to absolute power in the name of God, which is a form of totalitarianism called Islamism—politics as religion, religion as politics. “Allahu Akbar!” the killers shouted in the street outside Charlie Hebdo. They, at any rate, know what they’re about.

So Vox.com had to find an angle to drive some traffic.

It’s going to be awesome when they eventually go public.

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The New Republic, Marty Peretz, Lando Calrissian
December 16th, 2014

We’ve got two interesting pieces this week about the end of the New Republic, one from Ryan Lizza, the other from John Judis. If you want to read my long thoughts on the subject, they ran in last week’s newsletter, here. The short version is that what worries me is that this may be a generational problem, and not just a New Republic problem.

In other words: Millennials < Boomers?

Now there’s a frightening thought.

Moving on, what struck me most in these two post mortems is a little nugget from Judis in which he mentions that he and owner Marty Peretz were not on speaking terms, owing to their widely divergent views on Israel. Think about that for a moment.

In many of the pieces lamenting the demise of TNR people have gone out of their way to qualify their praise by noting what a terrible, awful human being Marty Peretz was/is. Max Fisher at Vox called him “monstrous.”

Yet Peretz was broad-minded enough that he employed, for years, someone to whom was diametrically opposed on what was, to him, the central political issue of his time. He was so opposed to Judis’ views on Israel that he wouldn’t talk to him, but he continued to pay his salary because he thought that Judis’ talents made him, on balance, an asset to the magazine.

That’s amazingly tolerant and is the kind of forbearance that we ought to celebrate in an owner. The fact that he has been, instead, condemned, tells you an awful lot about the rigidity of today’s liberalism.

One other note: Up until the Lizza and Judis pieces appeared, Richard Just had been TNR’s George Lazenby–the editor completely ignored in accounts of What Went Wrong. I don’t quite understand why that is. To my eyes, the TNR Just put out was a better magazine than any of the other versions in my time in Washington. Substantively better than Sullivan’s TNR; light years better than the Beinart TNR; and a little bit better than Foer’s. Add to that the fact that we now know that Just was the first person inside the New Republic to understand who and what Chris Hughes was–and that he tried to stop him.

In a way, Richard Just is a bit like the New Republic’s Lando Calrissian: He made an arrangement with the Dark Side under duress in order to preserve his city in the clouds. You can practically hear the exchange:

Just: You said they’d be left at the city under my supervision!
Hughes: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

I wonder why Just hasn’t been praised for his prescience and recognized as the first guy to get screwed by Hughes.

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The New Republic
December 5th, 2014

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about Chris Hughes and the New Republic. But for now, this list of TNR resignations is notable not for who is on it, but for who isn’t:

Who seems to be the only TNR writer staying on? Brian Beutler. Welcome to the new New Republic.