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11 questions you weren’t too embarrassed to ask Vox in our AMA

Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein and Executive Editor Matt Yglesias did a Reddit AMA on Thursday, discussing everything from clickbait to Obama with the citizens of the internet. Here's a roundup of some of the most interesting questions and answers.

1) Burritos

Question from Reddit user brheas: Matt, what is your favorite kind of burrito?

Matt: I like the barbacoa from Chipotle.

2) Obama interview ground rules

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

Ezra: 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.

3) Vox versus other sites

wonkinakilt: Vox, FiveThirtyEight, and The Upshot all launched around the same time, and with at least superficial similarities. On that note: Do you think of them as your primary peers/competitors, more than traditional newspapers? What do you think you, FiveThirtyEight, and The Upshot each do particularly well, and what do you wish they (and you) did differently?

Matt: I think it's a little misleading to think of websites as primarily competing with other similar websites. At this point in history, any great online content that proves to audiences and advertisers the value of the web as a platform really just serves to grow the entire pie.

4) Clickbait

coolsnow7: 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?

Ezra: 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.

5) Wonky stories

TequilaMockingbird23: 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

Matt: Perhaps I could interest you in the weedsy details of Fair Value Accounting.

TequilaMockingbird23: THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT SON!

Ezra: Oh didn't it?

6) Obama's scent and comment kerfluffle

pnewell: What does President Obama smell like? What's your take on the small kerfluffle about Obama's comments on media overhyping terrorism in regards to climate change?

Matt: He smells pretty normal. I wrote this whole thing about my reaction to the gaffe kerfluffle. I found it pretty depressing.

7) Monetizing Vox

arlipman: 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: 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.

8) Evergreen content

renano: Matt, you recently talked about your efforts in refreshing and re-publicizing "evergreen" content. How's that project progressing? What were you most surprised by?

Matt: It's progressing quite nicely! We slowed down the pace of evergreen republishing since I wrote that story, but we're doing it on a continuous basis now and it keeps paying dividends.

The most surprising thing about it, I guess, is how unsurprising it is. Everyone has always published evergreen pieces. Republishing select old ones really turns out not to change very much. It just lets you share those stories with more people.

9) Vox's political perspective

rgottley: 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: 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.

rgottley: Thanks for the considered, reasoned response. It's clear from this that political perspective is a high priority issue for you, and I'm glad you're taking it seriously. The distinction of Republicans making "messaging more than policy" is a good one, and one I hadn't really considered.

10) Articles on the US bombing ISIS ... and on shorts

hodgesmr: How do you decide that you're going to publish both Why the US is bombing ISIS in Iraq and Should you wear shorts in public today? and say you're 'explaining the news'? Only one of those seems to fit your mission.

Matt: Well, look, it's true that men face the question of shorts versus grownup pants on a daily basis while the ISIS situation has little practical impact on a normal person's life. Nevertheless, I do think the mission of explaining the news needs to extend to national security issues and not just stick to the shorts.

11) Vox pronunciation

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

Ezra: The struggle is real.

There were also questions about job opportunities, which you can find on our career page.