Programming note from Vox general manager Andrew Golis: When Melissa, Matt, and Ezra started Vox, they wrote on a regular basis about the challenges, experiments, and successes they had building the team and brand. But then they got busy building the team and brand! In 2017, we’re bringing the “How we make Vox” writing back. Sometimes, I’ll offer updates on experiments and projects. Other times, like this, we’ll share internal news and thinking about what we’re doing.
Today, a 2017 memo from Vox editor in chief Ezra Klein about some exciting leadership changes and how we’re attacking the challenge of covering the policy and politics of the dawning Trump era. If you have questions, concerns, or compliments to send our way, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy new year and welcome back. I hope your holiday was restful and restorative, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.
When we launched Vox, we talked about the tyranny of the new — the way the latest thing had a habit of crowding out the most important things. In 2016, Donald Trump weaponized the media’s distractibility. Day to day, the whole world knew about his tweets, his outrageous statements, his latest poll numbers. Much less was known about his policy plans (or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton’s policy plans).
Within this chaos, Vox did vital work. Our explainers were necessary. Our interest in policy — and our insistence that policy is interesting — was important. I think Zack Beauchamp's "White Riot" remains the best piece I read contextualizing Trumpism, Dara Lind’s work remains the best guide to Trump’s immigration policies, and Sarah Kliff has been peerless on both the policy and politics of Obamacare reform. (Her recent stories on Trump-voting Obamacare enrollees in Kentucky are some of the best journalism published this year, bar none.)
Our audience responded to this work. In November, Vox hit 29 million monthly uniques in Comscore. Our video audience has also grown; we’ve passed 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and our average watch time of more than three minutes is testament to the quality of the videos Joe and Joss’s team produces.
I am deeply proud of the work we’ve done, and the many, many days in which we kept our focus on what was important. But there were days, too, in which we got distracted and reactive, days when we let the outrageous and ephemeral story-of-the-day overwhelm our coverage of the deeper drivers of the election, and those are lessons learned.
2017 will be a fast year. The Trump presidency, paired with the GOP Congress and a conservative Supreme Court, could bring a flurry of policymaking unlike any in memory. Or it could go the other way: The Trump team’s inexperience, the president-elect’s idiosyncrasies, and the divisions among Republicans could lead to a governing party at war with itself.
Either way, our mission in covering the Trump era will be clear: We are here to provide the best coverage of policy and how it affects people. The reason politics is important — the reason it’s not just a bitter clash between rival sports teams, or a reality TV show undergoing a particularly entertaining season — is that it decides who has the power to make policy, and that policy changes people’s lives. We won’t lose sight of that.
The good news is this is what Vox was built to do. Our focus on policy is bone-deep — it’s how many of us started in this business, it’s what many of our formats were built for. Card stacks emerged from our frustration that the day to day of Obamacare was covered well, but there was no good source to go to learn about the whole of the law. Our explainer videos spring from experiments in conveying the importance of Spanish bond prices to an audience that needed to know about them, but didn’t yet know why.
But ideas are easy. It’s execution that’s hard. And that’s why we’ve spent the past few months reorganizing Vox to face this moment.
The great Jim Tankersley will be joining us from the Washington Post to lead our policy and politics section. I’m thrilled by this hire. Jim is one of the policy journalists, editors, and thinkers I admire most. He combines a head for numbers with a heart for people — he will make sure that our focus on policy never comes at the expense of our compassion for, and focus on, those it affects.
I’m also thrilled to announce two big promotions that will support our efforts to attack this new era with clarity and focus.
Laura McGann, who has served as our field general on debate nights and election nights as our deputy managing editor for policy and politics, will become our first editorial director. As editorial director, Laura will be responsible for honing the overall voice of the newsroom and making sure we’re covering the most important stories of the day creatively, aggressively, and in a way that honors our mission and serves our audience. All section editors will report to Laura.
And Lauren Williams, who has done an incredible job managing and driving the newsroom, will expand that role as our new executive editor. Lauren will be focusing on our overall editorial strategy, direction and culture — ensuring that all teams have the structure and resources they need to do world-class work, and looking into the future to make sure we’re always building toward the best coverage of policy and politics, culture, identities, international news, and more. Laura will report to Lauren, as will some other positions that we’ll be announcing soon.
2017 will ask a lot of us. And Lauren, Laura, and Jim will ask a lot of you. I’m thrilled to have them helping to lead us in this moment, thankful for the work we will all do together, and proud to come to the office every day alongside all of you.