Sunday, January 26, 2014

For Ezra Klein, the past isn't past. It's news.

New York Times media columnist David Carr, delving into why Ezra Klein could not find a home for his new venture at the Washington Post, cites Henry Blodget in a claim that digital media is different in kind from print media, and builds up to this:
Great digital journalists consume and produce content at the same time, constantly publishing what they are reading and hearing.
Klein himself, however, describes the mission of the new venture as doing exactly the opposite:
Early last year, Melissa Bell, Matt Yglesias and I began wrestling with a question that had bugged all of us for a long time: why hadn't the Internet made the news better at delivering crucial context alongside new information?

This year, we're founding a new publication at Vox Media in order to do something about it.
New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic. The overriding focus on the new made sense when the dominant technology was newsprint: limited space forces hard choices. You can't print a newspaper telling readers everything they need to know about the world, day after day. But you can print a newspaper telling them what they need to know about what happened on Monday. The constraint of newness was crucial.

The web has no such limits. There's space to tell people both what happened today and what happened that led to today. But the software newsrooms have adopted in the digital age has too often reinforced a workflow built around the old medium. We've made the news faster, more beautiful, and more accessible. But in doing we've carried the constraints of an old technology over to a new one.

Today, we are better than ever at telling people what's happening, but not nearly good enough at giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what's happened. We treat the emphasis on the newness of information as an important virtue rather than a painful compromise.
Ezra professes to want to slow the news down, not speed it up. To sink deeper roots, not whitewater raft the Twitter stream. For Ezra, the past not only isn't dead, it's...news. He claims that Vox's "world class technology platform" will enable this four-dimensionalizing of the news business.

Similarly, in speculating why Post owner Jeff Bezos, a backer of the lean, quick, low-budget BusinessInsider, declined to back Klein's new venture, Carr implicitly contrasts WonkBlog's labor intensive wonkery with BusinessInsider's flash-processing. But that does not explain why Vox, which Carr casts as the quintessential digital media company, would invest in Klein & Co. when Bezos would not. Except perhaps that the Wonkblog team's desk space, etc. would presumably cost more at the WaPo.

 At bottom, it seems that Vox just has more capital and will to invest in ventures of uncertain profitability than the Post, notwithstanding Bezos's deep pockets.

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