Via John Sexton and Ace, I’m torn. On the one hand, the thought of pompous young Beltway lefties taking it upon themselves to “explain” the news to the unwashed gives me a headache. It’s as if the “wonk” brand didn’t carry a high enough smarter-than-you quotient for them so they decided to ramp up to “explanatory journalism.” They should have named it “Thought Leader” just for laughs. My sense of it after watching the vid is that it’s basically going to be Wonkblog but with more background in each piece and probably lots more charts and graphics. See this post for an extreme example. It’ll be as reliably liberal as ever but it’ll be presented as straightforward exposition; as lefties love to tell themselves, it’s reality that has a liberal bias, not them. (Actual quote from the site: “Our end goal isn’t telling you what just happened, or how we feel about what just happened, it’s making sure you understand what just happened.” Uh huh.) I’m imagining Vox as a complement to Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight site, which is itself launching next Monday. Silver’s site will, I assume, focus on data deep-dives; I think Klein’s site is aimed at a more casual news consumer, who wants to get caught up quickly on a particular story but isn’t necessarily interested in nerding out at length. Trust Ezra, Matt, and company to give you a concise yet scrupulously fair and balanced take. They have no agenda.
On the other hand, you underestimate at your peril a site that’s marketing itself as willing to hand-hold readers who came to a story late or in bits and pieces and hope to learn quickly why everyone else seems to be talking about it. Someone who enjoys a BuzzFeed post with 37 GIFs in it might not sit still for a long Nate Silver data-crunch but they might be willing to devote three minutes to Ezra patiently leading them through an easily digestible Q&A annotated with simple graphs. If you want to bring people around to your side politically, you should aim for the low-information readers; they’re the natural target for “explanatory journalism.” (Ace thinks Vox is going to rely heavily on hyperlinks but I’d be surprised. Low-information readers are the least likely to actually follow the links. What’s the point of linking if you’re “explaining,” after all?) As the site’s fame spreads, it may be that casual news readers start to turn to it as a de facto fact-checker, e.g., “It sure looks like Obama totally cocked up his ‘red line’ on Syria. Please tell me I’m wrong, Vox!” (Don’t worry, they will.) The “impartial” arbiter niche is a powerful one, which is why you’ve seen so many fact-check sites spring up in the past few years. None of them have Ezra’s cachet online, though, and few if any of them are willing to get into detail on policy. Typically they confine themselves to fact-checking a specific statement from a politician, which ends up in tedious true/false/pants-on-fire “grades” or whatever. Vox won’t restrict itself to that, I assume.
Look at it this way. The more successful it is, the more pressure there’ll be to build a right-wing alternative, which means new opportunities for conservative writers. So good luck to them.