Vox.com and News Flash Cards: What Do You Think?

Vox-MediaFinally Ezra Klein‘s Vox.com has debuted, and the Internet has spoken. Of course, the former Wonkblogger and Washington Post resident celebrity’s move away from legacy media to, essentially a startup, was big news, so anyone interested in new media is watching closely.

Vox Media has been known in recent years for its success in online publishing — because they’re digitally native, they’ve been able to pioneer the art of creating cool-looking “verticals,” relying on a combination CEO and Chairman Jim Bankoff often champions: top-notch talent and the best possible technology.

The seventh of Vox’s properties behind The Verge, Polygon, Eater, SB Nation, Racked and Curbed, Vox.com is a slight departure from the company’s typical paradigm; instead of focusing on sports or food (SB Nation and Eater, respectively), its role is to report and analyze general news. Klein, several of his Post colleagues and other reporters, totaling a 20-person team, were brought in to do explanatory journalism. That is, to provide ongoing resources for understanding the concepts behind news stories, whether they’re politically, financially  or culturally focused.

Which brings us to “Vox Cards,” a sort of digital index card akin to how you studied for college exams. The cards take big topics like the Affordable Care Act, Bitcoin, global warming, immigration reform and my favorite — “Congressional dysfunction” — and break them down into 20 or so simple questions and answers that hopefully help readers understand the why it matters aspect of the news. Vox Cards are linked to in articles, which include “highlighted” words. Basically, Vox Cards help you digest the “vegetables” of current events in a slideshow form.

Vox.com admits the site is very much still a work in progress on its welcome blog post (“We’re launching this fast for one simple reason: there is no better way to figure out the best way to do explanatory journalism on the web than to do explanatory journalism on the web,” Klein, Melissa Bell and Matt Yglesias wrote), but to me, it looks pretty good for a first launch. Yes, the content is skewed heavily toward politics now, but the site is clean and pretty, which makes some editorial oversights forgivable.

fbVox’s Chorus CMS has been praised for its design, functionality and storytelling capabilities by tech geeks and journalists alike. It’s very attractive to legacy journalists who have been limited by the tools available to them. Bell told the New York Times, “The joke is that Chorus is a unicorn with a kitten on its back. People think it is a magical system that fixes everything.” And as Bankoff said to the Times, he uses the technology as an incentive to potential recruits.

But maybe Vox isn’t all it has promised to be — at least not yet. Salon’s Daniel D’Addario wrote that Klein and his team, despite their recent post on “Game of Thrones,” “has no idea how to cover culture … What feels illuminating when applied to public policy can feel lamely reductive when applied to culture,” he said. Right-leaning digital publication The Federalist’s David Harsanyi wrote in a bold piece entitled “How Vox Makes Us Stupid” that even Klein, obligated to fair and balanced journalism, has already editorialized his coverage. Harsanyi says even Vox Cards are guilty of using facts (“evidence,” as Klein calls it) that they deem most important to promote their explanatory journalism.

“I have no doubt Vox will explain the intellectual purity of progressive positions to many liberal readers in a lucid and entertaining way. What it probably won’t do is help anyone with genuine intellectual curiosity “understand the news” any better,” he wrote.

What are your initial thoughts of Vox.com’s coverage? Are we in a golden era of explanatory journalism? What topics would you suggest Vox.com covers in future sets of Vox Cards?