Ezra Klein’s ‘Project X’ takes shape

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After weeks of speculation about his departure from The Washington Post and then more guessing as to who would back his post-Wonkblog future, Ezra Klein said Sunday that the new venture would be with the web publisher Vox Media.

Klein, a longtime Post staffer who built a cult audience at the politics and policy blog, recently became a high profile free agent after the paper and its new owner, Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos, rebuffed his proposal to build the property into a larger enterprise.

Klein made the announcement of his new plans in a post on The Verge, one of Vox's network of web publications that also includes SB Nation, the Curbed Network and Polygon.

Though talks between Klein and Vox C.E.O. Jim Bankoff began two to three months ago, Bankoff told Capital that the company had been in the market for a "more general news site" for much longer.

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"Independently Vox had been contemplating approaches for a more general news site that focused on news, culture, politics and economics…but we wanted to do it in a unique way and we wanted to do it with the right team," Bankoff said when reached by phone Sunday night. "It took us a while to find the right people with the right ideas who can lead the team."

The for-now-named "Project X" fit the bill. Klein's post said he began developing plans for the site early last year with former WaPo director of platforms Melissa Bell and departing Slate blogger Matt Yglesias, both of whom will join the new venture.

Klein didn't allow for much detail of what the new publication would look like in The Verge post, but was clear that his team will look for a format to provide readers with more context for news stories as they develop.

"We really wanted to build something from the ground up that helps people understand the news better," Klein told The New York Times' David Carr in a column published shortly after the announcement. "We are not just trying to scale Wonkblog, we want to improve the technology of news, and Vox has a vision of how to solve some of that."

A general job posting for the site on Vox's listings page provided some more hints.

"We'll need writers who are obsessively knowledgeable about their subjects to do that reporting and write those explainers -- as well as ambitious feature pieces," the posting read, before providing a more telling detail: "We'll need coders and designers who can build the world's first hybrid news site/encyclopedia."

Bankoff told Capital to expect the first iteration of "Project X" sometime in the spring though there’s no definitive date.

Vox had long been suspected as a landing pad for Klein and his new recruits -- in addition to Bell and Yglesias, he's hired Post reporter Dylan Matthews -- but it would not have been as apparent back in November. After Vox acquired the Lockhart Steele-helmed Curbed Network, Bankoff told Capital the media organization was “not going into an acquiring stage.”

Even in the wake of the announcement, Bankoff stuck to his wording.

“Well first this isn't an acquisition,” he said. “This is a build-on. We've got a very full plate now. We'll have soon to be seven brands across major categories and we're making an investment in all of them.”

The addition of Klein essentially turns Vox into a national news lifestyle organization, adding to its portfolio of sites that cover tech, sports, video games, and, via Curbed, retail, real estate and dining. Though Klein told BuzzFeed in a Q&A that the new project would expand beyond Wonkblog's traditional scope.

"We intend to be incredibly good at policy and politics but also sports and science," he said.

Bankoff believed the addition would help grow the sort of readers it traditionally pitched to advertisers. 

"This will be our seventh brand so our goal is to take these large and broad consumer categories that are big and have mainstream appeal and potential and go about building media brands that serve them and go out there and create sites for a web-savvy audience," Bankoff said. "This might be our seventh brand, but what they [all] have in common is that they serve these web-savvy, sophisticated, primarily adult audiences."