On the latest episode of Recode Decode, we returned to Manny’s in San Francisco for another live conversation about the future; last time, Kara spoke with Y Combinator’s Sam Altman about ethics, AI, Facebook and more. This week, Vox.com founder and editor-at-large Ezra Klein joined Kara onstage for a lively chat about the future of journalism, the decline of scoops, the role of political journalists post-2016 and why Klein thinks Twitter is making all those journalists dumber.
“It’s making everybody talk about and think the same things all at the same time,” he said. “The best journalists are the people who are finding things out or seeing things or hearing things that the other journalists aren’t. You got to be pretty damn smart to look at what everybody else is looking at and see something they’re not gonna see.”
“Most of us are not that smart,” Klein added. “Twitter is making us all dumber because we’re seeing the same shit all the time. … [And] I think it makes us meaner. I think it displays us often at our worst. I don’t think it’s been good for audiences’ trust in us.”
You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Ezra.
Manny Yekutiel: So, tonight’s conversation is about the future of journalism. A lot has changed in the field of journalism over the last 10 to 15 years, and they’re gonna talk a little bit about what has changed, what’s happening now and their perspective on the future. These are two people who are so qualified to talk about this very topic, probably two of the most qualified people in the country. We’re honored to have them here at the corner of 16th and fucking Valencia in San Francisco at my small business.
Real quick, the goal of Manny’s is to create a central place for people to become better informed and more involved citizens. That’s what this is about. We have events every night this week, next week and the week before New Year’s.
Without further ado, Kara Swisher and Ezra Klein.
Kara Swisher: Thank you. Wow. Goodness sake, the future of journalism. Jesus Christ. That is true about Sally Yates. I have a huge man-crush on her. Then she texts me and I’m like, “Ah, it’s Sally Yates!” every time it happens. And I have to say, “No, I can’t have dinner with you, Sally. Next week, next time I’m in D.C.”
Anyway, it was such a good week too. Think about it. I mean, I get the whole lowdown on Michael Cohen.
Ezra Klein: I was gonna get take-out.
Yeah, okay. Okay.
Ezra Klein: I’m not getting take-out to be here.
Come on, to this week. Come on. I’d like to line up her and Preet Bharara and just hit them until they tell me everything. Anyway, so we’re gonna talk about the future of journalism. Ezra Klein is my friend and he is my colleague at Vox Media. We are now … what are we?
Ezra Klein: Partners.
Partners. We are now partners. We’re doing a lot more stuff together. Ezra just moved to the Bay Area. Let’s give him a round of applause for being here. I have just moved half time. Not half time, a third of the time to D.C. because my kids are there. We have traded places a little bit, but I’m here a lot also.
I want to get started. Ezra, I wanted you to talk a little bit about why you moved here. What was the thinking? You’ve gotten infected by the tech bug in a lot of ways. But the idea, not the bad one. Talk a little bit about why you’re here and what you’re thinking about. Then we’re gonna get into talking about journalism and other topics.
Ezra Klein: Like any move, a bunch of it was personal. I’m from California. I’m from Irvine, California. I’ve been in D.C. for 15 years. I actually loved D.C. but that is also a long time to be in D.C. I took a book leave out in Half Moon Bay earlier this year. I just felt like I could think. There was just space from the news cycle, which I’ve lived in a news response mode for 15 years. I’ve been there for a long time doing that.
I don’t think I realized just how loud the buzzing in my own mind was. Part of it was just being out there having a little bit more room, having a little bit more elevation on what is a political conversation has gotten more and more bizarre. More and more, we can talk about this in our future of journalism talk. I think more and more distorted by the actual journalistic conversation itself. Part of it is you guys have such nice weather out here. Everybody wants big picture. We left Half Moon Bay and we got back into a D.C. heat wave. Two weeks later we’re like, what if the weather could just be nice all the time?
The other thing, though — and this is what Kara is alluding to, with the “tech bug” — this story here to me has become really interesting. My work as a journalist is I cover problems of governance. I cover the way governance fails. I cover the way governance succeeds. I’m interested in the way institutions are governed and the policy that comes out of that governance.
Silicon Valley for a long time was a story of innovation. Of course, in some ways still is. I think for a lot of us now who have to live in the world that you all have created, it’s not a story of governance. How do you govern these platforms? How do you govern these companies? How do you govern organizations and products and tools and institutions that have more power than they ever anticipated? They don’t fit into a lot of our traditional models.
That story of governance, particularly as I began to feel that everything in politics was increasingly down stream of changes it had particularly been wrought in our communications by tech. Coming out to spend more time thinking about and trying to understand that governance problem and where it was going was really appealing to me.
You moved out here. You moved to Berkeley, correct?
Ezra Klein: I did not.
Ezra Klein: I’m a very private person. I’m not telling you all where I moved. You all know enough about me.
Enough about you. You moved out here because you wanted to understand it, to be part of the culture here, to figure out because you think this is the story. This is the journalism story.
Ezra Klein: Yeah. It’s a strange culture. It is a different intellectual culture. The people here are peculiar. They’re peculiar people. The institution here is different.
This is coming from D.C., so that’s a low bar.
Ezra Klein: It’s true. I always say that one thing I think that is interesting about the two places is D.C. is this place where the culture is defined. It’s shaped by people watching solvable problems prove impossible to solve. Silicon Valley is shaped by people watching impossible problems prove possible to solve. That second one sounds better and for a long time when I said it, it really sounded better.
It also can create an optimism and a heedlessness that can be a problem. Sometimes the caution you get in DC is not the worst thing in the world when you’re making decisions that have literal life-and-death consequences. Trying to understand the culture and the way people think and the way they’re making their decisions, trying to be able to inhabit the minds of the people creating this stuff that we’re all living amidst, that’s part of it.
I do think a lot of my work is about building models. What’s going on, sometimes many at once to be able to understand how the pieces fit together. I never feel like I can do that very well from afar.
Getting out of D.C. is important. Talk a little bit about the D.C. news culture right now, because you first did the Washington Post, as I started also at the Washington Post. You had a thing you were doing there and then moved on to create another thing. Then was it Vox in D.C.? And I don’t want to call you a creature of DC. You were a little …
Ezra Klein: Skittering little.
Skittering little creature. Little cockroach of D.C. No. You reminded me a lot of Michael Kinsley, that kind of thing. There’s a culture of people, very smart people, talking. Journalists that cover D.C. The shift, I find it really interesting that you’re here now, that you think this is important.
Talk about the culture of journalism happening, what has occurred. It’s been a certain way. I left D.C. because I didn’t want to cover the Clinton administration at the time. I didn’t want to rise at the Washington Post. I didn’t want to cover the White House. I thought it was a prison for reporters. I thought it was a very incestuous culture. Talk about it now, as you left it, how you look at how politics is being covered in the sense it’s being done now.
Ezra Klein: I don’t think in the way that you’re talking about that the journalism culture is a D.C. culture. I think it’s now a Twitter culture. I believe this. I think this is a real problem. I’m much more hair on fire about this than a lot of my colleagues. Know that when you hear this, this is an opinion of mine that a lot of people disagree with.
I think the fundamental force shaping political journalism now is Twitter. I think every political journalist that I know with a couple of exceptions is on Twitter all the time. All their friends are on Twitter. The feedback loop is incredibly fast. What is a journalist? On some level, what do these people, what do we do? We find things out or think things up, then we publish whatever we came up with somewhere. Then we get some kind of feedback and then we do it again. All that used to be pretty slow. What Twitter did was it made it really fast.
You can look at Twitter within two minutes and know if your tweet is taking off. You can reload the thing. It’s like, is it at 100? Then it’s gonna go to 1,000. You can run all this out. There’s this intense incestuous herd-like political journalism Twitter culture.
One of the things that … It’s doing a bunch of different things simultaneously. One, I think, it’s making everybody talk about and think the same things all at the same time. The best journalists are the people who are finding things out or seeing things or hearing things that the other journalists aren’t. You got to be pretty damn smart to look at what everybody else is looking at and see something they’re not gonna see. Most of us are not that smart. Twitter is making us all dumber because we’re seeing the same shit all the time.
Two, I think it makes us meaner. I think it displays us often at our worst. I don’t think it’s been good for audiences’ trust in us.
Three, different kinds of stimuli create different kinds of product. If you are out reporting something… My wife — Annie Lowrey at the Atlantic, a former Recode Decode guest — she’s a really remarkable reporter. She goes out into very unusual places and sees things other people don’t see. I have tremendous admiration for what she does. I’m much more, as Kara put it, a Michael Kinsley-like character. I like, sit and stroke my chin.
He actually does.
Ezra Klein: I do.
I’ve seen it.
Ezra Klein: I have whole chin-stroking setup. It doesn’t work. It’s not good work. It’s never good work unless I’m actually doing the research to find things, to build models, to find evidence, to read appendices that other people aren’t doing. That work where you’re generating something new and then applying it as a lens onto the world, it can often be really good.
If what’s happening is somebody said something and you’re reacting to it, or you read something and you’re reacting to it, which is the culture of Twitter — Twitter is a functionally reactive culture, it’s a reactive product. Hey, somebody said X. Come back at it. Clap back. I think it’s created a more reactive take economy.
I think part of the rise in takes is economic and digital. Part of it is Twitter. The other thing I do think it creates is more reactive coverage. We’re all reacting to the same information, covering things more reactively.
Talk about that. There is a D.C. political journalism culture that’s leading the way in that way. Or is it not? Do they even have to be there?
Ezra Klein: I think we’re weaker now. What leads the way right now? People news is all New York. I think that’s a pretty powerful culture, particularly in this era. I actually think D.C. journalism culture is probably more powerful under Obama than it is under Trump. Cable is more under Trump than it was under Obama.
Podcast culture is important, I think, increasingly. You have on the left the crooked media folks. On the right, people like Ben Shapiro. You have the intellectual dark web people. A lot of them were out here. A lot of that is in California, oddly enough, both on the left and the right.
I don’t want to take away from your point that there’s a D.C. political culture. I do think the D.C. political culture got cracked and traumatized by Trump. I don’t think it exists as a cohesive force in the way certainly I felt it to under the Bush or Obama presidencies.
That you have been covering before.
Ezra Klein: It’s much more unsure of itself. I think a lot of the driving parts of it are outside of it now. Again, not everybody. A lot of people doing important driving work are in D.C. and just a lot of the work is there.
You can’t get away from the fact that D.C. has a culture of its own. I don’t think it’s as powerful in politics as it used to be. People used to talk about the Georgetown cocktail circuit. To my knowledge, nobody’s ever been to Georgetown at this point. People just stopped going like 10 years ago. I think a lot of those things have weakened.
I rode a nice scooter over there recently. It was nice.
Ezra Klein: See? Maybe it’s coming back.
It’s true. There was no cocktail party. I just was riding this scooter around.
Ezra Klein: You’re spending a lot more time there. How is it different than when you were there?
Well, when I was at the Washington Post I covered parties, if you can believe it. I started in the style section covering parties where things happened. I know it sounds crazy.
Ezra Klein: I would be so bad at that job.
I know. You’d be terrible. You’d be sitting in the corner. You’d be sitting in the corner. My job was essentially to get Teddy Kennedy to say something stupid. That was my job, which was not very hard because he drank a lot.
What would happen is there would be something that happened that day, whether it was a big piece of legislation or whatever the news of the day was. Then the style section in the Washington Post would send out young party reporters to go to whatever — the agriculture association’s party or John McLaughlin had a party or whatever. Someone had a party and you went there and then you made a story of the day from the party, which actually there was a party culture, a cocktail party culture.
A lot of policy was formed that way. A lot of the way the city worked was that way. That doesn’t exist. You’re right. It’s all … Everyone is looking down at their phones and reacting. Doing reacting and reacting to reacting and reacting.
I have been to a number of parties recently. I went to one at David Gregory’s house. His wife is Beth Wilkinson, who’s a very well-known litigator. I’ve been to a lot and I’ve been to a business roundtable thing with Jamie Dimon. It’s a really interesting culture. I find the journalism culture in D.C. to be incredibly docile. I find them very, very docile. I find myself extraordinarily rude in the culture, which I find myself here.
Ezra Klein: Is that not true here?
Yes, it is. It is. They seem to be used to it. I was at a thing for a business roundtable, which is this building near Union Station. Have you been to one of those dinners?
Ezra Klein: I’ve been to their thing, not to a dinner.
You go to dinners. Essentially they bring famous CEOs in and then you sit and have dinner with them at a boardroom table. It’s really awkward. It’s really not a nice place. I showed up looking like this, essentially. Everyone’s all real dressed up to the nines. I’m like, “Oh hi. Good to see you.” They put me in a good spot. There’s the status spot. I pay a lot of attention to status in Washington. It’s sort of like “The Hunger Games.” The city. There’s capital. You know what I mean? Where you’re sitting.
I was sitting … on one side was Doug, the guy who’s the CEO of Walmart, and on the other the CEO of Lockheed Martin. Across from me is Jamie Dimon. I was like, “Oh I got the good seat. I’m in the good seat. This is real good.” As it started, they were pontificating on I think it was China and the China tariffs and this and that. What was really interesting, this was off the record. Oh well, too bad. They were talking about different things.
Jamie, who I know pretty well, said something about China, about tech. I was like, “Pfft.” Like that. I said it loudly. He was like, “Excuse me, Kara.” I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” He’s like, “What do you have to say?” I said, “Everything you’re saying out of your mouth is wrong and I don’t know what to say. I got to say it.”
The guy from Lockheed is laughing. Then Dylan’s over here saying, “Oh Kara, stop it.” I’m like, “No, but he’s wrong. Everything he’s saying is completely stupid.” The rest of the reporters don’t say a word. It was an astonishing display of lack … Then what happened is, “As Kara said.” You know what I mean? It was fascinating to watch this weird … there was no journalism going on. I don’t know what was happening.
Ezra Klein: There’s definitely a lot of that. The other thing, though, that I think you’re getting at there, which I do think is part of this whole story is that, look, D.C., why was it useful to be in D.C.? In part because access can be useful. There’s a lot of access journalism in Washington, D.C. One reason I think that the culture there is breaking down, though, is that the access is becoming less and less useful.
One, the institutions themselves are weakening. We were talking about political party reporting. The political parties are weakening. A lot of their functionaries are in D.C. They’re on Twitter and they’re not that interesting. They’re a lot less powerful than they used to be. There’s value to knowing the people who went into the Trump administration if you’re doing Trump administration reporting. It isn’t a cohesive thing like previous administrations have been.
I started when I stepped down as editor in chief. I’m like, “Maybe I should do more White House reporting again.” I used to do a lot of that under Obama and a bit under Bush. I began sitting down and talking to these folks. I really quickly realized that, one, most of them don’t know what’s going on. Two, they’re mostly just … I never reported on the White House. It was not trying to make arguments for what it was doing. They’re just back-biting each other. It’s like, there’s no information here. There’s a drama. I’m like, you can maybe uncover some things. The institutions themselves are less valuable to have access to. The people themselves are out tweeting up a storm. They’re on cable news all the time. That whole Georgetown cocktail circuit, the idea was you’d be near Teddy Kennedy.
Then he’d tell you something.
Ezra Klein: He’d slip something. I’m not saying there’s none of that. It’s just that the value of it has gone down so much that it’s changed the culture.
What’s really interesting is they vomit information there. It’s not that hard here to get you all to talk. There it’s like, “Kara, did you know that we’re about to invade France?” I’m like, “Whoa okay. Thank you. Okay, thank you for that.” It’s incredible.
The other part is that you go, I literally write Trump is a goblin or something like that on Twitter or whatever that particular morning I’m feeling like. Then they all call me from the White House like, “Hey, come over and visit.” I’m like, “Okay. Sure.”
Ezra Klein: That is by far the part of D.C. that … maybe it’s what makes it work but is the weirdest. The kind of it’s all in the game mentality. One of the really common things to have happen is report in D.C. — I’m sure you have this — is that you write something really searing about someone and then their staffer will call you and fight with you all day. Like, all day. They will not stop screaming at you. You’re like, yeah but your boss actually is an asshole or he was lying or whatever it might have been. Then at the end they’re like, okay, let’s get a drink sometime soon. It’s this very weird … you build relationships through conflict. It’s fine. It’s a good way for them to …
That happens. Don’t you think that happens? That’s still an old journalism thing, right?
Ezra Klein: As you said, I’ve spent most of my career in D.C. Maybe it’s true everywhere. I find that there’s a lot of yearning. They fight all day and then they go to the same dinners and parties at night. Culture of D.C., it’s still there a little bit but I think it’s lesser. I’ve always found it very odd.
Let’s talk about how that affects everything in terms of the future of journalism. Now that you’re here, talk a little bit about what you’re studying, because I think one of the things you and I have talked a lot about is the impact of social media. Not just social media, but cable social media on what journalism is.
To me, journalism is still block-and-tackle reporting. Calling, calling, calling, finding things out, trying to get to the truth of things, which has been shifted a little bit by the fact that you’re right, anybody could get. You don’t need to figure out, for example, what someone thinks because they tell you what they think immediately on the internet or on Twitter or wherever they decide to do it. Trump has changed the game in terms of reporting in that way by just spewing whatever he says every single day. What’s the biggest impacts on journalism right now from your perspective?
Ezra Klein: I want to offer a disclaimer here quickly. You know when you’re working on something in your head, but it’s still a blob?
Ezra Klein: I’ve been trying to work through this question. It’s currently in my head like this giant blob. I’m worried it’s all gonna come out very inarticulately.
Don’t you see how this partnership is gonna develop? I’m gonna be like, “Yeah let’s go,” and he’s gonna be like, “Just a second. Let’s think about it.”
Ezra Klein: A couple things. One, I think journalism is a lot of systems that are colliding in really weird ways right now. The couple that I think are the most important are, one, people have way more choice than they ever did before. Two, there’s much more competition for your attention than there ever was before. Not just within journalism, but with everything. The number of things anybody can do. We are in competition with Netflix. We are in competition with you being here. You’re here, you’re not clicking on Vox articles tonight. You’re doing something different.
They might be.
Ezra Klein: I guess you guys have phones. Then there’s Trump and the weaponization or the demonization of the press. Then there’s distraction and there’s social media and algorithms. Everything is coming together in weird ways.
The big thing to me that’s happening right now is that we’re losing control in journalism over what is the idea of newsworthy. We are losing control of the agenda if we ever had it. I think we’ve become very, very, very reactive. I think Donald Trump uses that very much to his own advantage. There’s this day I keep thinking about. It was a couple weeks ago. This was right after the guy who had been sending bombs to journalists’ homes and offices had been caught.
The next day, Donald Trump sends out a tweet that morning because it’s the world we live in. The thing says the real … he knows the language to use. He didn’t say the fake news. He said the real enemy of the people. The media is the real enemy of the people. The day after the guy trying to kill the media, the Trump fan trying to kill the media was arrested. He sends out this tweet. The real enemy of the people. The media goes nuts, right? Because that’s fascist.
That day for the first time in some number of weeks, a long number of weeks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders called a press conference, a public press briefing. She had not had any of these for weeks. She had stopped having them. She had explained why she’d stopped having them. She calls one that day. Sure enough, at that press briefing, Jim Acosta gets up from CNN. He and Sanders get into a fight. Then the Trump White House takes away Acosta’s press pass. There’s a fight about that. What they were doing was completely calculated. They made a series of moves. The language Trump used that day, the decision to hold a press conference so there would be a televised showdown between Acosta and Sanders. Then I looked at the foxnews.com home page. There was a huge splash with Sanders’ face.
What do you do when the fight between the president and the press is the president’s storyline? When he was elected, Steve Bannon gave an interview to the New York Times. Again, Steve Bannon as chief strategist gave an interview and said, “You need to understand you’re the opposition. The media is the opposition.” One of the things going on right now is that there is … Trump is a very good media manipulator. He works at the intersection of our hunger for ratings, our hunger for things that are outrageous and interesting, the way we operate in competitive pressures with others. What gets pushed up through algorithms, the way he’s able to dominate Twitter. Then he knows exactly how to move the conversation to the fights he wants to be having. Not the positive press for himself. We don’t cover that stuff positively. It’s a fight he wants. Him versus the media, not corruption at the EPA. Him versus the media. Not the fact that he’s actually trying to make Medicaid harder to use when he promised that he’d give everybody health insurance.
One of the things that I think we are not good at in journalism right now, one thing I think we’re really failing at is we do not have enough of a sense of our own newsworthiness. We do not have a sense of what is our agenda to cover, what isn’t important. To resist what’s become extremely sophisticated forms of media manipulation and particularly resist it when it’s already dominating social media because we take that as our assignment editor.
How do you combat that then? Because one of the things …
Ezra Klein: I need a way to combat it?
Is there a way to combat it? Because there’s always been agenda setting. Look, whether you think it or not, you were talking about we lost the narrative of newsworthiness. The fact of the matter is, for many decades, seven white guys at CBS, seven white guys at NBC, New York Times determine the news on the Upper West Side of New York, essentially, or Upper East Side of New York. That’s a different thing too. That’s the agenda setting.
In this case, it’s just that someone’s taken the tools that Silicon Valley has created and are using them in a different way that’s essentially become the punch list that you would have at any editorial meeting of a big newspaper, which you and I have both been to those at the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. It’s just deciding what the news is and what’s happened is I think we’ve abrogated, we rushed after it. We rushed after it like idiots, in some way.
Ezra Klein: Yeah. I think that’s right.
How do you then combat it? One of the things I was thinking, a column I’m writing about is what if — Twitter wouldn’t do this — but what would Donald Trump do without Twitter, for example, or what would blank do without Twitter? It doesn’t have to be Donald Trump, but he happens to be the best user of the platform around, essentially. What would certain figures do without it? What would be their power?
I was trying to think, where would they go? What would happen without that particular tool? Would it work on Facebook? I guess cable is there, but it doesn’t reach quite as many people. It’s a really interesting question when you start to remove those tools from them.
Ezra Klein: My theory is that Twitter is important to Donald Trump because of how he uses it on the media. Donald Trump’s Twitter power is not actually his Twitter account. It does reach a lot of people, but it’s not that many people and it’s quick and it’s going by. It’s forced multiplier is the media. It’s an agenda-setter for us. He’s using us in that way, in a way where he’s able to much more tightly define the message.
I don’t know honestly what you’d do about it. Part of it is you have to be editorially thoughtful. What you were just saying I think is 100 percent true. You rewind the clock 30, 40 years. You have seven white guys on the Upper East Side deciding news. That’s not good either. I came up as a blogger. My first job, quote unquote in journalism, was blogging. I was a blogger forever. I still in some ways think of myself as a blogger. One of the things that I felt then was, isn’t it so great? There’s nothing in between me and the publish button. I can do everything at full speed and there are not gatekeepers. I was big on there being no gatekeepers.
As things got faster and faster and I began to work at different institutions and see different publishing cycles and different ways things worked, is you begin to realize that time, the fact that it maybe takes time to publishing sometimes, it creates space where judgment can creep in. I often think that if you’re getting the information about the news from things that are a little bit slower right now, you’re often better informed than if you’re staying up to the minute on Twitter. You’re seeing things …
Oh wait. Are you talking about artisanal news right now?
Ezra Klein: No. I like it mass-produced, but slow.
Actually Nicole Wong from Twitter, who used to work at Twitter and Google, I did a podcast with her. It was talking about a slow food movement for the internet. It was a really interesting …
Ezra Klein: There was this great piece by … Justin Kosslyn, I think it is. He runs Jigsaw, the Alphabet … Do people really call it Alphabet out here? Does everybody say Google?
No. We just say Google.
Ezra Klein: Anyway, guy who runs Google’s Jigsaw.
I say the Borg.
Ezra Klein: He wrote this great piece about the need to see friction as a good thing on the internet sometimes. The idea that a lot of our problems online, he was talking about hackers and malware and all kinds of other things. The idea that making everything faster and easier and swifter and cleaner and making sure there’s absolutely nothing in between your impulse and the expression of that impulse, that’s actually a problem. Sometimes you need friction. There’s a reason I don’t keep Oreos in my house. I need friction between me and Oreos.
Ezra Klein: I do think there’s some of that in editorial processes. We think about this a lot at Vox. There’s a lot of … We are, I think, getting better. I think this is true for a lot of newsrooms, getting better at letting pitches go by.
I see. Interesting. That’s an interesting post that you did. You sit and actually think about things. I actually do like the speed of it a lot. I do. I’m very pleased with it. Some days I’m like, boom, I go and I’m like, yay. Good for me.
Ezra Klein: I hear you saying that, but I don’t think it’s true. In what you produce journalistically, most of it is actually on slower time frames. You do New York Times columns.
I think I wrote one in 45 minutes the other day, but go ahead.
Ezra Klein: You do podcasts. They don’t come out for a couple days.
No, no. Right away. That China one.
Ezra Klein: Never mind.
I landed in New York, wrote it, and it was up by an hour and a half.
Ezra Klein: There you go. Maybe I’m wrong. I do think that a lot of your work …
I knew this stuff.
Ezra Klein: Your work has a space of context.
I knew the stuff. It was stuff I already knew. I had been working on it for a long time. I just was able to send … what I like about journalism now is the speed of it. Getting stuff out, getting ideas and concepts out there really quickly to actually not just test them on people, but to get reaction.
When I started in journalism, when I was at the Washington Post, I used to way, way back. Not many people had email addresses. Not you people. You don’t remember it. But you didn’t. I put my email address at the bottom and a lot of the reporters are like, “What are you doing that for? The readers will talk to you.” I’m like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’m looking for feedback,” which was interesting. I really enjoy the feedback. I think the story only starts once I put it up and then I have a really interesting time with it. Or I test out concepts.
Right now I’m working on a column about how Silicon Valley people can take money from the Saudis as this gets worse and worse and worse. I’m testing it on Twitter, actually. I keep putting up, “Look at what the thugs did now. Look at this, oh Silicon Valley people.” Then I wait to see what the reaction is and get ideas and concepts from it. Then it starts to formulate in me. I guess that’s a slow way to do it.
Ezra Klein: I am so sympathetic to this way of doing Twitter and journalism, and I also have come to think it’s so dangerous.
Ezra Klein: You live on the edge. You court disaster and eat catastrophe for breakfast.
Ezra Klein: But for those of us who don’t quite have your metabolism, and I’ve seen this happen both to me and to some of my colleagues, there’s this tendency to treat Twitter like a comedian treats …
Jokes, yeah, trying out jokes.
Ezra Klein: Not just jokes, but like small-town clubs, as a place to work out material.
Ezra Klein: So the structure of what we’re going to do here is, we’re going to work out our material where it has to be constrained to be shorter and less nuanced, in the place where it gets the least generous lead of any place on earth you could possibly do it, and it’s most easy to grab it, embed it and pull it out of context. That’s where we’re going to try out our new ideas. No editors, and no … I see it happen, and you do get good things.
This is what I’ve been thinking about a little bit lately. I wish we could set up a new culture around some of these things. Twitter would be so great if we could all agree to be generous on it. If there were some way to say …
This is a bad day for that, because of Jack’s multi-part …
Ezra Klein: Huh?
You know about this, right?
Ezra Klein: No.
Of course you don’t. Jack Dorsey tweeted a multi-part thing about doing some kind of meditation with mosquitos, I’m not really clear what was going on.
Ezra Klein: Excuse me?
He was meditating in Myanmar and he forgot to mention the genocide and people got mad on the Twitter.
Ezra Klein: Oh, that seems like …
But he put a multi-part series about this. I can have respect for people’s meditation, but it was the most tone-deaf series of things that you ever want to see. He put up a multi-part series, doesn’t mention genocide in any way. It was like, “Here I am in Myanmar having fun,” and it was like, “Whoa, wait a minute, Myanmar, there’s some people dying there.” So people went crazy, were mean to him, and then Fred Wilson wrote a piece saying don’t be so mean to Jack because he’s meditating.
Ezra Klein: And you’re asking me why I don’t love Twitter.
Right, I know, but it was interesting. Anyway, move along.
Ezra Klein: To that point, the thing that I think is …
There was an Apple Watch.
Ezra Klein: The thing I need a little bit is, I would like to have … I think there’s a really good quality of risky ideas. One thing I loved about blogging was this ability to be wrong in public. I was younger, and so I didn’t have an institution behind me, but this feeling that I could try out an idea, and oftentimes people would come in the comments and be like, “That’s actually just wrong. If you knew the first thing about this you’d know it was wrong.”
It’s like, “Oh, that’s great, that was wrong. Now I know it’s wrong.” It’s a useful thing to have happen. I want that, I want that ability for myself, for my colleagues, to be riskier with ideas, because even if a bunch of those are wrong, sometimes you get somewhere good. But in the long run you can’t have that in a dangerous space. You can’t have that in a place where there’s a lot of risk. Particularly for people and younger journalists who don’t have established reputations …
Or the training.
Ezra Klein: And the training, and a really good sense of the conversation. A lot of my views on this come from being editor of Vox for four-ish years, and then before that at Wonkblog in the Washington Post, and just having it happen both to me and to people I managed or cared about at other institutions, watching them get blown up, and feeling just terrible, like I can’t help. Like it wasn’t under the thing.
Let’s both of us talk about our practices now in journalism. What is your journalism … How do you do your journalism right now? I can talk about how I do it, but I want to talk about how you do yours. What is your practice?
Ezra Klein: Practice. What do I do? It’s split between two things. About half my time goes into what I think of as “Vox strategic.” So, I’m an executive producer on our network show, I’m working a lot on the Recode partnership that we’re working on, I’m working on helping, we’re doing a new YouTube show, so Vox does a lot of stuff, and I’m involved in a lot of that.
Then the other half is what I think of as my work. I do two Ezra Klein Shows a week, which if you don’t listen to that podcast, Recode Decode listeners, it’s a great second podcast to Recode Decode. It complements it in really nice ways, and it’s much longer and slower paced, so you might enjoy that as well.
Yeah. He came to me when I started doing podcasts, and he’s like, “I like this podcast thing,” and he’s like, “I’m thinking of doing it with So Wonky,” and I was like, “Have Joe Biden on to start.” He’s like, “I think the agriculture secretary is fascinating about farm subsidies.” I was like, “Joe Biden’s sure fun.” Remember that? Then you did the agriculture secretary. Whatever.
Ezra Klein: That sounds exactly like something I’d do, although I’ve not been able to actually land the agriculture secretary.
It was like the undersecretary, it was literally farm subsidies, and I was like …
Ezra Klein: It’s interesting. Here’s a question I actually have for you, before I get into my journalism practice.
All right, okay.
Ezra Klein: Do you find that your podcast download are correlated highly with how famous a person is?
Ezra Klein: I don’t either, and it’s something I love about podcasting.
No, not at all.
Ezra Klein: One thing I’ve found …
Elon Musk went off the friggin rails, but …
Ezra Klein: Yeah, Elon Musk, he gets stuff like that.
Ezra Klein: But I find that I have on a lot of people who are, let’s say, B-list famous, like not Elon Musk, but way better known than random professors I have on, and the random professors often do much better.
Yeah, I agree. You never know.
Ezra Klein: It’s something I just love. Like, the audience is into new ideas, and somehow it spreads. I think it’s the coolest thing about the medium.
Ezra Klein: About half my time goes into the two podcasts, the two EK shows, and the weeds, and my own kind of writing, and I do some videos. Because of the podcast, one thing that’s been good for me is, I just … And then I’m writing a book.
Ezra Klein: I try to keep those things as tightly coupled as I can.
What’s the book about?
Ezra Klein: The book is about political polarization and identity, and basically why everything is fucked up, but it’s an effort to create …
A light read for you all.
Ezra Klein: A light read, right. An effort to create a kind of model of why the parties are sorting in the way they are, and how that’s up-ending other institutions in politics and making us think about ourselves and each other differently. So a lot of what’s on the podcast has to do with things I’m thinking about and studying for the book.
I see. So they go in between each other.
Ezra Klein: It doesn’t work if they don’t all feed …
Right, they all feed together for the general idea.
Ezra Klein: The thing I was thinking about when you said, “What is your practice,” I do a fair amount of reporting, I talk to a lot of people. I still do a lot of that. A lot of my reporting is among academics, or people who I feel have a high elevation on things. Some of it is among politicians, but less of it lately. Then the other thing is, I just am reading a lot of books lately. I’m reading a lot more books than I am news.
Ezra Klein: Because I kind of feel I have a reasonable handle on the news, and I don’t have a reasonable handle on the why. So I’m trying to spend a lot more time getting some perspective, and that’s been good, I think.
You did this on a call the other day. You were talking about books you were reading, and I was like, “Books? That’s cool.”
Ezra Klein: On what, on a call?
You did it on a call we had. You were in your room.
Ezra Klein: Oh yeah, I was …
You were like, all these books …
Ezra Klein: I’ve gone through a lot … We were in a meeting, and I ended up talking about Yochai Benkler’s “Network Propaganda.”
Ezra Klein: About the way the left and right media ecosystems have developed. It’s a useful book, but I can’t say I feel like it really worked on that call.
Yeah, no. I was like …
Ezra Klein: Didn’t really light up the room.
I was like, “I just read People magazine, and Dolly Parton is cool.” It was great. I was fascinated that you were doing such heavy, it was almost college-like, it was …
Ezra Klein: I think my process, particularly right now with the book, is more, it almost works a little bit more like I’m an academic than I’m a …
Yeah, but it’s part of your journalism, I think.
Ezra Klein: Yeah, that’s kind of how I do my journalism.
So when you call people … Do you call people all day, or do you just text with them? How do you do your …
Ezra Klein: No, I almost never text. In fact, you and I, I think, often have communication breakdowns, because I’ll email you and you’ll text me, and then nobody ever responds to anybody.
You like to email, that’s right.
Ezra Klein: Texting, it’s like I don’t want my phone to ever interrupt me doing anything for any reason.
Yeah, all I do is text. Okay, thank you. Fifteen minutes till Q&A. I hate email.
Ezra Klein: Yeah, I like email.
I just found 53 emails from New York Times people to me, apparently I have a New York Times address, and I have it on my phone, and I didn’t know they … Brett Stevens wrote me, which I was glad not to get.
Ezra Klein: I spend a lot of time calling people.
Okay, so you call.
Ezra Klein: The podcast is reporting for me. I assume it is for you too.
Yes, it is, absolutely, 100 percent. It’s ideas and reporting and concepts.
Ezra Klein: I was talking with someone here in the audience, and he was very kind, and he said, “I learned a lot about questioning from you.” I said, “What did you learn?” He said, “When you question people, what you do is, you go and tell them your theory of what you already think, and ask them to respond to it.”
Ezra Klein: I was like, yeah, that is kind of how I report, too. It’s like, I’m working on this story, what do you think? How can you help me fill in the blanks of it? I’ve just made that into a podcast.
Ezra Klein: At Vox we have this line, using the whole news buffalo. The idea is that you want to use as much of the work you’re doing. If you’re working on a story, like maybe you want to do a Q&A with some of the people you’re reporting on, and on a shorter piece, and eventually a feature comes out, then we put it on The Weeds as a podcast. You want to use the whole news buffalo.
I agree. Essentially it’s the … enough about my concepts, what do you think about my concepts?
Ezra Klein: Exactly.
That is a reporting technique. I use the podcast absolutely as reporting, which is interesting. Also relationship-building between me and the subjects. People I didn’t know well, or people I didn’t have … Do you make the old traditional phone calls?
Ezra Klein: Yeah.
You do that, and what else?
Ezra Klein: Besides reading things, making phone calls, I do sometimes see people in person. It has happened. I am doing it less as I came out here because I haven’t structured that, but in Washington I spent a lot of time going up to the Hill or the White House or to some think tank or another. I take in information in most of the ways you would think. Sometimes I watch … I podcast …
Has it changed a lot?
Ezra Klein: Has it changed? Yeah. The thing that’s really changed is, I’ve basically stopped reading any social media, which for a long time was a big part of my news diet. I don’t read Twitter, I don’t read Facebook, I took everything off my phone. After you took Instagram off of your phone, that was the last thing I had, I took it off my phone.
Ezra Klein: You know what I’ve actually been doing recently …
I’ve been talking to my kids, but go ahead. No, I talk to them.
Ezra Klein: On Instagram or just in general?
No, they never stop talking. My kids call me all the time. I’ve got boys who never stop communicating.
Ezra Klein: That’s great.
I was like, “Can’t you be sullen?” You know how people are like, “My kids never say anything at home.” I’m like, “My kids never stop telling me things.”
Ezra Klein: I’ve started using a bunch of, I have a lot of news homepages or apps on my phone. I actually really like the New Yorker app. There’s not that much on it, which is nice. I feel like I can manage it. They have this Today app, and they don’t put …
Well done, David Remnick.
Ezra Klein: They don’t put everything up all at once, so you’re going through it and it’s like, I feel like I can complete things there.
Editable, you can finish it.
Ezra Klein: Yeah.
You don’t do scoopy news though, right? That’s never been your …
Ezra Klein: No, not really. If something happens and I can break something in the course of doing something I will, but that’s not what I specialize in.
But you’re not on that adrenaline high kind of thing.
Ezra Klein: No.
Yeah, I’ve stopped doing that, which I did a lot of …
Ezra Klein: You were the master of …
I was. I’m tired of it. Actually the other day there were like seven scoops and I was like, “I don’t care.” Someone’s like, “Kara, I’ve got this,” where I’m like, “I don’t care.”
Ezra Klein: But this is a point you’ve made, that you used to be able to capture more of the value of the scope. Now there’s all this immediate spillover.
Yes, there’s no value. There’s no value to some scoops any more. Not at all. Literally last night someone called me, I’m just like, “I’m going to sleep.”
Ezra Klein: Doesn’t that seem like kind of a problem for the news though?
Yes, it does.
Ezra Klein: It’s an economic problem for the news, like it spills over completely.
But it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Before you could have all the scoops. Recode, we were specialized in, first of all we specialized in scoops, which was, we would get them all, and they seemed more important than they actually really were in a lot of ways. But they were, because having been at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, things were brought to us and then we laid them back out. A lot of that wasn’t amazing reporting, it was they handed it to you, which I hated. I hated that whole …
Ezra Klein: Someone once gave me this great concept of a level one and level two scoop. A level one is something that everybody would’ve known soon anyway. Like right before, every four years, before people announce their vice presidential candidates, there’s this huge crush of news organizations trying to know it 15 minutes before, and it’s this huge coup, but it’s like, we would’ve known in 15 minutes. You could’ve just done anything else.
Then there’s level two, like you wouldn’t have known it.
Ezra Klein: Like, unless you got it, you wouldn’t have known it, and that stuff is super valid.
I love those. I still love those. I still like, when we broke the story about Yahoo hacking years ago, I felt great about that. And because they weren’t going to tell anybody. That kind of stuff, I like those. Some of them, yes, you’re right, there’s different levels of them.
I don’t spend almost any time on that any more, because what happens is, you do a scoop, and now you can’t get them all any more, and before you could. You could get a lot of them, or make it seem like it. Then they move so fast now, it doesn’t really matter. All the time you put into it doesn’t matter, and most of them are level one scoops, that people will find out 10 minutes later kind of stuff. It’s a waste of time, so we tend to do the fast follow, our much smarter stories. I think that’s what … I’m not doing as much day to day … I know what’s going on. I don’t do as much …
Ezra Klein: People are pounding on the doors to get in here.
Manny Yekutiel: It’s a residential building.
Ezra Klein: That must be exciting for the people who live on top of every event.
I’ll get back, but the news stuff is not … I don’t do the website. I’m not running the website, but I don’t think that matters as much. I think the reaction and the extra, the better stories are the ones that are, the longer stories, the more smarter stories, the explainer stories, which you guys pioneered, are much more important.
To me, I think these live events and also the podcast are where the real stuff … That’s where Mark Zuckerberg talked about holocaust deniers being okay, good people on both sides. That’s where Elon talked a lot about his SEC stuff, like he’s just going to tweet what he wants. News was broken there, or on stages at Code. That’s where, to me, the really interesting conversation … That’s what I think people find interesting, and I’ve found that fans, or people that like my stuff, that’s what they tend to value.
Ezra Klein: Isn’t one way to think about that that we were wrong in the media for a long time about which part of our work people would find most interesting?
Ezra Klein: I think a lot of your work as … There are things journalists did before they wrote the story that you were particularly good at and that’s why you got all the scoops, but now you’re actually just putting a microphone to that part. You get to listen to the whole Kara conversation, not just the part that got in the story, not just the part the Wall Street Journal had room for.
That’s a really good point.
Ezra Klein: In a lot of my work I feel like what I’m often doing is pulling up the model of politics that I use to evaluate everything else. Instead of seeing everything that got filtered through my model, you see the model itself. A lot of my big stories, like I wrote this piece, I’m very proud of this here, called “White Thread in a Browning America,” and it’s a piece that informs every piece I do, but instead of it being in my head, and you get pieces run through the mechanism that I use to decide what news is, you get the mechanism.
Right. One of the reasons I did the Times column was because I wanted a global platform for some of these … A lot of stuff I wrote on Recode, and it had resonance within the community, but …
I wrote one piece I thought was terrific when all the tech people went up to Trump Tower, and I called them sheeple, and it was great. I said for shame, these awful rich people, they’re so poor all they have is money, stuff like that. And how dare they not talk about immigration, how dare they not talk about the tolerance issues, all the things that Trump was railing against, they never said a word.
That was a great column, and it had resonance within the tech community, but the reason why was that it had a bigger resonance with a wider range of people. There is a value to the print publication … It’s not really the print, but in a broader sense, that I still think does matter, like thoughtful takes on the news. Not hot takes. I hate hot takes. I hate them. There’s so many people writing hot takes now all over the place.
Ezra Klein: How do you distinguish between a hot take, a smart take, other …
A boring take? That’s easy.
Ezra Klein: Well that’s easy.
That one’s easy.
Ezra Klein: I was joking with someone the other day that I want to start a vertical at Vox of lukewarm takes. Because a lot of things, like the lukewarm views … But what is a hot take to you and what is a smart take?
A really stupid shallow idea that is just like, “I’m going to say something real controversial and then have nothing to back it up with, and I’m just going to say it over and over again.” It’s like the dumb person sitting next to you at a Brooklyn dinner party. I don’t know how else to put it. Do you know what I mean?
Ezra Klein: I didn’t see that drive-by Brooklyn coming at all. I was just sitting here, we talk D.C., SF …
I was just …
Ezra Klein: I’m glad we hit New York on the way. I’m glad.
You know what, here’s the thing. I was at one this weekend. Tomorrow I turn 56 and I just can’t take it anymore, and it’s like … Thank you. So I was literally at this dinner party and someone said something, I’m like, “That’s really stupid.” They were like, “What?” I’m like, “I wish I could be polite, but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” They’re like, “What?” I go, “You don’t even have any intellectual underpinnings to anything you just said, and I just can’t take it. I’m going to finish my dinner over here.” That’s what a hot take is to me.
Ezra Klein: I admire this part of you so much.
Really, yeah. That’s a hot take.
Ezra Klein: I can barely get my external monologue to work at dinner parties. My internal monologue, I just really would not have, I think, the moxie to make it work.
The brakes are off. But I think hot takes have taken over a lot of even really good journalistic institutions, and they’ve hired a lot of people that do hot takes and I hate them. I think it brings it down.
Ezra Klein: Something I think about is that, when I started blogging, like in 2003, that was early blogging, 2001 is sort of the beginning of it, a little bit earlier with Dave Weiner. There was so little political opinion available. If you wanted political opinion, I grew up in Irvine, as I mentioned, so we got the LA Times. Not that when I was 10 I was looking for a political opinion, but if I had been, if at 10 I’d wanted more political opinion, it’s like we got the LA Times op-ed page and that was it. We didn’t subscribe in my house to any political magazines, there was no cable news … It’s so weird to think about this. There was no political opinion.
One reason blogs took off was that all of a sudden there was more political opinion, and more voices and perspectives could be recognized. There were really political opinions, and normal ones, and hot ones, and people cursed in these different … It was great. But it still wasn’t that much, it wasn’t what most places did. Then everything is online, everything is easily accessible and everybody explodes looking at blogs, and also looking at what’s cheap to produce, the amount of available political opinion. Now we’re drowning in political opinion, there’s so much.
But it’s not just political opinion. It’s opinion on everything.
Ezra Klein: All opinion, yes.
On everything. Some of it’s fantastic, by the way.
Ezra Klein: Some of it’s great.
Some of it’s really funny. There was a series of really funny Michael Cohen ones today that made me laugh all day long. They were great.
Ezra Klein: And Twitter and Facebook, they’re also people’s …
Ezra Klein: It’s not that opinions are bad, it’s just that one thing I think is so weird is how rapidly we moved from, I think, the well-informed person going about the world would’ve liked a lot more thoughtful opinion about things, too, it’s hard to get away from all the opinion there is about things.
I don’t think … people don’t want it. What happened I think, something we did at Recode a lot was we would tell you, you were seeing the mechanics of things. We’d say … Peter Kafka’s the perfect person. He’s like, “Let me tell you what’s going on with Comcast.”
Ezra Klein: He is the perfect person.
He is, in that way. He was like, “This is a shitty deal. So here’s why.” You wouldn’t ever do that. You had the to-be-sure statement in the, “To be sure, some people feel this deal is problematic.” That line, which means it’s a shitty deal. I think we pulled it off and said, “We really need to tell you, this is a piece of shit.” That’s the kind of thing we did a lot of.
Then we would use illustrations a lot, to show that … My favorite thing, and I want you to all go look at it, we had a ball gag that we would put on Eric Schmidt all the time, every time Google said something stupid.
Ezra Klein: Excuse me?
It was an illustration of Eric Schmidt with a ball gag.
Ezra Klein: Oh, it was an illustration.
It was an illustration. Ezra, you naughty Ezra. See, there’s so much … This is going to be a good partnership. I see this already. You’ve already been affected by San Francisco.
So it was great, because we’d have a news story, like once again Eric Schmidt said something inane and it was stupid and we had the ball gag picture. It would be perfect. To me that was a perfect piece of journalistic … It was really well done.
Ezra Klein: And the Pulitzer committee, I’m sure, recognized it, put forth rightly.
No, but I’m saying it was interesting, because everyone else sort of copied, not the ball gag, but everyone else went that direction.
Ezra Klein: Something that was … Sorry.
Everyone went that direction, and I think it was not the worst direction to go in for journalists, but I do think that now everyone suddenly is, it’s like making avocado toast. Everyone’s making avocado toast, and not every makes a great avocado toast.
Ezra Klein: I think it’s hard, honestly, to make a bad avocado toast. That’s like the genius of that.
But the one thing I do want to say, and I can tell that we’re supposed to move to Q&A in a sec …
Ezra Klein: Let me just say one last thing before we move to Q&A, which is, something that was really interesting to me to see when I was at the Post was that you could write the same story as news, news analysis and opinion.
Ezra Klein: You were just saying that there’s, “Some people think this is a shitty deal.” Like, “Critics say Comcast’s deal is terrible.”
Ezra Klein: Then there’s the kind of bland, but still, “News analysis: Comcast deal has problems.” Then there’s opinion, like “Comcast sucks.” You could write the same thing in different ways, it’s who you quoted and what order it went in. That was always really interesting to me.
And I always thought that in the traditional way we did it, we made it too hard for the news side to tell the truth and too easy for the opinion side to lie, but now I think we also sometimes … Opinion’s gotten so easy and thick out there that we don’t do enough of the stuff that was behind a lot of that news. There was good process, even if there wasn’t always good product, and I don’t want the old even-handed news product, but I do want to bring more of that process into it.
That’s a really good point.
All right, questions. We didn’t even get to Facebook, which, we don’t care.
Manny Yekutiel: Yes, so we’re going to do open Q&A. Here that is …
Look, that just filled itself. What happened?
Manny Yekutiel: What are you talking about?
The grapefruit juice just … Listen, Dobby.
Manny Yekutiel: What? Are you sure?
No, it’s like Dobby. I’m making a Harry Potter reference.
Manny Yekutiel: You guys saw that happen.
People without children, which is most of you people.
Manny Yekutiel: Okay, so we like to give the public an opportunity to interact with you guys directly here because it’s a small living-room setting.
Manny Yekutiel: We’re going to start with a question right over there. I’m going to hand you the mic, and if you don’t mind standing up and saying your name, we appreciate it. And real quick, does this part go on the podcast too?
Yes, it does.
Manny Yekutiel: All right, good for me to know.
It all goes up.
Jewell: Hi. My name is Jewell Stewart, and I have a question about, I thought it was really interesting how you were talking about the difference between the cultures in D.C. versus over here in San Francisco, and I’m wondering a little bit about the process versus product question, which is that the product of the news, the news inasmuch as it is a product is being driven more so by the imperatives of the market that exists here.
It’s like the limitless growth opportunities that Silicon Valley sees, and that kind of has — not kind of, it has certainly — diminished the influence of local reporting, local journalism, and so I’m wondering about that. And to your point about the Facebook question, how the pivot to video imperative has really demolished a lot of the smaller-scale things, like we just saw Mic last week or two weeks ago or something fire a whole bunch of people.
Jewell: Everybody, yeah, so I’m wondering about your takes on the influence of technology on journalism, specifically regarding those two things.
Why don’t you start.
Ezra Klein: Yeah. It’s a great question, and a couple thoughts on it. One, “Pivot to video,” it makes me so mad.
We don’t like that. We hate that.
Ezra Klein: Vox, we published videos before we published text, and video was an important part of our journalism, and we didn’t go into it with a business case. Today we have more than five million subscribers on YouTube, it’s our biggest platform, we have a Netflix show.
It really made me angry when a bunch of publishers went into video, and I’m not calling this out of anybody in particular, but a lot did. Whereas what they were trying to do was flood the zone with volume, because video had higher CPMs, so people would accidentally click on a bad video on an article that was getting heavy traffic.
Or there was this move to Facebook, and everybody’s doing this short, silent autoplay, silent newsreel, and it wasn’t good work. There’s a lot of, I think, business in video, but there’s not good business in video just as a business strategy. You need an audience strategy. That’s one piece of it.
Yeah, I was saying, if you do the product because some advertiser wants it, it’s like doing, like we do conferences. We do our conferences, we went to our conferences, and then we find the sponsors. We don’t do them because … Whenever the sponsor comes to you with, “We’d like to do something on the future of innovation and AI and the ethics,” I’m like, “I’m going to go over here. I’m not doing that.” You know what I mean? I think that’s one of the things.
To the local news question, I think it’s a really important one. Because I just was discussing this the other day. I interviewed AG Sulzberger, who’s the new, what is he, a publisher? He’s the publisher.
Ezra Klein: You interviewed him.
Yeah, I know, I forget. I get it wrong. He’s the publisher of the New York Times now. He’s the son of the other Sulzberger. There’s lots of them. He’s very smart, a smart young man, and one of the things I said, “What would you do if you got a billion dollars from Laurene Jobs,” who has many of them, and would be kind of cool. He’s like, “We want to make our own billion.” I’m like, “I don’t care, what would you do with a billion dollars?” He wouldn’t answer my question, which was irritating to me.
If I was the New York Times and I was given a billion dollars, I would buy up local newspapers all over the country and do a New York Times job on them, like make them really good across … That’s what I would do with a billion dollars. Bring back local news.
Look what’s happened in Miami around Jeffrey Epstein. There’s just, if you put money into local news across the country, and I’m talking about a multimedia effort, like a newspaper but with all kinds of effort, if I was a billionaire that’s what I would do. That’s exactly what. I’d find that kind of thing and do something with it.
Ezra Klein: A couple just quick thoughts on local news and tech businesses. One, on how product has affected and how technology has affected all of our business models, this answer may be off message, and if so, Jim Bankoff, I’m sorry, but I think for a long time … Not a long time. There was a period of time in the media where the idea was that digital media companies were going to be tech companies with tech-like scale and tech-like returns. There was all this venture going into it, and there was this idea that it would be more akin to something like a Facebook, not at that scale, but like that, than actually a media business.
What seems to me to be happening now is, it’s turned out that’s not really true. You are building media businesses online and they’re going to get media business-like returns if things go well and you’re going to need a mix of different revenue strategies. You’re building like a new Conde Nast, things like that, and it’s a pretty straightforward business model. But it isn’t as exciting, maybe you become a 10, 50, 100 billion dollar company, and you just figure out the business model later.
I think that’s one thing that’s happening, and I think it’s been pretty hard. I think a lot of groups didn’t go into it with the business strategy. I actually think one good thing for Vox Media is that our CEO, Jim Bankoff, had been around the block in media and tech a bunch of times, and I think always was a little bit more sober.
The other thing, just about local real quick, I don’t know, and this is hard, I don’t know that the market will furnish a business model for as much news as we ideally need to have. I think there’s going to have to be, if we’re going to get the things, particularly at the local level, that we need, there’s a real role for philanthropy, and there might even be a role, as there is in a lot of other countries, for the state, for subsidies of different kinds. We do this for arts here. It’s not crazy that you might see local journalism as a public good.
But I see a lot of money go into local investigative, and I wish I saw more go into actually just building local journalism institutions. You need a platform for investigative to stand on. People need to be coming every day to read something they care about, and that’s what gives the investigative force. I see a lot of people want to invest in, or fund, local investigative, but I’m not seeing as much of what Kara’s saying, which is trying to build …
Just basic block and tackle.
Ezra Klein: Basic excellent new generation local outlet.
I think you can make money at it.
Ezra Klein: I do too, but I’m not sure you can everywhere, and everywhere deserves great local journalism.
Manny Yekutiel: All right. Right here in the front.
Speaker 1: This is a little bit of a follow-on question to that, on local journalism, and it has to do with, both of you were speaking about the decline of cocktail party scoop journalism, and the thing is, in D.C. that’s definitely true in terms of the way that our elected officials tend to operate, and the way bureaucrats tend to operate, but it hasn’t felt as true when it comes to state houses throughout the country.
You essentially have 50 different state houses where you’ve seen capital bureaus shut down over the last several years and NPR affiliates might be the only institutions that still have capital bureaus in most state houses. What role do you see in terms of a resurgence of that sort of cocktail party scoop type of journalism in that?
It’s hard because those were always young journalists that were at state … It wasn’t always the most … You started off at City Hall. It was one of the early ones that you would do. I think what’s fallen apart is that mentorship system of moving up and that really is I think a problem. I think that’s always been a problem right now in journalism is that people at the lower levels don’t train up upwards.
They move very quickly from thing to thing versus getting training. I think that’s one of the issues that just doing those stories every single day, like doing whatever, the city council meeting. I mean, I did them, I don’t know if Ezra did, but I did. I did a lot of those like just endless stories that you just get good at and get smart at and stuff.
I think that’s one of the problems. Then when they just don’t have people there anymore, there’s just physically no people covering these things. I don’t know what the answer to that is. It seems to be every state in our country should have a major newspaper and then a major city newspaper, but that’s not the case. I’m not sure what the solution is.
Ezra Klein: I would say state house journalism was always cross-subsidized by big-city journalism and national journalism. Who did great coverage of the California state house? To a large extent, the LA Times, which also did national and international for that matter, but was also rooted in LA, which is a huge city, one of the biggest cities in the world and you had that in smaller ways in a lot of states.
Now in some states, obviously the state house is in the biggest city, but in a lot, it’s not. It’s been the weakening of those major metropolitan papers that has really gutted good state house coverage, because excellent journalists wanted to be at the LA Times and being at the state house for the LA Times was a really good way to do it. Or similarly, like the New York Times is based in New York City and every journalist wants to be at the New York Times or most of them do, but they also send people to Albany and it’s like that is how you become a national reporter at the New York Times. That’s, as Kara was saying, that’s an important thing …
Yeah, it’s a path.
Ezra Klein: … and so I do think it’s like the loss of those institutions and the big city metropolitan midsize daily business model that has destroyed state house coverage. There have been cool efforts to bring it back on its own, like the American Independent Network, but they’ve died because people don’t just want the state house coverage. It’s got to be bundled with the city they care about and the region they live in and the national news they care about or else you end up having state house coverage that is either only philanthropic or it’s for lobbyists, which is not the best kind of state house coverage.
Or you have like the New York Times or someone dropping in to a particular state when it gets to be …
Manny Yekutiel: Right.
… And that happens a lot, but it’s still …
Manny Yekutiel: I’m going to get to you after this, but could we get over here in the back, do you mind coming to me because if it goes over there … Yes, you right there. Yes, it’s going to do that whole like squeaky whale noise thing. If you don’t mind saying your name.
Audience member: I have a question about false equivalency. I think the news right now is very … if you look at just what’s happening, it’s very liberally biased and I think newspapers have a hard time with that. I read the New York Times religiously and I think they do great reporting, but if I look for example at how they’re covering what’s happening in Wisconsin, I just get really upset. I’m wondering what you think about that and why you think, in general, newspapers have such a hard time talking about Trump lying and all this false equivalency on both sides.
It’s interesting because I just tweeted something like this because why do we keep … We said something false and they write a headline of what he said versus … Today it was the same thing. I agree.
I had a story … I think reporters type things down. I’ve said this many, many times. Peter Thiel was giving a speech at the National Press Club and everyone wrote a news story and what he said and I was like, “What are you doing? Half the things he said are just codswallop, it’s bullshit.” I just did a blog like, “Oh, he says this, but let me just tell you what actually is happening,” and I just did that.
I was sort of irritated by how we were just sort of saying what they … That was the experience I had, but I am irritated by … we just say what they said and …
Audience member: My concern is that I feel like people that are uninformed …
Audience member: If things aren’t being called out for what’s actually happening, there is this bias to think, “Well, everything … “
Yes, because everything’s equal. I just did a podcast with Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd and Halle Jackson. They were talking about this very thing. She said, “What do you do when he says something crazy every 15 …? Do you not report on it? Do you report on it, do you not report on it?” And she goes, at one point in a meeting, because she’s the head of her show, she’s like, “I don’t care what he just tweeted, we’re gonna just do the news,” and it was like an actual news story of something.
But then he tweeted something that actually was news and then they’re like, they didn’t tell her and she’s like, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” Well, you said not to … she was sort of stuck in this situation. So, whatever he tweeted was actually a piece of things … some of them are newsworthy and some of them aren’t, but she was talking about the difficulty of doing that. And there’s a very straight-ahead journalist who’s been in it forever, really having trouble figuring out what to do.
Because every … someone else will rush in and cover it, right? Essentially … you guys don’t do reactive stuff like that, do you?
Ezra Klein: We try to do less … we’ll react to something we think is really important, but to what you’re saying there: There is the issue of Trump tweeted something and it was reported in a straightforward, dumb fashion. Then there’s the issue of Trump tweeted something and everybody’s falling all over themselves to call it a lie, but they’re also falling all over themselves to cover it.
I would say the caravan is a really good example of this. Trump dominated the news … whatever happened to the migrant caravan that was gonna destroy America, by the way? Here we are, weeks later, it’s come further forward, somehow the country isn’t up and destroyed. There was a lot of good coverage of that, but we let him completely dominate the coverage for something that wasn’t that big of a story.
So, that’s another thing, and it goes to Andrea Mitchell’s issue. I think a lot of the problem is also deciding really what is news and when to … I’m actually right now, I’m less worried about false equivalence, which I think the news, in general, has gotten better at, though certainly there are bad examples, than I am about amplification. People are manipulating us to amplify them and I don’t think we are nearly sophisticated enough about how to handle that, nor the answers nearly as obvious as they were. And somebody’s done something terrible, maybe say it’s bad.
Manny Yekutiel: Here in the front.
Peter: Hi, my name’s Peter and I have a question for Mr. Klein about his article — and you can respond — from November titled, “To Beat Trump, House Democrats Need to Fight on Policy, Not Just Scandals.” In the article, you bring up the reporter’s paradox of their desire to cover the Democrats, they’re gonna talk about Trump’s scandals and not policy and the leadership of the Democrats wanting to focus on policy but the reporter’s not covering it.
So, how do the Democrats resolve that and how do you persuade the reporters not to try to gin the system by focusing on what’s gonna be good publicity for them?
Ezra Klein: So, one, I’m not sure there is a system-wide solution. One thing I have tried to do at the places I’ve been, I ran Wonk Blog at the Post, which was a policy focused vertical, and then Vox is something that I, along with Matt Iglesias and Melissa Bell, launched, and everywhere that I have run political coverage, I have made it part of the culture that we take policy seriously, Democratic, Republican, if somebody’s introducing a big new policy, if Trump is, if anybody is, we see that as headline news.
And by the way, I think the audience does. We’ve always done really well on traffic. We’ve actually usually outraced more horse-race-oriented publications. So, the way I try to handle it is by orienting the values of the organizations that I’m in towards the things that I believe, that we believe, are important. To the broader point, one thing I was saying in that piece is that if you looked at how the Democrats ran the election, they didn’t spend their time on Trump scandals, they spent a lot of money on ads about health care.
Now, they’re gonna be in office and nobody’s gonna listen to their health care talk and everybody’s gonna cover their scandals and if any Democrat anywhere in the House mentions the word “impeachment,” it’ll be headline news everywhere all the time.
It just was today, actually.
Ezra Klein: There you go. And so that’s gonna be, that’s the tricky waters for them to navigate. I don’t advise political figures, so how they navigate it is up to them. But I do think it’s something that we in the media need to think a little bit about, about whether or not we … I think another way to think about this is the Clinton email coverage during the campaign.
Clinton’s emails got more coverage than all policy issues in the campaign put together, Trump and Clinton, and by the way, it wasn’t close. They got way more coverage. And journalists will often say, “Well, look, it was a story,” and sure, it was a story, but how big of one? Were we ordering things correctly, because people are taking their cues on what’s important from, among other things, how often we’re covering it and how often we’re covering what else is going on and was email security really the issue that that election was turning on? I kinda don’t think so.
So, I think that we need to do some soul-searching in our own profession. This is what I was saying a little bit earlier with newsworthiness, with what we believe to be newsworthy and what we don’t, because right now, I think we kinda tell the public newsworthiness’ importance, but it’s actually kinda outrageous, scandal, secret, it’s like a weird cocktail of things and I don’t think we’ve got that cocktail right.
Yeah, because that stuff does work. Nicole, again, I urge you to listen to the Nicole Wong thing, but when you focus on speed, virality and engagement, you’re gonna get those kinds of stories and they’re gonna rise to the top and then people are gonna do them. It takes a lot of a very certain kind of person to resist it. It certainly does. It takes an editor that’s like, “Eh, I’m not interested.”
Ezra Klein: I don’t hugely agree, to be honest. I think that we have a lot of received wisdom about this that isn’t quite true. Every place I’ve been, it’s like, “Oh yeah, the policy, that’s gonna do way worse than the other stuff,” and I’m not saying that Trump-Russia doesn’t do well. Some of it does and certainly if you get, if there’s a huge story … but a lot of our top coverage in everywhere I’ve been has been the policy coverage.
I think often it’s harder to do well, but I thought about this another way, because I was actually gonna go make an opposite version of this point, so I went back and I looked at Donald Trump’s tweets. I was like, I wanted to make the point looking at this that when Trump tweets like, “Media is the enemy of the people,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, that he gets way more pickup on Twitter than when he tweets about jobs numbers or something else like that. And then it turned out I was wrong. So, I couldn’t make that point, which was terrible. But, it was kind of encouraging in a way.
Manny Yekutiel: Let me ask real quick to you, Ezra, on this particular point: Vox is kind of known for being a place that doesn’t take the bait and has substantive policy coverage that’s also interesting.
Ezra Klein: Oh, why thank you.
Manny Yekutiel: I’m not saying this to brown-nose you, but there are probably a lot of publications that don’t wanna cover these things in such a sensational way, but they feel like if they do it, they won’t make the money, the business won’t survive. So, what do you think …
There is a pressure to do the sexy …
Manny Yekutiel: On Vox?
No, not on Vox. On lots of publications. You can see it.
Manny Yekutiel: But how do you not give in to the pressure and keep the business alive? Because Vox seems to be doing it.
Ezra Klein: I don’t agree that … I agree that we feel this pressure. I don’t agree that the pressure is as real as we think it is. The thing that I do think is true is that it’s quite hard, I think it’s harder to do a lot of these policy stories well, to find the angles on them, to understand how to make them sellable to an audience than some of the big scandal or the big conflict.
Now, some places do do it well, right? I think if you name most of the really big outlets, they’re excellent at this, like, the New York Times, Washington Post. But I think that we have been trained to think that people don’t like this stuff and we often don’t do it well. I think, by the way, policy journalism is particularly hamstrung by false equivalence. Policy journalism, generally speaking, the question people have is, “How does this work and is it good? Will it be good for me?” And if the answer’s, “I can’t tell you,” they’re gonna leave.
Now, if you can go and say, “This is gonna be terrible for you or great for you. This is a great bill or a bad bill,” I do think it pushes you toward taking a position. I think one reason that the organizations where I’ve done this it’s done pretty well is because we’ve been willing to take positions and that relates to what people actually want out of that coverage. And if you can’t do that, the coverage tends to fail.
But I don’t think people don’t wanna know about things that are important. I think sometimes it’s harder, but …
I do think twitchy …
Ezra Klein: … I think people want …
I think people are tired. I get the sense that people … I’m working on a podcast idea and it’s so non-twitchy, it’s like the opposite. The podcast, when we started the podcast, one of the things was I was told you can’t do anything in an hour. And I’m like, “I’m doing it an hour,” you know what I mean? People, I think, really want substantive discussions. I think in the next era, leaning into smart is probably a really good idea, pushing towards smart.
Ezra Klein: I got 50,000 retweets today on a tweet about Paul Ryan’s record on deficits …
Manny Yekutiel: Wow.
Ezra Klein: It’s like, you know, people knew stuff…
Manny Yekutiel: I’m thinking in particular, I know amongst a lot of people here …
Okay, let them ask questions.
Manny Yekutiel: I will. But the … I will. But just an example of this is that …
Oh, you’re still talking.
Manny Yekutiel: … Syria video you did.
Ezra Klein: Yeah.
Manny Yekutiel: Where you explain the Syrian conflict and all the ins and outs. That was a policy thing that a lot of people really …
Ezra Klein: That got like 120 million views.
Yeah. All right.
Manny Yekutiel: Next, over there in the striped shirt.
[sound of glass breaking]
Manny Yekutiel: Mazel tov!
Anish: Hi, Anish Johri. You guys raised a really interesting point about news versus analysis versus opinion. So, as editors, you have folks working for you. What do you tell the people who work for you that … What is their role as journalists? Is it to just tell the rest of us that aren’t in Washington, aren’t going to these parties, is it to tell us what’s happening? Is it to provide an opinion on what’s happening or is it to provide analysis?
And I think what’s tough is, liberal readers are never gonna read Breitbart, conservative readers are not gonna read some of the liberal outlets. A lot of folks don’t read just pure news. Those don’t get clicks, and so opinion seems to become important, but there are a lot of problems with what we see in the echo chamber Twitter. As leaders, what do you tell folks that look up to you, what is the role of journalism?
Well, I’m way down the other road for a long time now. I’ve always thought that … I look at it as reported analysis. You can’t do analysis without doing the reporting and we’ve been doing that at Recode since the very … since All Things D and before. I was so tired of that “to be sure” statement, those really … I just was exhausted by it and I actually had a fit at the Wall Street Journal when there was a story about Webvan, I don’t remember, one of them, and they were like, “Kara, you need to get an analyst to say what you already know from your smarts and doing the reporting and having analysis to say what you wanna say.”
I’m like, “Why can’t I say what I wanna say? I already know. I’m gonna tell you. This is a disaster, it’s gonna go up in smoke,” and they wouldn’t let me do it and you had to put the “to be sure” statement, which is “to be sure, comma, some people think …” and then you quote someone.
It just was ridiculous and I had this whole screaming monologue in my head that I decided to create a website with my screaming monologue. And so, I think what we do is you have to do the reporting to say, for example, in a story I worked on, “Yahoo is a goat rodeo, people, let me just tell you, I’ve been inside and it’s a goat rodeo in there.” You know what I mean?
Manny Yekutiel: What’s a goat rodeo?
A rodeo with goats. Do you know what I mean?
Ezra Klein: Explanatory journalism, folks!
Right, exactly. But you know what I mean, I have done the reporting. I’ve talked to hundreds of people, I’m gonna tell you this is a mess or I’m gonna tell you this is going on at Uber and stuff like that. What I do with my reporters is, “Tell me what you found out and then tell them. Tell the readers that and don’t be scared to say this is the determination you made, because you’re not wrong, because you spent the time doing it. You can make a determination of something.”
And so, we’ve been doing that forever. We did that from the beginning and I want them to really do that a lot, but they can’t be just a pontificating person who just has an opinion about something, they’ve gotta go in there and find out and talk to everybody and then give people a chance to respond too. That’s the other thing, is letting these companies or people you cover respond, so you’re fair to them. It’s over, the old kind of way you do journalism is over, because it’s useless and it’s not true, really, I think. But we’ve been doing it forever, so it’s not fresh and new.
Manny Yekutiel: We have time for one or two more questions, here with the white collar. That’s you.
Oh, and there’s a hat.
Arie: Yeah, the hat couldn’t come out before.
Ari: Hi, my name is Ari Israel and my question is to Kara: When did you decide that you were cool being called a “bitch,” because clearly all women walk the fine line between weak and witch.
Witch or bitch?
Ari: Whichever one is allowed for the stream.
Wow, there’s so many. Any of them. We can do anything …
Manny Yekutiel: It’s a podcast. Anything goes.
I was always comfortable. I was comfortable from day one. I don’t know. It was interesting, I was just at this lunch called “The Old Grumpy Girls of the New York Times Network,” they had a lunch there for women at the New York Times. It was great, it was this lunch, it’s something like Old Girls Network, I don’t know. Anyway, someone asked me that and I was like, “I don’t know. I just have always been obnoxious.” It’s just since the beginning, and so, I don’t know.
I just don’t care what people think of me. I wish I did. No, I don’t. I don’t know, I don’t know. You know something? Fascinatingly, nobody calls me that, people don’t attack me that much on Twitter. Someone was just pointing out to me I don’t get that … I get less strafed on Twitter than you might imagine and I’m not clear why that is.
Ari: You don’t let people push you around.
I guess, yeah.
Ezra Klein: I once saw you get attacked on Twitter, or even what you perceived as an attack on Twitter, and you responded with such overwhelming force that I don’t think it’s a mystery at all. I was like, “I am never gonna piss Kara off under any circumstance.”
Oh, I know what it was. Yeah, that was not nice. Don’t worry about being called anything, honestly.
Barb: All right, you can call me a bitch. Hi, I’m Barb Kinney. So, we’ve touched on Twitter a lot tonight and I think this is a good last question, because I wanna know about the future of journalism …
Barb: Hi Kara, how are you doing? I knew her back in D.C.
Barb: When she was a pup and I was too.
Yeah. I was never a pup.
Barb: But so, I’ve been frustrated with Twitter as all the reporters are reporting on Donald Trump’s tweets and part of me always wished that everybody would just boycott it for a while, but I now know that’s not gonna happen, because as you said earlier, how I guess important Twitter can be with what people have to say. It’s a platform. But what is the future of journalism if all we do is report on Donald Trump’s crazy tweets?
Ezra Klein: So, a few things. I’m so sympathetic to the introduction of this question, but I wanna stand up a bit for my colleagues and say even now, even at its worst, there is so much other great work going on. Part of the problem is that some of what gets lifted up through the algorithms — and I think this is actually more true on cable news — there can be a focus on some of the work we do and other parts of it get lost, but there’s just remarkable journalism happening.
Not just on Trump and politics, but out on foreign policy, a million great things are happening at any given moment. There’s a lot of bad stuff, but a lot of good. I do think that the future of journalism, particularly as people are moving more to subscription models, particularly as you can’t just rely on the algorithm to have a business model, particularly as you actually have to build enough of a relationship with the audience that they’re gonna fund you in some way or another, like, they’re gonna take actions on your behalf. I do think, and I hope, that that’s gonna push forward an amount of quality journalism.
I don’t think you can ever really just be on Trump’s tweets. I think that you need more than that, but I think by the same token that if we don’t learn how to stop letting … let me put it this way: The problem is not that we report on Trump’s tweets, it’s which ones we report on. We have decided that the president saying something offensive, I don’t wanna say “crazy” because genuinely crazy is newsworthy, but offensive often isn’t. The president saying something offensive is more important than any other president saying something important.
I remember watching George W. Bush or Barack Obama give these very carefully crafted speeches on the future of manufacturing policy, where they found a setting, they went to a steel mill in Ohio and it was actually a guide to policy and they could not for love or money get anybody to cover that. And Donald Trump can get up and call Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” and it’s the front page everywhere.
If we let the craziest actors crowd everything else out, if there’s no room for people who speak more quietly and more soberly and more thoughtfully, then we are going to get the kind of politics we create. There’s a very good argument to be made that the reason Donald Trump won the Republican primary is because he squeezed out coverage of every other candidate by just being more outrageous than any of them all the time. That’s a terrible, terrible business incentive structure.
So, to what you were saying, I’m a little less worried in this respect about the future of journalism than I am about the future of politics. I’m worried that we, in journalism, are setting up a really terrible incentive structure in politics. I am very comforted that Michael Avenatti did not see a path for himself, but that might’ve had other dimensions to it, right? He was under legal clouds and other things. I am worried that we are creating a very, very clear way of winning now, where it’s like if you can just say enough nuts stuff so nobody else can get coverage, you win.
That hasn’t tended to work for everybody. I think he’s an unusual case.
Ezra Klein: That’s why I’m comforted by Avenatti.
But I do also think that people are a little … I believe I am the only person who watched every episode of “The Apprentice.” I did watch it, I’m sorry people, I did. I get why he’s popular, completely. I watched every episode. You get tired of the show after a while and I think a lot of journalists are tired of the show … I get a sense that people are tired of the show. Do you know what I mean? Like, the show gets … it’s sort of like “The Truman Show,” it’s like, “Oh, this blowhard. Fuck him.”
Ezra Klein: Have you seen “The Truman Show”?
No, no, the movie. No, at the end, he leaves. I know what happens at the end. I know, I know. But at the end of “The Truman Show,” they’re like, what’s on next?
Ezra Klein: Oh, right, yeah.
Remember, that’s the last line of that movie, which is a fantastic movie if you’ve never seen it.
Ezra Klein: See, she did watch it.
I did. Of course I did. I’ve watched it 50 times along with “Broadcast News” and some others. But I did watch “The Apprentice” and you did, by the end, the formulaicness, the tiredness, it got exhausting and you turned it off. I know it sounds crazy, but you did. And that interview with Chuck Todd and Andrea and Holly, you felt it. You feel it when you talk to journalists, everyone’s tired of the show.
So, it’d be interesting to see what happens. And what’s really interesting right now, there’s a show on Broadway right now, “Network”, I urge you all to watch the movie and read the book, “Network,” it’s a Broadway show right now. It’s really fascinating to understand how all that was so outrageous and every bit of it is now existing, which is … except for the murder on television so far, but it’s just a really interesting time.
So, I have some hopes too. I think people are really leaning … people seem to be … the stuff we’re making money on is all smart and long and not short and twitchy, it seems like it. And so, that’s a positive thing.
I’m gonna end this by asking Ezra a question: What’s your favorite journalism business model these days?
Ezra Klein: The ones that make money.
Yeah, okay, but which one? End on that then.
Ezra Klein: What’s my favorite? I’ll say this: One of my favorite things that we’re doing, the thing that we’re doing that we weren’t doing a couple years ago and it’s been really good for us, our souls, is we’re … we’ve become a production house, so with mid-roll, we’re making “Today Explained,” which is a daily podcast …
Ezra Klein: … and with Netflix, we’re making “Explained.” And we have another one coming with YouTube and I am … I think those things have expressed the soul of what we want to be as well as anything we’ve ever done and they’re slower and they have a very different incentive structure around them and it’s felt healthy. It’s felt healthier than a lot of the other things that we’ve tried.
That’s been really encouraging. And to what you were just saying, to what you’re making money on, being your best work, those are places where we’re making money on our best work …
Ezra Klein: And that too has felt healthy. So that maybe is my, if I had to pick a favorite, but I love anything that allows us to actually fund our journalism.
Right, but it’s true. And what’s really interesting is like I think of my kids too, because my son, he literally was like, “Do you know Ezra Klein?” I’m like, “Yes,” and he goes, “Can I meet him?” And I go, “Okay, I’m kind of famous,” but he wanted to go and meet Ezra and there’s a picture of him, “Oh, it’s Ezra Klein,” but now he likes Carlos …
Ezra Klein: Carlos Maza?
He loves Carlos Maza.
Ezra Klein: That’s awesome.
I was like, “Don’t you wanna see Ezra Klein?” He’s like, “No, I wanna see Carlos Maza now.”
Ezra Klein: Host of our Strikethrough series on YouTube, which is awesome.
Right. He loves it, he loves it. It’s amazing. So, I have great … my kids watch substantive stuff even if they’re doing it … I have to say, my one son in the morning watches … so, you see them watching substantive stuff, which I think is really interesting. So, I do think there’s a tiredness of the twitchy and the tiredness of the thing and we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes, but anyway, Ezra Klein, welcome to San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Manny Yekutiel: Before we finish, I do wanna take 10 seconds and just say something about you, okay?
Manny Yekutiel: This is a conversation about the future of journalism and there are few people right now writing in journalism that have the courage and brilliance and the chutzpah that you do.
Manny Yekutiel: The chutzpah.
Manny Yekutiel: And I just wanna say that people like you who have been willing and continue to be willing to hold power accountable and to hold people’s feet to the fire and do it so articulately …
Manny Yekutiel: You are the face of journalism, the future of journalism …
Yeah, I’m real old, sweetie.
Manny Yekutiel: We are so lucky …
I’m getting a little tired.
Manny Yekutiel: We’re lucky to have you.
Come on, young people.
Manny Yekutiel: And so is Vox.
Manny Yekutiel: Let’s give one last …
I just wanted to say, Ezra and I are gonna be making some really cool stuff together. A lot’s been reported on this stuff, but we … one of the things that’s great about working at Vox and other places is we just change as we do … we find interesting things, we shift, we just decide on things. And one of the great things about working for it is the freedom to do that and to say, “Ah, this isn’t working, we’re doing this.”
And we have some really exciting stuff and there’s also Casey Newton in the audience right there, who’s doing an amazing newsletter. There’s all kinds of stuff that we’re doing that I think is really fun for us to do and also really great content. And so, we’re pretty jazzed about stuff.
Manny Yekutiel: Can I say a couple upcoming events real quick?
Yes, go ahead.
Manny Yekutiel: So, on Wednesday we have a conversation on the future of work with Leila Janah.
Manny Yekutiel: And then we have a bunch of other fun events. Next week, we have our local town hall with the District 8 Supervisor, Rafael Mandelman, and if you guys liked tonight, please share your love. It’s “Welcome to Manny’s” on Facebook and online and let’s give a final, big round of applause to Kara Swisher and Ezra Klein.