For-profit

Vox Media

Website:

www.voxmedia.com/a/go-deeper/about

Location:

DC

Type:

Private Corporation

Formation:

2003 (as SportsBlogs, Inc.)

2011 (in current form as Vox Media)

Chairman & CEO:

Jim Bankoff [49]

Vox Media is an American digital media company that operates news and opinion websites and new media channels. Originally founded by left-wing political activists including Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and led by an executive team with deep connections to the Democratic Party, Vox Media has expanded from its original roots in sports blogging into a network that covers news, politics, sports technology, science, culture, video games, real estate, food, and more from a generally left-of-center perspective.

History

The predecessor to Vox Media, SB Nation, was founded in 2003 by left-wing activist and Howard Dean campaign strategist Jerome Armstrong, Democratic activist and “Daily Kos” founder Markos Moulitsas, and sports blogger Tyler Blezinski. [1] [2]

SB Nation grew by starting or acquiring team-specific blogs in a variety of sports, and in 2008 hired former AOL executive and TMZ celebrity gossip site co-founder Jim Bankoff to run the company, replacing Blezinski. [3] Blezinski would leave Vox Media in 2015. [4]

In 2011, Vox Media launched The Verge, a technology news site. [5] It would go on to add video game news site Polygon in 2012 and acquire the Curbed network of blogs – real estate blog Curbed, restaurant blog Eater and shopping site Racked – in 2013. [6][7] It also acquired the technology industry news site ReCode, founded by former Wall Street Journal technology writers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, in 2015. [8]

Vox

(Main article: Vox)

In 2014, Vox Media launched the Vox.com news and opinion site led by left-wing writer-activists Ezra Klein (late of the Washington Post and the American Prospect and a reported confidante of officials in the Obama administration[9]) and Matt Yglesias (formerly a writer for the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s blog ThinkProgress[10], along with former Washington Post platform director Melissa Bell. [11]

Vox is best known for “explainer” articles from a left-wing perspective that purports to give readers all they need to know about a topic. These can range from pop culture (“Jeopardy champion James Holzhauer’s phenomenal winning streak, explained”), to economics (“Why is art so expensive?”), to partisan politics (“Trump’s bizarre Rose Garden news conference on impeachment, explained”), to complex sociopolitical topics (“Abortion in America, explained in 10 facts”).

While the “explainers” are supposed to serve as a formally non-partisan credible information, conservative[12] and liberal observers alike[13] have criticized Vox for bias and making simple factual errors. Observers also noted the site’s close relationship with the Obama administration, with observers characterizing its coverage of the President and administration policy as “extended commercials for the Obama-in-2016 campaign”[14] and “a disinformation campaign launched by a propaganda ministry.” [15]

Business Units

As of June 2019, Vox Media operates the following websites and business units:

  • Vox (General news and opinion)
  • The Verge (Technology, science and modern lifestyle news, reviews and opinion)
  • SB Nation (Sports blogs, news and opinion)
  • Eater (Food and restaurant news and opinion)
  • Polygon (Video game news and reviews)
  • Curbed (Real estate, architecture and urban planning news and opinion)
  • ReCode (Technology industry news and opinion)
  • Epic Media (Digital “true story” magazine)
  • Chorus (Content management and advertising systems)
  • Coral (Website comment section software)
  • Concert (Advertising network)
  • Vox Creative (Branded content)

Vox Media has expanded heavily into podcasts and video, producing more than 100 podcasts and operating a video production unit that is developing shows for Netflix, CNN, YouTube, Apple, Hulu, and other platforms. [16] [17]

Leadership

Many members of Vox Media’s leadership team have served formal roles in explicitly left-of-center advocacy and Democratic administrations and political campaigns. Former Clinton administration official Marty Moe is Vox Media’s president, and its chief operating officer is Trei Brundrett, who led digital strategy for the 2008 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia). [18][19] The company’s chief communications officer, Meredith Webster, served in White House and State Department roles in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. [20]

Vox Media’s chief financial officer is Steve Swad, a former Clinton administration Securities and Exchange Commission staffer who went on to become executive vice president and chief financial officer for the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae. [21]

Actor, liberal activist, and technology investor Ashton Kutcher, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, is a formal advisor to Vox Media. [22] [23]

Investors

The largest investor in Vox Media is Comcast, which invested early in Vox’s life-cycle through its Comcast Ventures venture capital subsidiary and then again in 2015 through its NBCUniversal subsidiary, taking an additional $200 million stake. [24] [25]

Other major institutional investors include Accel Partners, Khosla Ventures, and General Atlantic. Khosla Ventures is a venture capital firm founded and run by Sun Microsystems cofounder and Democratic Party donor Vinod Khosla. [26] [27] [28] General Atlantic is a for-profit private equity firm that shares leadership with the left-of-center Atlantic Philanthropies collection of private foundations. [29]

Controversies

SB Nation Writer Compensation

Vox Media’s SBNation.com operates largely as a collection of hundreds of team-specific blogs covering a wide variety of sports. In 2017, Deadspin reported that Vox Media paid the editors and writers behind SB Nation’s blogs as little as $600 per month as independent contractors while holding them to requirements for near-constant writing, social media activity, and reader engagement. [30] The story included a link to a Vox Media memo saying that “writer contributors will be asked to sign new contracts specifying that they will only get paid if they reach their target number of posts.” [31]

The former manager of SB Nation’s Colorado Avalanche blog sued Vox Media in September 2017, alleging that these management and compensation arrangements for its SB Nation blog editors and writers violated federal labor laws. [32] In March 2019, a federal judge had granted the suit, which remained unresolved, class-action status. [33]

Polygon Identity Politics

Beginning in 2014, a faction of video gaming enthusiasts criticized a number of video game-focused media outlets, among them Vox Media’s Polygon, for an excessive focus on identity politics issues such as sexuality, race, and politics in video games. [34] In an October 2014 column responding to criticisms of Polygon, editor Christopher Grant confirmed that the site unapologetically covers video games from a left-wing cultural perspective: [35]

If you truly believe there’s an army of people who reject “progressive” voices and outlets like Polygon…or who would prefer coverage “just about the games,” then I’d encourage you to start a new site for those readers.

Unionization

In November 2017, editorial employees at Vox Media formed the Vox Media Union under the Writers Guild of America – East, a labor union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. They claimed support from a majority of the represented employees through an unmonitored “card check” process and rejected the company’s request for a transparent election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). [36] [37] [38]

In January 2018, Vox Media leadership backed down and recognized the union without a secret-ballot vote. [39] [40]

The new union then began its first contract negotiation by demanding “the best contract in digital media,” according to Washington Post media critic (and dues-paying newspaper union member[41]) Erik Wemple. [42]  The company and its union negotiated for more than a year, with Vox Media leadership arguing that the union’s demands would put the company’s long-term viability at risk: In one memo to employees, Vox Media CEO James Bankoff wrote, “While paying people a lot more than market wages sounds great on the surface, it’s not realistic or smart.” [43]

Eventually, on June 6, 2019, Vox Media Union employees went on strike and “took their sites dark” to pressure the company into meeting their negotiating demands. [44] Among other editorial implications, SB Nation’s basketball editor Mike Prada threatened that the site’s NBA writers wouldn’t cover the ongoing NBA Finals unless a contract were agreed. [45] A contract was ratified by union members the next day. [46]

In addition to provisions regarding compensation beginning at $53,000/year for full-time employees, benefits and other compensation terms, the Vox Media Union members also negotiated clauses that commit Vox Media to manage itself in conformity with left-of-center social causes. [47] These included requirements that the company interview specified percentages of job applicants “from underrepresented backgrounds,” that it “honor preferred gender pronouns and provide access to gender-neutral bathrooms” and that it provide the union with a $50,000 annual budget for a committee “devoted to improving diversity and equity at the company.” [48]

References

  1. Solomon, Brian. “Meet Vox Media: The Digital Upstart That Wants To Be Conde Nast 2.0.” Forbes. December 24, 2012. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2012/12/06/meet-the-digital-upstart-that-thinks-millions-of-rowdy-fans-are-the-future-of-the-web/#756ad3de7e56. ^
  2. Orlowski, Andrew. “Howard Dean’s Net Architect Blasts ’emergent’ Punditocracy.” The Register. January 30, 2004. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/01/30/howard_deans_net_architect_blasts/. ^
  3. Dubois, Lou. “The Evolution of Sports Blog Nation.” Inc.com. August 20, 2010. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.inc.com/news/articles/2010/08/interview-with-jim-bankoff-ceo-of-sbnation.html. ^
  4. Sutton, Kelsey. “Tyler Bleszinski, Co-founder of SB Nation, to Leave Vox Media.” POLITICO Media. December 14, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.politico.com/media/story/2015/12/tyler-bleszinski-co-founder-of-sb-nation-to-leave-vox-media-004319/. ^
  5. Carr, David. “No Longer Shackled by AOL.” The New York Times. April 04, 2011. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/business/media/04carr.html. ^
  6. Grant, Christopher. “Vox Games Is Dead. Welcome, Polygon.” Polygon. April 06, 2012. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.polygon.com/gaming/2012/4/6/2930103/vox-games-is-dead-welcome-polygon. ^
  7. Yu, Roger. “Vox Media Buys Curbed Network Blogs for $20M to $30M.” USA Today. November 11, 2013. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/11/11/voxhttps://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/11/11/vox-buys-curbed/3495007/-buys-curbed/3495007/ ^
  8. Ember, Sydney. “Vox Media Adds ReCode to Its Stable of Websites.” The New York Times. May 26, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/business/media/vox-media-acquiring-recode.html?smid=tw-share. ^
  9. Ioffe, Julia. “Ezra Klein: The Wise Boy.” The New Republic. February 12, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://newrepublic.com/article/112366/ezra-klein-profile-wonkblogs-wise-boy-cannot-be-stopped. ^
  10. Shakir, Faiz. “Farewell To Our Friends And Colleagues Matt Yglesias And Lee Fang.” ThinkProgress. November 19, 2011. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://thinkprogress.org/farewell-to-our-friends-and-colleagues-matt-yglesias-and-lee-fang-c24b6ce90abe/. ^
  11. Klein, Ezra. “Vox Is Our next.” The Verge. January 26, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.theverge.com/2014/1/26/5348212/ezra-klein-vox-is-our-next. ^
  12. Hemingway, Mark. “The Death of Explanatory Journalism.” The Weekly Standard. July 15, 2014. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.weeklystandard.com/mark-hemingway/the-death-of-explanatory-journalism. ^
  13. Linker, Damon. “Is ISIS Still Losing? Why Vox Keeps Getting the News Wrong.” Image. May 29, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://theweek.com/articles/557588/isis-still-losing-why-vox-keeps-getting-news-wrong. ^
  14. Shafer, Jack. “All the President’s Explainers.” POLITICO Magazine. February 09, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/02/vox-interview-barack-obama-115033#.VWYuxouTphI. ^
  15. Linker, Damon. “Is ISIS Still Losing? Why Vox Keeps Getting the News Wrong.” Image. May 29, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://theweek.com/articles/557588/isis-still-losing-why-vox-keeps-getting-news-wrong. ^
  16. Weissman, Cale Guthrie. “Vox’s New Netflix Show Is Just the Start of Its Video Ambitions.” Fast Company. May 23, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.fastcompany.com/40575395/voxs-netflix-ambitions-are-just-the-beginning. ^
  17. Patel, Sahil. “Vox Media’s Entertainment Studio Aims for 12 Series for TV, Streaming Platforms in 2019.” Digiday. May 13, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://digiday.com/media/vox-medias-entertainment-studio-aims-for-12-series-for-tv-streaming-platforms-in-2019/. ^
  18. Joynt, Carol Ross. “Technology News Site The Verge Launches in DC | Washingtonian (DC).” Washingtonian. November 03, 2011. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonian.com/2011/11/03/technology-news-site-the-verge-launches-in-dc/. ^
  19. “Trei Brundrett.” International Symposium on Online Journalism. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://isoj.org/speakers-2018/trei-brundrett/. ^
  20. “Vox Media Hires Meridith Webster as First Chief Communications Officer.” Vox Media. June 04, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.voxmedia.com/about-vox-media/2018/6/4/17426854/vox-media-hires-meridith-webster-as-first-chief-communications-officer. ^
  21. Press, Associated. “Swad Is Fannie Mae’s New CFO, Blakely Stays as Exec Vice President.” CNBC. August 05, 2010. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/id/20398976. ^
  22. “Ashton Kutcher on Donald Trump.” CBS Los Angeles. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/video/3457239-ashton-kutcher-on-donald-trump/. ^
  23. Johnson, Eric. “Full Transcript: Actor and Investor Ashton Kutcher on Recode Decode.” Vox. November 08, 2016. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.vox.com/2016/11/8/13565532/ashton-kutcher-the-ranch-snapchat-virtual-reality-recode-decode-podcast-transcript. ^
  24. Heath, Thomas. “As Investments Roll In, Vox Media’s Bankoff Tries to Keep Creativity Alive.” The Washington Post. December 07, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/as-investments-roll-in-vox-medias-bankoff-tries-to-keep-creativity-alive/2014/12/06/14e34fba-7a66-11e4-b821-503cc7efed9e_story.html?utm_term=.58248d4a4d69. ^
  25. Steel, Emily. “NBCUniversal Invests $200 Million in Vox Media.” The New York Times. August 12, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/business/media/nbcuniversal-invests-200-million-in-vox-media.html. ^
  26. “Donor Lookup: Vinod Khosla.” OpenSecrets. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=Vinod Khosla&order=desc&sort=A. ^
  27. “Vinod Khosla.” Our Team: Your Resources – Vinod Khosla |. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.khoslaventures.com/team/vinod-khosla. ^
  28. Mandelbaum, Robb. “More Business Leaders Sign On With Clinton.” Forbes. September 23, 2016. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robbmandelbaum/2016/09/23/more-business-leaders-sign-on-with-clinton/#15dbeaae4592. ^
  29. “Our History.” General Atlantic. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.generalatlantic.com/about/our-history/. ^
  30. Wagner, Laura. “How SB Nation Profits Off An Army Of Exploited Workers.” Deadspin. August 15, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://deadspin.com/how-sb-nation-profits-off-an-army-of-exploited-workers-1797653841. ^
  31. Wagner, Laura. “How SB Nation Profits Off An Army Of Exploited Workers.” Deadspin. August 15, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://deadspin.com/how-sb-nation-profits-off-an-army-of-exploited-workers-1797653841 ^
  32. Worthington, Danika. “Centennial Woman Who Ran Avalanche Website Sues Vox Media on Claims That SB Nation Broke Labor Laws.” The Denver Post. September 02, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.denverpost.com/2017/09/02/cheryl-bradley-vox-media-lawsuit/. ^
  33. Flood, Brian. “SB Nation Writers, Editors Win Class Status in Overtime Suit.” Bloomberg BNA News. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/class-action/sb-nation-writers-editors-win-class-status-in-overtime-suit. ^
  34. Kain, Erik. “What #GamerGate Is Actually About.” Forbes. December 17, 2014. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2014/12/16/what-gamergate-is-actually-about/#4be26ee07826. ^
  35. Grant, Christopher. “On GamerGate: A Letter from the Editor.” Polygon. October 18, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.polygon.com/2014/10/17/6996601/on-gamergate-a-letter-from-the-editor. ^
  36. Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. “The NLRB Rigs the Rules: From the Joint-employer Rule to Quickie Elections and Gerrymandering, the National Labor Relations Board Pushes Unionization.” Capital Research Center. February 16, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/labor-watch-february-2015-the-nlrb-rigs-the-rules-from-the-joint-employer-rule-to-quickie-elections-and-gerrymandering-the-national-labor-relations-board-pushes-unionization/. ^
  37. “Response to Melissa Bell’s Vox Media Union Letter.” Vox Union. December 14, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.voxunion.org/response-to-melissa-bells-vox-union-letter/. ^
  38. Redmond, Sean. “Vox Hypocrita.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce. March 15, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.uschamber.com/article/vox-hypocrita. ^
  39. “The Vox Media Union Has Won Recognition.” Vox Union. January 11, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.voxunion.org/the-vox-media-union-has-won-recognition/. ^
  40. “Vox Media Unionizes with WGA East |.” Writers Guild of America East. June 26, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.wgaeast.org/vox-media-unionizes-with-wga-east/. ^
  41. Wemple, Erik. “Post Management Disputes Guild’s Methodology on Pay-gap Analysis.” The Washington Post. May 23, 2016. Accessed June 19, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2016/05/23/post-management-disputes-guilds-methodology-on-pay-gap-analysis/. ^
  42. Wemple, Erik. “Vox Media’s Union Wants the ‘best Contract in Digital Media.’ If It Wins, It Would Be Good for Everyone.” The Washington Post. June 07, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/06/07/vox-medias-union-wants-best-contract-digital-media-if-it-wins-it-would-be-good-everyone/?utm_term=.5c8788e0bb79. ^
  43. Eidelson, Josh. “Vox Staff Walks Out for Day to Demand Union Contract Deal.” Bloomberg. July 6, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-06/vox-staff-walks-outs-for-day-to-protest-stalled-contract-talks. ^
  44. Campbell, Andy. “Vox Media Employees Walk Out On Final Day Of Union Bargaining.” HuffPost. June 06, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vox-media-employees-walkout-union-bargaining_n_5cf94b7ce4b0e3e3df1702db. ^
  45. Prada, Mike. “With This Being the Last Scheduled Day of Bargaining, the SBNation.com NBA Team Won’t Be Providing Any Game 3 Coverage Today until @vox_union Receives a Fair Contract. This Was a Hard Decision, but Securing That Contract Today Is More Important than an NBA Finals Game.” Twitter. June 06, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://twitter.com/MikePradaSBN/status/1136641391860170753. ^
  46. Farhi, Paul. “Vox Media, Employees Come to Terms on Tentative New Labor Agreement.” The Washington Post. June 07, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/vox-media-employees-come-to-terms-on-tentative-new-labor-agreement/2019/06/07/fc4d74c0-8970-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html?utm_term=.10f3e5f8d8ca. ^
  47. “Vox Media Ratifies Landmark First Contract with Writers Guild of America, East |.” Writers Guild of America East. June 17, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.wgaeast.org/vox-media-ratifies-landmark-first-contract-with-writers-guild-of-america-east/. ^
  48. “Vox Media Ratifies Landmark First Contract with Writers Guild of America, East |.” Writers Guild of America East. June 17, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.wgaeast.org/vox-media-ratifies-landmark-first-contract-with-writers-guild-of-america-east/. ^
  49. “Leadership & Investors | Vox Media: Go Deeper.” VoxMedia.com. May 31, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.voxmedia.com/a/go-deeper/leadership. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

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