Person

Jim Bankoff

Occupation:

Digital Media Executive

Lives:

Saddle River, New Jersey

Jim Bankoff is the chief executive officer of Vox Media, an American digital media company that operates left-leaning news and opinion websites and digital media channels.

Background

Bankoff grew up in Saddle River, New Jersey, and attended college at Emory University in Atlanta, and the Wharton School of Business. [1]

In 1995, Bankoff went to work at America Online (AOL), working on the development of AOL Instant Messenger. [2] He worked on various digital media content projects for AOL, including the tech-focused blog Engadget. He also co-founded the celebrity gossip website TMZ. [3]

Vox Media CEO

In 2008, Bankoff was hired to be CEO of SB Nation, a sports fan blogging site founded by liberal activists Tyler Bleszinski and Markos Moulitsas (founder of the left-wing political site Daily Kos) in 2003. Within two years, SB Nation was logging 8 million unique visitors and 40 million page views each month, and Bankoff had grown the site’s revenue’s fourfold. [4]

However, the company was criticized by many progressives for its employment policies: SB Nation bloggers were all independent contractors without health or other benefits, many making as little as $600 per month, and the company demanded that they write a minimum number of posts before they would be paid. These contributors, one writer noted, “put in long hours and receive only token sums for work against which Vox sells ads.” [5]

Vox Media was created in 2011 when SB Nation was merged with The Verge, a technology-focused website that had been founded by writers and editors from SB Nation. Bankoff became CEO of the newly formed company. [6] The company’s most prominent media brand, Vox.com, was founded by left-wing journalists and activists Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and Melissa Bell in 2014. [7] Vox pioneered the “explaining the news” editorial model that has been criticized for presenting the writers’ personal opinions under the guise of neutral journalism, with even left-leaning critics saying its reporting is “almost a parody of liberal faux-neutrality”[8] and involves “characterizing its views as self-evident truths.” [9]

Bankoff has grown Vox Media aggressively. In 2019, Vox Media acquired a Hollywood production studio, Epic Magazine, which specialized in optioning long-form magazine articles as film scripts (most notably Argo, a script about the rescue of American diplomats held as hostages in Tehran in 1979, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012.)[10]

Bankoff also announced plans to produce Vox-branded shows for networks and streaming services such as HBO, Hulu, and Netflix. [11] That same year, the company acquired New York magazine, one of the more prestigious long-form print outlets in the United States. In 2015, Vox Media was valued at $1 billion after a $200 million funding round from NBC Universal. [12]

In 2019, Bankoff told the New York Times that he expected Vox Media to book more than $300 million in revenue in 2020. As of May 2021, Vox Media brands include The Verge, Vox, SB Nation, Eater (a food website), Polygon (a gaming website), and New York. [13]

Union Controversy

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 secret-ballot election overseen by the federal National Labor Relations Board. [14] In January 2018, Bankoff and Vox Media leadership recognized the union without a secret-ballot vote.” [15]

The company and its union negotiated a contract for more than a year, with Bankoff telling employees in a memo, “While paying people a lot more than market wages sounds great on the surface, it’s not realistic or smart.” [16]

Layoffs and Revenue Declines

After reaching profitability in 2019, Vox Media was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, missing revenue targets by more than 40 percent in the second quarter of the year. In April 2020, Vox Media furloughed 100 employees, or about 9 percent of its work force, and offered buyouts to many others. Then in July 2020, Bankoff met with Vox Media union leaders and announced plans to lay off 6 percent of the company’s work force. [17]

References

  1. Thomas Heath. “As investments roll in, Vox Media’s Bankoff tries to keep creativity alive.” Washington Post. December 7, 2014. Accessed May 14, 2021. 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. ^
  2. Garett Sloane. “Twitter Eulogizes AIM as App Sounds Death Knell.” Advertising Age. October 6, 2017. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://adage.com/article/digital/aim-internet-memories-forever/310783. ^
  3. Kevin Lincoln. “The Raid on AOL: How Vox Pillaged Engadget and Founded an Empire.” Business Insider. January 9, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/vox-2012-1. ^
  4. Lou Dubois. “The Evolution of Sports Blog Nation.” Inc.com. August 2010. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.inc.com/news/articles/2010/08/interview-with-jim-bankoff-ceo-of-sbnation.html. ^
  5. Laura Wagner. “How SB Nation Profits Off An Army Of Exploited Workers.” Deadspin. August 14, 2017. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://deadspin.com/how-sb-nation-profits-off-an-army-of-exploited-workers-1797653841. ^
  6. Noah Davis. “The New Site From The Engadget Crew And SB Nation Is About To Take The Tech World By Storm.” Business Insider. November 1, 2011. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/the-new-site-from-the-engadget-crew-and-sb-nation-is-about-to-take-the-tech-world-by-storm-2011-10. ^
  7. Ezra Klein. “Vox Is Our next.” The Verge. January 26, 2014. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.theverge.com/2014/1/26/5348212/ezra-klein-vox-is-our-next. ^
  8. Damon Linker. “Is ISIS Still Losing? Why Vox Keeps Getting the News Wrong.” The Week. May 29, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://theweek.com/articles/557588/isis-still-losing-why-vox-keeps-getting-news-wrong. ^
  9. Ryu Spaeth. “The Gawker Meltdown and the Vox-ification of the News Media.” The Week. July 21, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://theweek.com/articles/567586/gawker-meltdown-voxification-news-media. ^
  10. Natalie Jarvey. “Vox Media Acquires Epic Magazine.” Hollywood Reporter. April 15, 2019. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/digital/vox-media-acquires-epic-magazine-1202218/. ^
  11. Sara Fischer. “Scoop: Vox Media Studios targets $100 million in 2021 revenue.” Axios. December 15, 2020. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.axios.com/vox-media-studios-revenue-b4ce29a1-5393-4e30-944d-83a1a5ccdd3b.html. ^
  12. Erin Griffin. “Vox Media becomes a startup “unicorn” with NBCU funding.” Fortune. August 12, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://fortune.com/2015/08/12/vox-media-comcast-nbcu-unicorn/.    ^
  13. Marc Tracy and Edmund Lee. “Vox Media Acquires New York Magazine, Chronicler of the Highbrow and Lowbrow.” New York Times. September 24, 2019. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/business/media/vox-buys-nymag.html. ^
  14. Sean Redmond. “Vox Hypocrita.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce. March 15, 2018. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.uschamber.com/article/vox-hypocrita. ^
  15. “Vox Media Unionizes with WGA East.” Writers Guild of America East. June 26, 2018. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.wgaeast.org/vox-media-unionizes-with-wga-east/ ^
  16. Josh Eidelson. “Vox Staff Walks Out for Day to Demand Union Contract Deal.” Bloomberg. July 6, 2019. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-06/vox-staff-walks-outs-for-day-to-protest-stalled-contract-talks. ^
  17. Alex Sherman. “Vox Media preparing round of layoffs as business fails to improve amid coronavirus pandemic.” CNBC.com. July 14, 2020. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/14/vox-media-preparing-round-of-layoffs-due-to-coronavirus-business-impact.html. ^
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