At the Guardian on Wednesday, Emily Bell asked why a new fleet of marquee online journalism startups—including Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Ezra Klein’s Vox, and First Look Media, which recruited Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and John Cook (husband of DoubleX editor Allison Benedikt) to lead their own digital magazines—“have been spattered with words that denote transformation,” like “revolutionary” and “innovative,” and yet are staffed with a very traditional slate of mostly white and male journalists. “Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution,” Bell writes. “A revolution calls for a regime change of more significant depth.”
Bell is correct. But I wonder why there was ever any expectation that these new platforms would be more diverse than the stodgy magazines and newspapers they’re positioning themselves against. These online platforms represent the merging of journalism (which is a traditionally white and male-dominated field) with technology (which is even more so!). If anything, their marriage should only produce more powerful white men. In the launch video for Vox, Trei Brundrett, Vox Media’s chief product officer, says Klein came to the company because: “We’re not just a media company, we’re also a technology company.” Of the 17 members of Vox Media’s “leadership team,” two are women.
Diversity has never been a serious metric for a company’s “innovation” status, in either journalism or tech. Steve Jobs may have thought different, but he looked the same. It’s the product that’s new, not the inventor. (And sometimes, women are the product: Investors gave Bleacher Report’s deeply male Bryan Goldberg $6.5 million to start a website for women.) In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review heralded Klein’s fresh perspective in political reporting because he’s a “California kid” who did not earn his “fame at The New Republic.” Instead, he interned at the Washington Monthly and joined the American Prospect at the age of 23. These are incredibly fine distinctions to draw. Why even pretend that the demographics are shifting? What really made Klein different was that he was an early master of an emerging technological tool. That’s not to dismiss Klein’s personal accomplishments, which are well-earned; it’s just that his background is not particularly surprising. (Even if he did—gasp!—graduate from UCLA.) Journalism and technology won’t just magically diversify when they shift over to a new platform.