After five years, news broke Tuesday morning that Ezra Klein, pundit and Wonkblogger extraordinaire, is leaving The Washington Post.
It's official: Ezra is leaving the Post. Hoping for the best for him.— Wonkblog (@Wonkblog) January 21, 2014
Thanks to the @WashingtonPost for five incredible years. An amazing newsroom and an amazing institution.— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) January 21, 2014
There is speculation that he is going to Vox Media.
Poynter was the first to publish a memo from the Post to its staff announcing Klein’s departure, along with Melissa Bell, a platforms director for the Post, and Dylan Matthews, who wrote for Wonkblog and launched its fellow viral site, Know More:
When Ezra joined us in 2009, he was a wunderkind blogger with brash confidence and a burning desire to write a column in the print newspaper. As he leaves us, Ezra is still a brash wunderkind, but now his burning desire has a grander scope: He is looking to start his own news organization, an ambition that befits someone with uncommon gifts of perception and analysis. Ezra’s passion and drive will be missed, but we will take pride in watching him chart out his new venture.
Klein, profiled by CJR in 2012, had reportedly been in talks with Post owner Jeff Bezos and publisher Katharine Weymouth about creating a new venture along the lines of Wonkblog, but Bezos and Weymouth balked at the eight-figure investment Klein reportedly proposed. Although there had been rumblings of his departure for several weeks, news of Klein’s exit drove enough traffic to temporarily crash Poynter’s website, a fact not lost on some observers:
Over at Politico, Dylan Byers and Hadas Gold wrote, in a longread that appeared to have been prepared in advance, that Klein’s departure was the inevitable result of personal-brand journalism:
Pro tip for media organizations: Retain employees whose departure would be such big news it crashes Poynter.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) January 21, 2014
The split, which has become a point of tension in the newsroom and the talk of the town in Washington, underscores a larger tension in the era of personal-brand journalism. Big media institutions go to great lengths to feed the egos (and pockets) of their growing stars, cultivating their image and reaping the rewards of high traffic. But when that brand becomes too expensive, or so big it threatens to outshine the institution itself, the institution is forced to let it go.
Byers and Gold wrote that Klein’s newfound independence gives him “more money, more notoriety, more editorial freedom and…the opportunity to build a new business he can call his own.” (As Slate’s David Weigel notes, Politico was founded by two former Post employees.) But they also warned that he risked “waking up one day without enough clicks and realizing he actually wasn’t bigger than The Washington Post.”
Details of Klein’s new project are unknown. However, he will be joining a crowded startup market that already includes Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg’s Re/Code, the Neetzan Zimmerman-helmed social network Whisper, and First Look Media, Glenn Greenwald’s new site funded by Pierre Omidyar.
“Back in the day, the the crowning achievement of a political reporter’s life was a bylined column in one of the big daily newspapers. Today, that’s a steppingstone,” writes Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum.
Reactions to Klein’s departure on Twitter ranged from the resigned:
The idea the post was gonna let Ezra Klein run some massive parallel news operation was always far-fetched.— Alex Parker (@AlexParkerDC) January 21, 2014
to the nonplussed:
and of course, the tongue-in-cheek:
Mama Said “Wonk, You Out?” There. I’ve written the worst possible @ezraklein /”Wonk”/WaPo tweet. No need for anyone else to try.— Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) January 21, 2014
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