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Interview with Vox Media and New York Media CEOs about the deal

Last night, I learned that Vox Media, my employer, buys New York Media, the publisher behind New York magazine and websites like Vulture and the Cut.

This morning I interviewed Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff and New York Media CEO Pam Wasserstein for our Recode Media podcast.

And I was told that interviewing your boss, on the record and in a public forum, is as ugly as I imagined. You are more likely to get an honest answer to an unpleasant question than someone who is not working for your boss. And you don't get points for asking the uncomfortable question.

Still, it is my job to ask such questions. Like: Why did Bankoff and Wasserstein decide to join now instead of 2018 when Wasserstein had hired bankers to look at selling their family business? And: Since the two companies own different websites with overlapping subjects and audiences, doesn't it make sense to merge some of them instead of keeping them separate, as Bankoff has promised to do?

For the record, Bankoff and Wasserstein say they made the deal now instead of earlier because both companies are healthier than they have been in the past. And Bankoff and Wasserstein say they already operate sites with overlapping coverage areas – for example, Vox / Recode, covers tech, and so does Vox Media-owned The Verge – and that there's no problem at all.

You can hear our full conversation below, or listen to it via the Apple Podcast here:

Meanwhile, instead of all the inside information about the deal – find out when to write about your employer and when it hasn't been an interesting experience for me – I have some thoughts.

  • At least there are some advantages to Bankoff and Wasserstein's argument – which they have repeated to several outlets – that they are in better shape today than they have been in the past. Wasserstein says her business has improved over the past year for several reasons, since it has found new ways to make money in addition to display advertising, such as affiliate business. Vox Media has also been able to diversify its revenue through some TV programming agreements and podcasts. (Hurray for the podcast!) And while Vox, like many other publishers, made a big effort on Facebook's ability to help it build an audience and business, it did not commit fully to Mark Zuckerberg's platform, which made its eventual decision to to withdraw less painful than it was for other publishers.
  • And as Bankoff and I discussed on the podcast, many of the digital consolidations we've seen over the last couple of years have been desperate fire sales (see: Mic, Mashable and Gizmodo ). This is not one of these, but since it is a stock exchange agreement between two private companies, we will not know the real value of the link at any time. I think we will see other combinations in line with the kind of BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti called for last year. Vice and Refinery29, for one, are still working on a deal that started earlier this year.
  • Bankoff has promised not to cut any editorial jobs when the two companies are combined, which gives the real possibility that Vox will consolidate other parts of the business, such as technology or sales. He told me that the deal is not based on cost cuts, but that is different than saying he will not cut any costs.
  • It is still very reasonable to ask why New York Media and Vox Media will not merge some of their editorial features, since some of them actually overlap, such as New York's Grub Street and Vox's Eater. Even if you didn't want to do it to save money, you'd think it would be a commercial reason to market, for example, a single food-centric property instead of two food-centric properties. Wasserstein and Bankoff insist that it will not happen. If you are not convinced by it, you are not alone .
  • That said, I, as a Vox Media employee, feel much better that we associate a publisher who does a good job. and do a lot of work that we don't do than I would if we combined with a publisher with more overlap. I also know that this combination does not exclude others on the road, so I take nothing for granted.
  • When I talk about not taking things for granted, I'm pretty happy that I'm working for a place that lets me write about my employer. Which I like to do much more than interview my employer.

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