Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has absorbed the responsibility—much of it critical—for not keeping Ezra Klein and his proposed new digital-media venture at the Post.
How could Bezos, the digital entrepreneur who created Amazon.com, not buy into Klein’s vision of a website devoted to delivering news and opinion at the digital edge of journalism? How could he allow the phenomenally prolific creator of the Post’s Wonkblog to take his talents elsewhere?
Actually, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth was the decider.
“It just didn’t make sense for us,” Weymouth tells Washingtonian. “Ezra didn’t want it to be part of the Post. It would be completely separate and quite resource-intensive.”
Klein first brought his proposal to Post executive editor Martin Baron in December. Baron recommended Klein go directly to Weymouth, who runs the Post’s business side. Klein met with Weymouth and described his new venture in a memo with a full business plan, including projected expenses and revenues.
Weymouth says she examined the business plan for what she termed “a kind of authoritative wiki,” and decided the investment didn’t make sense. Klein reportedly projected the cost of building his new venture to be upward of $10 million, with up to 30 employees.
“It seemed to be potentially a bigger distraction that would take resources without building the Post,” Weymouth says. “Had he wanted to keep Wonkblog within the Post, that would have been a different story.”
Weymouth sent Klein’s proposal with her decision against funding it to Bezos. She did not hear back from him. In other words, Bezos accepted her decision to go thumbs down on Klein’s proposition.
Weymouth said she was “not shocked” that Klein would present her with a bold plan to create his own digital news operation. She described Klein, 29, as “young, smart, and entrepreneurial.” She explained her decision to spike Klein’s proposal face to face.
“I admire him and emphasized that we wanted very much to leave the door open to working with us in the future,” Weymouth says.
Neither Bezos nor Klein responded to questions of whether they had had any contact after Weymouth declined the offer.
The heart of Weymouth’s case was that there’s no guarantee Klein’s publication will be profitable.
Wonkblog has reportedly attracted 4 million visitors a month while Klein ran it at the Post, but income from that number of eyeballs will not support a new, independent newsroom of the scope and size Klein envisions. And according to the Post, Wonkblog averaged 2.7 million visitors a month in 2013, rather than 4 million.
Klein announced this week he will establish his new publication with Vox Media. It’s scheduled to debut this spring as “a site that’s as good at explaining the world as it is at reporting on it,” Klein wrote on Vox’s technology site, the Verge.
More than a few news commentators and analysts panned the Post for allowing another talented writer take his energies elsewhere. “You idiots!” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on his blog earlier this month. Klein’s exit invited comparisons to Post writers John Harris and Jim VandeHei, who left the Post to start Politico.
Weymouth, the granddaughter of legendary publisher Katharine Graham and the last family member at the Post’s helm, is bullish on the enterprise Klein is leaving behind.
“Wonkblog is staying at the Post,” she says, “and we are going to invest heavily in building on what it is today. We had hoped that Ezra would want to lead that, but he wants to build something very different.”
This post has been updated from a previous version.