Voxfronts

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[Brands on brands in the lobby of the Paley Center.]

As teased here earlier this week, yesterday Vox Media presented at newfronts (technically, upfronts; more pleasingly, Voxfronts) at the Paley Center for Media on West 52nd Street. This was Vox’s first time tackling an event of this size, which ran for about an hour and featured half a dozen members of the Vox Media team talking to an audience of several hundred brand representatives, sales people, and media about what’s next for our company. Big themes: the growth of our video program (which topped 100m cumulative monthly views in March for the first time ever), and the launch of Chorus for Advertisers.

Coverage of Vox Media and coverage of Chorus typically go hand-in-hand, and yesterday’s event proved no exception to that rule. I love this, from Capital NY reporter Jememy Barr:

CEO Jim Bankoff announced “Chorus for Advertisers,” the company’s first deal in which Chorus will be used on behalf of corporate advertisers… The crowd seemed to respond to the news, as cheers of “woo!” and “yeah!” were audible.

Man, that’s almost obnoxious. But, as Ad Age observes in its piece about the Voxfronts, “Talk of content management systems is usually boring, but Chorus is sort of famous.” Ha!

The very best part of the Voxfront might have been the food served after the event, from Andrew Carmellini, Michael Oliver, and the team at Lafayette. Know this, if you’re thinking of attending a future Voxfront: come for Chorus, stay for the Spring Lamb with Frisée.

Curbed’s Rearchitecting

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[Photo courtesy Max Touhey/Curbed NY]

I’m sitting here at my desk in the Vox Media office as I type these words. Next to me, the Curbed team (which has encroached on my island) is talking about the new Whitney Museum that just opened in the Meatpacking District. As the only resident of New York that did not attend a pre-opening event at Whitney MePa, I can’t share an opinion of my own, but Curbed’s editor-in-chief Kelsey Keith just observed of Renzo Piano’s building, “It’s like a cruise ship docked on the High Line.” That’s a good thing (I think).

Speaking of Kelsey and the Whitney and Curbed, today the site ran its review of the new Whitney by Curbed’s new architecture critic, Alexandre Lange. This is Lange’s second piece for Curbed, following the announcement of her appointment and her debut column last week on the nutty (yet delicious?) Pier 55 design concept.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Lange’s in publications ranging from Dwell to New York Magazine, so I was thrilled when Kelsey said she was bringing her on at Curbed. This hire — as well as the addition of Asad Syrkett, who recently joined Curbed from Architectural Digest and is sitting to my immediate right as I continue to type these words — marks the beginning of Vox Media’s investment in Curbed leading up to its relaunch later this year. Just as Eater invested in serious restaurant criticism at a time when local newspapers are cutting back on it (and won a James Beard Award for it), so too does Kelsey perceive an opportunity for Curbed to publish deeper criticism about the built environment at a time of increasing scarcity of same. I’m extremely pumped about this.

If you despise words but don’t mind looking at photography, well, Curbed’s got you there too. Check this post on Curbed NY by photographer Max Touhey which captures the new Whitney from literally every possible angle. Literally every single one. All. Every.

Meantime, as I noted moments ago to everyone sitting in my vicinity in the Vox office, I’m still marinating on my landmark review of One World Trade Center. While other critics rushed to file on the tower, I have kept my powder dry, gathering thoughts and observations, stringing together two- and three-word phrases and rhymes. The time is drawing closer when I will publish my review of 1WTC in this very space. Perhaps even by summer. Time will tell.

Onstage

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Now that it’s clear to all that I’m back to daily blogging (three = trend), here’s a completely gratuitous photograph of me onstage at Digital Content Europe in London last week, talking Vox Media. This presentation followed one the previous week that Vox Media Creative Director Chad Mumm and I gave onstage at MIPTV in Cannes, France.

“Cannes? Oh, it’s an armpit,” Mom Steele remarked when I told her the plans for my trip. She wasn’t exactly wrong — I knew what she meant, at least — but I’d never been to the South of France and I figured going there in mid-April from New York would not be worst thing. Nor was Cannes’ old harbor non-charming, nor was the food at Da Laura not completely delicious both times I lunched there.

But there’s something funny about these industry gatherings: the main outcome of them appears to be getting oneself invited to more of them. Vox hosted a lunch for MIP attendees my last day in Cannes, at which numerous persons associated with other conferences lined up to invite me/Vox to their conference. Nothing wrong with a nice invitation, and I’ll probably go to at least one of them, because I’ve always wanted to see Antarctica. But as Ezra Klein pointed out to me when I was hanging out at the Vox office in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, the problem with conferences is that arguably the best thing that can happen at them — meeting talent you’d like to hire — tends to happen less often the fancier the conference is.

He’s surely right. Yet abstractions of the conferences world aside, I do love going onstage in front of an audience. The gathering in London in particular was very savvy about Vox Media and deeply fascinated by what we’re doing, so it blossomed into a great conversation. Inside Vox, we’re getting better and better about talking about what we do in these kind of public settings. This Thursday, we’ll put that to the test when Vox showcases at Newfronts for the first time at a big theater in midtown Manhattan. Full report from the front lines to follow.

It’s Eater Hack Week

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A photo posted by Amanda Kludt (@kludt) on

Last Friday night, for the first time in years, I skipped the James Beard Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards. This proved to be a seriously genius move on my part: with my jinx out of the equation, Eater racked up three Beard Awards, this first ever bestowed upon the publication. (Here’s a complete rundown of the winners.)

What’s especially cool about the awards that Eater won is that they came in the two main areas that Editor-in-Chief Amanda Kludt chose to invest in following Eater’s acquisition by Vox: restaurant reviews and feature writing. Eater’s lead critic, Ryan Sutton, was honored for his data-forward approach to restaurant criticism, specifically for three reviews: “Artisanal-Everything Roberta’s Defies the Stereotypes,” “Once an Icon, Per Se is Showing its Age,” and “Six Reasons Why Cosme is One of NYC’s Most Relevant New Restaurants.” For my money, Sutton’s Per Se review was his best of the year, spotlighting how his fascination with restaurant pricing can further inform a review that would already have been a powerhouse without the added angle. (Sutton remains on a roll in 2015, bestowing four stars on Momofuku Ko last week.)

On the features side, Kludt hired Helen Rosner to head the Eater features team. That move paid off in not one but two Beard Awards for the same essay, John DeVore’s wonderful Life In Chains: Finding Home at Taco Bell. DeVore won the Beard for best personal essay along with the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Never prouder of the Eater team.

Meantime, it’s Monday morning in the big city, and the kickoff of Eater’s first-ever Hack Week. Inspired by the Hack Week that The Verge did last August — the very one that roused this blog back to life! — numerous members of the Vox Media product team and the Eater editorial team are gathering at an offsite location in Chelsea all week long for a series of workshops, brainstorms, and building. This sort of radical collaboration is what we do best at Vox Media, and what’s likely to come out of Eater Hack Week are new ways to tell stories as well as a better understanding of how we can collaborate in the future.

I’ll be dropping by the Eater Hack Week venue whenever I can, mostly just to listen. Well, and, if someone will let me, maybe to touch one of those James Beard Award medals.

Maine’s Spring Rebirth

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[Ramps! At Eastways!]

It’s a cold, gray Sunday morning on the Maine coast. Spring comes sloooooowly here. In the garden, the peonies have yet to break through the soil (though, to their credit, the lilies are off to the races). Trees are bare. But underfoot, around the yard, vibrant clumps of green leaves, sprung fully-formed from the last of the snowmelt: ramps! Turns out our property is awash in them — here they are coming up around the ledges amongst still-dormant clumps of bayberry, and there they are underneath the pine trees marking the line between our house and the neighbors to the east.

I’m amused to no end that, after years of anti-hyping these first green edibles of spring on Eater, there’s ramps aplenty just steps from our front porch. Yesterday, inspired, I pulled bunches of them from the patches under the pine trees. Cleaned and sauteed on the stove, they made a perfect side dish for my brother’s and my dinner of grilled steak and baked potato. This morning, my mind races — scrambled eggs with ramps? Spaghetti with ramps? All of the above?

The (re?)discovery of ramps on our property adds a new wrinkle to the seasonal cycle of our time in Maine. I blogged last fall about the rhythms of the seasons in a house that we close up in the midst of the baseball postseason on Columbus Day then reopen every April soon after opening day at Fenway. My brother and I arrived here Friday night for the first time this year, and we’ve spent most of the weekend rearranging furniture, scrubbing down surfaces blessed by winter visits from tiny mice, and starting the work of bringing the yard and gardens alive by picking up the biggest and most obvious of the endless supply of fallen branches. Water, miraculously turned on an hour before we arrived on Friday, leaks from a faucet near the garden. My brother’s to-do list grows, and we’ll be lucky to get through most of it by June.

Life has been upside-down lately — a better topic for conversation than blog posts — so this annual rebirth, the unfolding of spring, arrives on the calendar at a much-needed moment. With it, the physical act of reopening the house, of restoring order, carries with it a promise that the wheel will turn, and that everything will be okay. And it will, and will be. But first, there is work to be done.

Flooding The Zone

With thanks to Bryce for the nudge, let me first blog this piece about blogging that Lucky Peach published yesterday, and now blog a bit about it.

Brette Warshaw, who runs the internet operations of Lucky Peach, approached me last month wanting to talk obsession and the web. (It’s Obsession Month at LuckyPeach.com, following the publication of LP’s new issue, which has the theme of obsession.) She dropped by the Vox office a few days later and I talked for an hour, laying out a fair bit of the backstory of Eater and how obsession figured into it.

Somehow Brette managed to take my ramblings and cohere them into a piece that captures my thinking about web obsession really well while also telling a great story about Eater itself. It’s called Flooding the Zone. Please do check it out.

One more thought. Rereading the Lucky Peach interview yesterday, I was struck by my somewhat wistful tone. While I did love those early eras of Eater, and the strategy that we employed back then to win them, their passing doesn’t trouble me. The challenge of media on the web is always evolving, and as we’ve moved from the blog age into the social age, we’ve adapted our approach. Surprise: it’s still as much fun as ever. And we’re still winning. For the full accounting of how all that’s going down, check back here in 2021.

Racked Relaunch

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Racked relaunches today with the complete Vox Media Makeover Look™: new site design, new logo, new glow. This makeover was a sprint compared to the Eater revamp: 10 weeks from kickoff to launch, but a resulting design that’s the lightest, most beautiful site in the Vox stable, as befits our next-generation fashion and shopping brand. Bravo to Eliot Shepard, who oversaw the product side of the launch, and all the folks at Vox Product that made this magic happen.

Editor-in-Chief Leslie Price has been part of Racked’s DNA since the brand was born in March 2007, serving as the launch editor of Eater NY, then later as editor of Eater LA before returning to the mothership to oversee Racked’s transformation into its new, better self. Leslie’s welcome letter lays out her vision for the site, one replete with a mix of video, feature, and op-ed content, and of course the news and sales reports that have defined Racked over the years.

Among the Racked relaunch highlights:

1) Try Hards, Vox Media’s first scripted video show, features Danielle Gibson and Alexandra Fiber, the team behind SRSLY, navigating absurd fashion trends in the guise of Racked editors. New episodes will drop each Tuesday at 10am.
2) Also on Racked’s expanded video slate: a partnership with with seminal fashion magazine Dazed, directed by photographer Columbine Goldsmith, the first in a series of videos Racked will produce in collaboration with other style-focused editorial outlets and brands; Racked Hauls, obsessive weekly shopping, ever Monday at noon; and the addition of Lo Bosworth of The Hills fame as Racked’s new health and wellness editor, who will helm a video series testing the workouts of the moment.
3) Racked’s launch cover story, Fashion Gateway Drugs, in which 36 of Racked’s favorite stylish people to talk about the moment they first fell in love with fashion. It features contributions ranging from Iris Apfel to Drew Barrymore.
4) And, just trust me on this — follow @RackedShopping on Instagram. It’s the start of a more shoppable Racked. Which is going to be insane.

As is this whole undertaking, as WWD reporter Alexandra Steigrad makes clear in this deep dive on the Racked relaunch which appears in today’s issue. (We ended up talking about ethics, which in a world as challenged as the fashion media, is actually a really big deal.) Bottom line, Team Racked is on it, and the new site finally gives them the tools they need to go crazy. Couldn’t happen to a more awesome team.

Monday’s List, Vox Media Edition

Been a little while since a Monday’s List, so let’s fire it back up. Apologies for the work-centric nature of this week’s list, but work is very much the theme of the week. Check back next Monday for smack talk unrelated to Vox Media and the fine people who work here.

OBAMA: THE VOX CONVERSATION
In which Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias of Vox.com sit down with the sitting president of the United States, becoming the first pure digital news source to do so. The transcripts are fascinating because the conversation’s conducted at a very high level (NB Obama’s hilarious burn on Vox: “brainiac nerd types”), but the approach the Vox.com team took to the videos of the interview are where the real ground is broken. Check the transformation of the White House Maps room undertaken by the Vox team — a transformation that made possible the graphical wizardry unleashed in the clip above.

BILL GATES GUEST-EDITING THE VERGE IN FEBRUARY
Meanwhile, at The Verge, Bill Gates is guest-editing the site for the month of February. What does that mean in practice? Nilay Patel explains: “Throughout February, Bill will be narrating episodes of our animated series The Big Future to explain and illustrate his vision… Gates is our guest editor, but we have promised his team that we’ll do serious independent journalism against these themes; we will present a complete picture of this future to you.” The first video, above, ran last week; the next one drops momentarily.

THIRD GIANT SECRET THING
Obama and Gates is a whole lot for the first nine days of the month, but the 10th day of the month is bringing something equally momentous on another Vox Media site. Check back tomorrow for this annoying teaser to be FULLY REVEALED.

ALTON BROWN Q&A
The Food Network maestro dropped by Eater last week for a live chat with Eater readers in the Eater Forum. Hilarity transpired, as did some real cooking advice. Looking forward to seeing more of these interactive conversations at Eater and elsewhere at Vox Media.

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CITY ISLAND <3 CURBED
Every December, Curbed NY awards the Curbed Cup to the Neighborhood of the Year in New York City. This year, after a frenzied reader vote, the Bronx enclave of City Island took the cup. That’s all well and good, but where things really got fun was when the local media got all excited about the victory, and Curbed’s own Hana Alberts and Sara Polsky were invited out to a local bar this past weekend to celebrate with the locals. I couldn’t make the voyage, but there’s talk of a return visit this summer, which, rest assured, I will not miss.

JOBS AT VOX MEDIA
Finally, we’re hiring up an absolute storm right now across editorial, product, sales, and corporate. Be the dream. Join us.

A Weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana

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As we get older, traditions become more important. They are especially important when traditions are of the guys’ weekend variety. Example: We must all leave New York City and go somewhere fun for Super Bowl Weekend because we have always left New York City and gone somewhere fun for Super Bowl Weekend.

In fact, this year’s getaway was Super Bowl Weekend V, and really technically just Super Bowl Weekend IV because last year we substituted my bachelor party on the weekend previous to the big game. No matter. This year, for the first time together, the Hotline Crew would take New Orleans, a city where one of us went to law school, two of us have visited frequently, and two members of our crew — krewe? — had never set foot. Oh, and for the first time since the extremely ill-fated Super Bowl Weekend III, the Patriots would challenge for football’s world championship before the weekend was over.

My last visit to New Orleans came during Jazzfest in 2010 — a time before Airbnb, or at least before I’d ever heard of Airbnb. This time, it was the obvious choice, and we ended up in the three-story townhouse in the Lower Garden District seen above. Tremendous spot…

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… and not just because the house was directly next door to the establishment Tacos and Beer, where the group of early arrivals enjoyed pre-dinner on Friday night. This patio would swell with Seahawks fans on Super Bowl Sunday, their cheers driving into my skull like rusty nails, but until then, hey — Tacos and Beer.

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Restaurant report: all Donald Link all the time. We took Friday night dinner at Cochon, complete with fried oysters even larger than I remembered them. The vibe at Cochon is great, and though the food on this visit didn’t blow me away, hard to think of a better place to start a weekend of epic consumption.

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After a late Friday and a lazy start to Saturday, lunch came in the form of a 20-sandwich platter pickup from Cochon’s next-door spinoff, Cochon Butcher. I am on record stating that their may be no finer establishment in the United States of America than Cochon Butcher, an opinion arrived at after lunching there back in 2010 and confirmed after this trip. They’ve more than doubled the size of the room, making it a much easier place to sit and lunch, and the menu’s grown as well [PDF], though we didn’t venture outside sandwiches on this trip despite MOP’s plea that the boudin is terrific. (Next time.) The Cochon Muffaletta, the cold roast beef, and a pressed-pork creation all absolutely killed it, along with sides of Brussels sprouts and potato salad.

The one glaring omission from our sandwich binge: the Blackboard Bacon Melt, which Eater’s Bill Addison recently declared the finest sandwich in the country. (Addison: “A genius construction of thick, crisp-soft cured pork layered with stewed collard greens, pepper aioli, and Swiss cheese on buttery toast. I crave it more than any other sandwich in America.”) Didn’t realize we’d missed it until Bill commented on my Instagram of the platter. Fuck.

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After an afternoon wandering the French Quarter, getting our two Nola virgins up to speed on Cafe du Monde, then grabbing Buds at old favorite the Chart House, dinner went down at Peche, another Donald Link restaurant and one new to the city since my last visit. Last year, the James Beard Foundation handed its award for the best new restaurant in America to this place, which seemed as good a reason as any to try it.

The space — like Cochon, it’s in the old warehouse district — is airy and cool, and the vibe, like Cochon, active and fun. We went with a bunch of shared starters (the shrimp toast, though boring in name, is absolutely sublime) before splitting a large whole redfish sauced in salsa verde. Excellent. Would eat again.

After dinner, the crowd outside swelled for the Krewe de Vieux parade, one of the first in the season leading into Mardi Gras. Now, for various and uncertain reasons, we somehow managed to miss the parade, but we made it into the official afterparty, which: insanity. Next year we do it right and costume it up.

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Super Bowl Sunday dawned warm and wet across the Bayou, and I walked around the corner from our rental to find the Cajun Boy and his renowned dog Sazerac. Cajun took me to this perfect hipster coffee spot, then toured me his house and neighborhood. The plan was to watch the game at a bar right by there, but fate had other ideas, and we ended up watching the game at our townhouse. It was a good game.

Monday dawned with several housemates having made a pre-dawn run to the airport. I followed in mid-morning to find flight into LGA already delayed two hours. Simple sleuthing made it clear that, with weather conditions deteriorating in New York, a flight out that afternoon wasn’t going to happen. When the departure time got pushed back to 6pm, I switched my flight to a Tuesday AM departure and headed back into the city.

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Where, over a late lunch at Cochon Butcher, I finally ate the Blackboard Bacon Melt. Worth the whole trip. (Dined solo on Monday night at Sylvain in the French Quarter, which I’d also highly recommend. Good food but an alleyway-entrance vibe that entranced me. Like a divier version of McCrady’s in Charleston.)

Thanks, New Orleans, and thanks, New England Patriots. Les bon temps rouler.

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Super Bowl XLIX

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For posterity, having recovered from spending Super Bowl Weekend in New Orleans, my assorted thoughts and observations on the New England Patriots 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

1) The memories from the nights when your team wins or loses it all tend to be blurry, sometimes because of beer, sometimes because of the moment. Sometimes both. Definitely both this past Sunday as the fourth quarter got underway and it felt like the Patriots were on the verge of getting blown out — right before the game took its third major swing and the Patriots powered back to win. From the start of the quarter to the goal-line with a minute to go, my lasting memory wasn’t the Edelman concussion play (though it was incredible) but the completion to a streaking Gronkowski across the middle for a 20-yard gain with 4:46 to go, which found me running into the adjacent bedroom, towards the kitchen, screaming and pumping my fist. That was the moment I felt sure the Patriots were going to win this game after all.

2) And yet. My realtime watch of the final minute of the game will never be reconstructed accurately. An attempt: I was standing behind a chair (?) as the clock dropped below the 1:00 mark and kept running; Jesse, somewhere to my front and right (?), screaming for Belichick to take the timeout. I can’t claim the clarity that I knew this to be Belichick’s finest moment, a belief which would by Wednesday pass into Patriots fan collective lore — but I also wasn’t screaming. I felt a certain peace, knowing that it would either happen or not happen, and all really fast. Then Wilson threw the screen pass across the middle that Malcolm Butler stepped up and picked off, my friends (all Giants fans and veterans of our horrid 2011 weekend) started congratulating me, and Jesse lost his mind over Pete Carroll’s call while I passed out (?).

3) Speaking of that Giants win in 2011, and that Giants win in 2008 — there’s something about the way sports plays out over time that’s not unlike how history itself can’t be written in the present. The bicycle catch by Kearse could have been the third in an unholy trinity. (In the moment, I tweeted this.) Instead, the way the game played out made both Giants catches fade into the distance, painful memories, sure, but all part of the path to the redemption of this past Sunday. I discovered this emotion as a Red Sox fan but never realized I’d feel it as a Patriots fan. I’m being straight up obnoxious about this because that’s really the whole reason to be a sports fan anyway.

4) When looking for the heroes of the Patriots offseason, my mind wanders back to January 10, the Divisional game between the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Early in the third quarter, when Baltimore had gone up by two touchtowns, I tweeted, “Very quiet at Rock Shop.” In patented reverse-jinx fashion, Boston scourge Mark Lisanti tweeted back at me:

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All of which is why I’m convinced this exchange won the Patriots the Super Bowl. Mark, your gift is on its way.

5) Speaking of Grantland, a shoutout to Bill Barnwell, who produces the deepest read on every NFL game every week seemingly minutes after the games end. The fact that this Super Bowl opus was online by the time I awoke on Monday is nothing short of miraculous.

6) Finally, the end of the Super Bowl settled the bet mentioned on this blog back in the fall. $100 to Harryh; kudos, sir, even though thanks to you, we’re still stuck with Goodell.

As ever, onwards. Go Pats. Is it Truck Day yet?