Category Archives: Vox Media

Curbed, Reborn at Last

IT'S HAPPENING. The new Curbed.com is here.

A video posted by Lockhart Steele (@lock) on

Saturday afternoon, I wrote a blog post! For anyone who’s checked this space in the past six months, you know that’s a surprising development. But Saturday marked the final day that Curbed would be published on Movable Type, the blog software that Eliot set up for me way back in 2004. So I wrote a post in tribute (after asking for a little help).

As of this morning, the new Curbed is live. If you haven’t seen it yet, get on that. It’s gorgeous. (I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to deal with the changing of the logo, but I might love the new one more than the old one. In any case I have lots of new logo stickers so hit me up if you want one.) And there’s a new signature Curbed feature, too: Pocket Guides, which are each Curbed city’s guide to places to visit. Think of it as an architectural version of the Eater 38. Here’s the first Pocket Guide for New York City, and here’s one detailing important houses across America that are open to the public.

All that, and now there’s Curbed Austin — our first new city site in forever. To really get in the mood, check out this amazing intro video and read Kelsey’s manifesto.

Uber Tensions at Cannes

#voxmediaroseprogram #CannesLions

A photo posted by Lockhart Steele (@lock) on

I’ve been in Cannes, France since last weekend with a great cast of colleagues. This is the week each year when the advertising and media industries descend on this town for Cannes Lions, an advertising awards/conference/thing that’s really an excuse for taking one thousand meetings and drinking one thousand glassies of rosé. (Current personal tally: 882, with 18 hours to go.) It’s a beautiful place to be, we’ve had a ton of great meetings, and we hosted a dinner with Gawker Media last night at Da Mimmo. As the week begins to wind down, all we have left to worry about is getting our heads beaten in by rage-filled taxicab drivers.

Cannes is one of seven French cities where Uber is currently up and operational; predictably, it works perfectly. Riding in an Uber a few nights ago, I struck up conversation with the driver. He proceeded to do what Uber drivers do everywhere: bitch about Uber. What used to be a 100 euro trip from the airport to Cannes is now just a 45 euro trip, we learned, which seems like a decent consumer benefit? In any case, what upset our (Uber Black) driver even more than Uber’s pricing is the existence of UberPOP, which is what UberX is called in Europe. As a licensed black car driver, he thinks only licensed drivers should be allowed on the Uber platform. Uber, of course, disagrees.

The French cab drivers are also upset about the existence of UberPOP, and to make that clear to the world, they’ve decided today to burn the country to the ground. Having lived in Paris in the late 1990′s, I’m familiar with the French predilection to faire une grève; I even fondly recall a dairy farmer strike that filled the streets of Paris with cows one day. Today, though, the French cabbies are taking things a little further.

Driving into Cannes this morning from the Vox Manor on the edge of town, we hit a roadblock of cabbies and police officers in a roundabout. UberSTOP stickers adorned the backs of idle taxis. Jonathan Hunt expertly navigated past the roadblock, which had only managed to curtail traffic coming from the other direction; there was much shouting. Evidently we faired better than Courtney Love, whose car got smashed at a Paris airport while cops looked on. “Is it legal for your people to attack visitors?” she asked on Twitter. (Excellent question.) I haven’t witnessed any violence, though a guest at our Vox BBQ this afternoon told me she’d seen an UberPOP driver pulled from his car and beaten on the other side of town. Um, Jesus.

I’m writing these words looking out over the bright blue Mediterranean, and the cognitive dissonance is as strong as the breeze.

Philly Part II: Zahav!

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[Hummus at Zahav, sooooo good.]

One other really cool thing happened at VAX last week: all the senior editorial leaders of Vox Media got together for the first time since the Recode acquisition. To make it a little more interesting, we did so at a Philadelphia restaurant that I’ve wanted to eat at since forever: Zahav. (Credit Amanda Kludt for making it all happen.)

Eater’s roving critic Bill Addison dropped by Zahav last summer and said the restaurant “defines Israeli cuisine in America.” We didn’t get as pure a Zahav experience as Bill did, given that we had a set menu for our 20-person group, but everything that came out of the kitchen amazed, starting with what Bill terms the “ubiquitous” hummus, which was anything but. Plates of mezze followed — carrots, beets, eggplant, more — and then skewers of deliciousness. That lamb!

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I only managed these two photos of the food amidst the merriment and chaos of the moment (Bill’s review has more shots). Chaos? Yeah so it was while the Verge and Recode teams were on the train to Philly from NYC that the news dropped about Dick Costolo stepping down as Twitter’s CEO. Which meant that when I walked into the private dining room at Zahav, there was Kara Swisher sitting on the floor against the far wall, madly typing and waiting for the call from Dick that resulted in this story. There was Peter Kafka, in a vestibule off the dining room, typing away on a glowing screen in the fading light of the day. And at the dining table, Ed Lee and Kenneth Li had both set up workstations where they were editing and publishing updates while the rest of us sipped our first cocktails.

My takeaway: These people are going to be a lot of fun to work with. (Also: go to Zahav.)

Vax Editlead dinner. Buttoned up but loose.

A photo posted by Lockhart Steele (@lock) on

Philadelphia and #VAX2015

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[Some members of our awesome VAX team: Brian Anderson, Joe Alicata, Dylan Lathrop, and Trei Brundrett at whiteboard.]

VAX, the Vox Media Product team’s annual hackathon, went down last week in Philadelphia. I tweeted at its close on Friday that VAX is one of the very best Vox things, and it is: four days of pure creativity as 75-ish Vox Product team members put aside their normal work for a week, form up into impromptu small teams, and build some really cool shit. The Vox Product blog will summarize all the projects soon, but this gives a taste of affairs at #VAX2015. (VAX = “Vox hacks,” somehow.)

This year, for the first time, I joined a VAX team: our Chief Product Officer Trei Brundrett‘s Notifications project. You know, notifications: the messages that appear on the lock screen of your iPhone, or slide in and out of the upper right corner of your Macbook screen from news apps like Circa, news sites like NYTimes, or, you know, your friends. The right notifications are great, but the number of apps that I’ve revoked notifications on is even greater. Unless you’re a straight communications app, making the case for turning on and keeping on notifications is tricky.

Notifications haven’t been something we’ve done at Vox Media, and Trei wanted us to consider whether we should. In his words: “I want us to take a thoughtful approach to why we’d even do push notifications and what value they would provide to our users/readers. Is it for news? Or about activity around their engagement on the site? Is this an editorial tool or something that is automated? Is it both? How do we make our users LOVE our notifications and take screenshots of how awesome they are instead of just trying to push people to our site?”

Our team spent the first day at VAX whiteboarding answers to these questions. Along the way, Trei proposed a fundamentally cool vision that framed our thinking that followed: that rather than notifications getting pushed to users who’d read them and then delete them, we should think of notifications as the start of a conversation. Like the way you can now respond to a text message on your lock screen without ever leaving the lock screen — what if Vox notifications could compel that kind of user engagement? And what if the conversation let us better tailor what kind of future notifications we should send you? (Never mind the fact that we can’t quite pull this off on an iPhone, yet. The future is vast.)

The second day of VAX saw the team get down to serious designing and hacking. Having ahem limited skills at either, I brought my serious cheerleader game, and caught up on email. And by Friday morning, we had a logo, a working demo (well, almost), and a bunch of concrete conclusions about how we’re going to use notifications across our sites. Really great work that may turn into something meaningful for our business.

Then we sat back and listened to the VAX presentations from twenty-four other teams. My personal favorite was the group that took the assets from Eater’s night at Kachka and reworked it into an interactive virtual reality tour of the place on Oculus Rift. Here is Eater managing editor Sonia Chopra having her mind blown by the experience:

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The future of storytelling is real, friends. As are my dance moves, as became evident when Brian Anderson drafted me to demo a VAX app that rates dancing skill. (Not all VAX projects are serious, strictly speaking.) It’s obvious from the video, but my dancing to vintage Britney rated a perfect 10/10 score.

.@lock demoing an app that reviews your dance moves at #vax15

A video posted by Eden Rohatensky (@edenthecat) on

tyvm.

Recently at Vox Media

Hey homies, it’s been a little while since I rapped at ya, and some BIG THINGS have been going down in the halls of Vox Media. What sorts of things? Here are three.

1) We acquired Re/Code, Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg’s website of record for Silicon Valley and all things digital. The smart way that Vox Media managed the Curbed merger can be summed up as “slowly and carefully.” That’s the approach that’ll be used with Re/Code as well, as Jim explained to our team. Alyson Shontell at Business Insider wrote the best tick-tock on how and why the deal went down, if you’re into that kind of thing. New colleagues! Very exciting.

2) Check out this incredible Day-in-the-Life feature collaboration between Team Eater and Vox Product. The good people at Kachka, the scorching hot, year-old Portland, OR restaurant, gave Eater’s journalists and videographers access to every component of how they do what they do in the course of one night. Right down to the final tally of the number of vodka shots consumed in the course of the night, this is web-based visual storytelling at its best — which means storytelling at its best. Have you ever seen anything on the web that looks quite like this? I had not. Very exciting.

3) And somehow in the midst of buying a company and kicking out work like this on the regular, the Vox.com team debuted the ability to embed their signature cardstacks on any website, as seen at the top of this post. As Ezra, Melissa, and Matt explained, the cardstacks are designed to look great on any device; they’re particularly great on mobile, where a simple swipe navigates from card to card. I think the cardstack format will prove particularly useful during the 2016 election and that we’ll see embeds on sites ranging from non-profits to personal blogs to, hey, McClatchy newspapers, and yes, even #brands. Once more, with emphasis: Very exciting.

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

Damn @qualityrye

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.

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.