NEW YORK -- Washington Post star policy writer Ezra Klein, and two other journalists, are leaving the paper for a new venture.
"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," Post editors wrote in a memo to staff. "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."
Klein launched Wonkblog, which breaks down complex policy issues in a highly readable and shareable way, in 2011. His departure follows weeks of speculation in the newsroom about his future. The Huffington Post was first to report in December that Klein was looking to launch his own media venture and was speaking to both outside investors and the Post's ownership about backing it.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Post higher-ups had turned down an eight-figure proposal from Klein. Since then, the question inside the newsroom hasn't been whether or not Klein would leave -- most assumed he would -- but who might go with him.
Post director of platforms Melissa Bell and fellow "wunderkind" blogger Dylan Matthews are leaving for the new venture along with Klein. Matthews runs Wonkblog's viral spinoff site, Know More, which has quickly become one of the Post's top web properties.
The editors said Tuesday that they will continue building Wonkblog and Know More and "expanding their reach." They plan to make announcements about the blogs in the coming days.
The three departures mark the biggest shake-up the Post has seen since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought it in October. In the end, Bezos -- who dropped $250 million on the paper -- decided against investing another $10 million or more into Klein's explanatory journalism-focused start-up. Media observers were closely watching Bezos' first major move, with the Post's 2006 decision not to fund two staffers' idea for what became Politico serving as a reminder for how the paper once missed out on a game-changing venture that could have been produced in-house.
The Post has already been planning for a future without Klein, and recently approached The Atlantic's Derek Thompson about becoming the next Wonkblog editor. He considered taking the job before deciding to remain at The Atlantic.
Klein, who began making a name for himself as a political blogger while still an undergraduate in California, has long had an entrepreneurial streak. He moved to Washington after college and began working at The American Prospect, and in 2007 he launched Journolist, a non-defunct, private listserv made up of nonpartisan reporters, liberal columnists and academics.
Last year, The New Republic charted Klein's rapid ascension through the political establishment to become "the prince of D.C. media." In addition to his duties at the Post, Klein serves as a Bloomberg View columnist and MSNBC analyst and has hit the Washington speaker circuit.
Now he will follow the trajectory of other journalists who have tried leveraging their large online followings, and their unique brands, into building a media outlet.
Andrew Sullivan, whose blog was previously hosted by Time, The Atlantic and The Daily Beast, launched a subscription-driven site with a small staff last January. Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight was housed by The New York Times for three years, sold it to ESPN in July and is preparing to launch a more comprehensive version of it. In October, Glenn Greenwald left The Guardian to help launch a news start-up with backing from billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. And earlier this month, veteran technology journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher -- who had started the website AllThingsD and a conference business within News Corp. -- launched a new venture, ReCode, with backing from investment firm Windsor Media and NBCUniversal.
The Post memo did not reveal who will be backing Klein's venture, but speculation has centered around Vox Media, which BuzzFeed deduced could be in the mix of possible backers by analyzing Klein's Twitter feed.
When reached, Vox chief executive Jim Bankoff declined to comment on the speculation. But Vox Media, the fast-growing digital publisher behind sites about technology (The Verge), sports (SB Nation) and gaming (Polygon), has certainly been making moves, and politics and policy are areas it hasn't yet ventured into. The company raised over $30 million in October, and the following month it purchased Curbed Network, which has sites covering real estate (Curbed), dining (Eater) and fashion (Racked).
Klein declined to comment on his plans for the new venture.
The Post's full memo to staff is below:
We regret to announce that Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews are leaving The Post for a new venture.
All three were instrumental in two of The Post's most successful digital initiatives, Wonkblog and Know More. We plan to continue building those brands and expanding their reach, and we'll have some exciting announcements related to them in the coming days.
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.
Melissa has played a pivotal role in our digital strategy. As director of platforms, Melissa worked with the embedded developers to introduce WordPress as a secondary CMS, allowing for much of the development experimentation we’ve seen over the last year. She took over blog strategy and worked to hone the number of blogs and strengthen existing brands. She also managed to find time for some writing while here, driving our live coverage expansion, penning a Style column for more than a year, blogging for BlogPost and Style Blog and writing magazine stories. But her biggest strength is her personality, a combination of relentless determination and self-deprecating humor that helped her motivate young developers.
Dylan Matthews is a wunderkind in his own right. A blogger since middle school, Dylan had freelanced for Slate and worked at the American Prospect -- before his 18th birthday. He started contributing to Wonkblog while still a student at Harvard and jumped in full-time in 2012. Last year he launched Know More, which was an instant hit. We will miss his humor and sharp instincts for what works on the Web.
Please join us in wishing Ezra, Melissa and Dylan the best and thanking them for their many contributions to The Post.