This morning, I published a piece affirming what many others had already said — that Ezra Klein’s decision to hire Brandon Ambrosino for any type of writing position at his new media venture, Vox, was an awful move. Six weeks ago, back when Ambrosino was simply being published on a piece-by-piece basis, I and many other writers did the tedious work of digging through every contrarian, poorly argued and woefully miseducated piece Ambrosino had published, making the case that he is not an intellectually astute contrarian, but rather a hack who, by parroting religious right talking points and casting aspersions on his own community, serves to aid our opposition in the fight for LGBT equality. As such, he has no business appearing in such esteemed places as Time, The Atlantic and the American Prospect.
Ezra Klein has now responded to the criticism on Facebook:
Over the past 48 hours I’ve spoken to a lot folks in the LGBT community to better understand the strong, negative reaction to my hiring of Brandon Ambrosino. People felt Brandon had made his name writing sloppy pieces that were empathetic towards homophobes but relentlessly critical of the gay community. They believe we were sending a signal about Vox’s approach to LGBT issues: Contrarian clickbait at the expense of the struggle and discrimination that LGBT men and women face every day.
That was never our intention. Our approach to LGBT stories will be the same as our approach to all other issues: We want people to read us because we do the best job tracking and explaining the news, not because we do the best job shocking people. We want to inform our readers — not annoy them. Our kind of clickbait tends towards beautiful data visualizations, not frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire.
Brandon isn’t our LGBT correspondent. He’s not even the only LGBT employee of Vox.com. He is a young writer who we think has talent who’s going to receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance.
Brandon applied for the news-writing fellowship, a one-year position focused on helping inexperienced writers develop aggregation and reportorial skills. Contrary to some garbled reports, before hiring Brandon I read a lot of his previous work. Brandon’s past writing was often quite pointed and personal, and not a fit for Vox — and I told him so. The writing fellowship requires a very different approach.
But something that often happens to young freelance writers on the Internet is that they end up writing reams of their most controversial opinions before they ever get a chance to do basic reporting or benefit from a routine relationship with an editor. So as part of Brandon’s writing test, I asked him to do eight news articles and two explainers — more than 5,000 words of original content, in all. He needed more editing, training and direction. But he showed himself a strong, fast writer who really wanted to learn. And that training is what the fellowship is there for.
I could’ve, and should’ve, handled this hire a lot better. But I would ask people to give Brandon a chance. He’ll be held to the same high standards as all Vox.com employees, and I believe he’ll meet them.
A few problems immediately jump out at me. If Ezra did indeed read the pieces in question, was he not aware of how thoroughly so many wonderful writers, people with far more knowledge on the fight for LGBT equality than Ambrosino, had dismantled those pieces? Was he not aware of the controversy? And how, indeed, did he read them and find them to be good writing, regardless of the content? It would be preferable to believe that the original reporting, stating that Ambrosino really hadn’t been well-vetted, was accurate.
Moreover, I and many others would be very interested to know what sorts of pieces Ambrosino will be writing for Vox. Since the only publications he’s known for are the very same obnoxious, undeveloped pieces that delivered clickbait to the aforementioned entities, what sort of secret talent has Ambrosino shown that got him past the first round of interviews for this fellowship? As he has repeatedly demonstrated such basic ignorance on the only subject he’s ever written on, what areas of expertise are we missing?
In short, what does he add to Vox? What compelling reason is there to “give him a chance” when so many of us feel that we have given him so many chances already?
For another similar response to Ezra’s response, read Carlos Maza at Media Matters.