It’s often been difficult to define exactly what Vox Media’s ‘The Verge’ is.
Launched in 2011 by ex-AOL/Engadget bloggers Joshua Topolsky, Nilay Patel, Paul Miller, Chris Ziegler, just to name a few, The Verge, from the outset, looked like the ultimate technology publication. With a star-studded roster, joined by Vox Media’s unmatched video and product team, the website seemed to have a fresh focus and simple goal: to create content for a niche audience that could compete with publishing giants.
And it started well, with The Verge often praised for their unique voice. Though as time went on, it was often hard to describe The Verge’s ambitions. As the focus shifted away from technology, founders and editors were quick to dismiss the idea of The Verge as a technology publication, despite promising this at launch. Instead the group justified new content as a part of ‘technology-culture’, followed by the eventual description of The Verge as a ‘culture’ website. While this may have been the hope from the beginning, the dismissive and often defensive responses from The Verge’s editors often gave light to the possibility that this was a recent change, one out of their control.
As 2013 rolled around, cutbacks were obvious, mirroring more recent changes to sister-site Polygon, with the site stripping-back their extensive review schedule and cycle of longform content to become a website more focused on cheap headlines, and similarly questionable content, with the occasional blast-of-the-past in the form of a feature article or a review. The site still published occasionally well structured, high-value content, though it was often diluted by a sea of 2 paragraph articles that generally relied on a source link rather than independent reporting.
In March of 2014, managing editor and founding member, Nilay Patel also left the The Verge for the in-house launch of Vox.com, a general news website. Not only was this change outright ignored by The Verge, who would usually report on such significant site-changes, but Recode also contributed to the change in a report that described tension between Patel and Editor-In-Chief Topolsky, as well as news that “the job had shifted”.
In the same year, obvious cut-backs to video content were made, with a ‘hiatus’ announced for The Vergecast, and The Verge Mobile Show, as well as the axing of daily news show 90 Seconds On The Verge and talk-show On The Verge. New show Top Shelf, which had launched as a TV-length series to provide more in-depth coverage of specific gadgets, also returned in a short run of 10 minute clips.
In an age of pre-roll video advertising, an hour-long video podcast could easily make the same amount of money as a 10-minute clip, yet cost much more to produce. The same can be said about longform pieces, with a snappy-headline followed by a 2-paragraph article able to find a greater audience than a lengthy, though high-quality, longform piece. Perhaps Vox Media could no longer justify this to their investors, or to their own sales team. Polygon, also a Vox Media outlet, had a similar shift, with Russ Pits, a longform feature editor, describing the internal shift away from longform content in his departing blog post as “change”, though defending his own struggle with the idea of Polygon being a “failure”, with that same post also mocking Polygon’s ‘click-bait’ headline structure. He concluded this by saying “I’ll never be afraid to try again”. Vox.com, the latest vertical from Vox Media, has also faced its fair share of criticism over quality of content, admitting that “the Facebook Gods will not smile on [a more serious article]. It doesn’t have the key triggers of emotion, personalization, and identity-formation that drive success on Facebook.”
Earlier today, the New York Times reported that Joshua Topolsky will immediately leave The Verge for traditional outlet Bloomberg, giving no reason for the sudden departure. The Verge quickly confirmed the change, with the news delivered by Patel.
Topolsky, despite being a founding member, was mentioned in just two sentences: “If you didn’t hear, Joshua Topolsky is joining Bloomberg. We are all incredibly grateful for his leadership and vision and wish him the very best.”
No personal goodbye has been published from Topolsky.
Obviously this could just be a case of the grass being greener for the former editor-in-chief at Bloomberg, however it’s also hard to deny the cold feeling of the change. Considering the reports of conflict between Topolsky and Patel, it’s especially suspiscious to see one return, while the other departs. Which ponders the question: why, exactly, did Joshua Topolsky leave The Verge? We may never know.
Update: Another departure from Vox Media in the form of Billy Disney, Lead Director of Video from The Verge. Disney had been with Vox Media since The Verge’s launch in 2011. ‘No further comment at this time’.
Hi, it's Billy. I left Vox Media today. Here is my box of things. No further comment at this time. God bless America. pic.twitter.com/sEBRB9Kyg8
— Billy Disney (@billyd) July 24, 2014