Ezra Klein: “I Could've, And Should've, Handled This Hire A Lot Better.”

Vox.com Editor-In-Chief Explains Brandon Ambrosino Hire

Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein issued a statement explaining his decision to hire Brandon Ambrosino, a writer who has been criticized for peddling misinformation about LGBT people and acting as an apologist for anti-gay discrimination. Klein promised that Ambrosino's work would “receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance,” iterating Vox's commitment to properly covering LGBT issues.

The forthcoming news and policy site came under criticism from journalists and LGBT activists after announcing on March 12 that it had hired Ambrosino, a gay writer notorious for his "click-bait contrarianism," including his claim that being gay is a choice and that gay activists are bigoted against opponents of LGBT equality.

Klein defended his decision to hire Ambrosino in an interview with The American Prospect, claiming the hire would help bring ideological diversity to Vox.

In a March 14 post on Facebook, Klein further explained Ambrosino's hiring, stating that Ambrosino's writing will be closely edited and monitored and pledging that Vox would not engage in “frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire”:

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. [emphasis added]

It's encouraging to hear that Vox plans to hold Ambrosino to strict editorial standards and closely monitor his writing - which thus far has failed to demonstrate even a basic understanding of the realities of the LGBT experience. It's also encouraging to know that Vox plans to have an LGBT correspondent more qualified than Ambrosino to report on LGBT issues.

Still, it remains to be seen what kind of LGBT commentary, if any, Ambrosino will be producing for Vox. If Klein's assurances play out, Ambrosino's work as a writing fellow shouldn't look anything at all like the writing that's earned him his reputation thus far.

This post has been updated.