Vox Media’s Jim Bankoff @ISOJ: successful digital media depends on talented story tellers with the right tools

Bankoff (Vox).Building a Media Company for the Digital Age. 2014 ISOJ.
Vox Media chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff speaks at the 2014 ISOJ on the UT-Austin campus, Apr. 4, 2014. (Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/Knight Center)

During the first keynote speech at the 15th International Symposium on Online Journalism, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff listed the guiding principles that have made his company the fastest-growing media publisher in the United States: hire talented people, give them the tools to produce quality stories, and create a multidisciplinary newsroom where hacker culture meets journalism culture.

In short, he said, “make it awesome.”

The annual ISOJ conference, which has attracted more than 400 people from 45 countries, began on April 4 with Bankoff’s address, “Building a Media Company for the Digital Age: Lessons from the Field,” in which he described the elements that have made Vox Media one of the most notable examples of a successful digital-native publisher.

Vox Media began as sports blog SB Nation, which has now grown into one of the most popular sports website in the country. It operates hundreds of sites dedicated to specific sports teams and owes its success largely to the active participation of its users.

Now Vox Media owns five other digital publications that include The Verge, dedicated to covering technology news, and Polygon, a website focused on videogames. The company is gearing to launch a seventh publication, Vox.com, which has recruited renowned journalist Ezra Klein.

The six branches are profitable and Bankoff expects the seventh to start generating profits within its first year.

Bankoff said Vox Media’s goal is to create media brands for a new generation of consumers.

“We believe brands matter. They convey authority”, he said.

It is an idea media companies have taken time to grasp. Digital media, after years of trial and error, are finally understanding how to best take advantage of their brands and carve a way toward profitability.

For Bankoff, part of that strategy requires companies to control their own technology (Vox Media is well known for its proprietary Content Management System Chorus), make sure journalists have the best tools possible and hire writers who are story tellers first but possess a keen understanding of how to use data to create narratives.

“We have a new expression: media hackers,” he said. “I think the best story tellers are not data driven, but they’re not ignorant of it either and know how to use it.”

Click here to see a Storify with some the highlights of Bankoff’s keynote speech shared via Twitter.