It's probably a measure of Ezra's semi-celebrity as a blogger and the DC insider swirl that many people would go "who?" and still, I think there's something to write about.
I mention this when I bring him up, because it seems relevant: I blog, even in this limited form today, in large part because of Ezra. It started when I found his blog in the nineties, and found it both an interesting read and a place to get in on a lively conversation in the comments sections of various pieces. Reading Ezra - I'll get back to this - and writing comments made me regain some faith in the notion that I had something to say, and a blog might be a way to say it.
Over time, I've watched Ezra move from independent blogger to the American Prospect (a vast shade of its former self) to the Post, and eventually to the Wonkblog, a kind of curated group effort to delve into various intersting issues of the day. It's been hard, in its way, because I feel like Ezra's successes underscored what I wasn't doing... but also realizing I had no wish to do what he did. Both, in their ways, are sort of humbling. And humble's not so bad, really.
Ostensibly, Ezra's left Wonkblog to do the latest in online fashion - a startup site of his own, a kind of Wonkblog on steroids... or something, it's kind of light on details and specifics, but it sounds kind of like Breitbart without the utter lack of reporting and the barely suppressed rage. That is, there'll be some regular writers, mostly opinion pieces, some deep dives into complex issues... and, well, that seems to be about it. Thus, apparently, can be very successful.
Maybe. I tend to think that it's instructive that when Ezra brought this not entirely fully formed idea to his bosses at the Post, they apparently turned him down more or less flat. Perhaps it was the cost (almost everyone puts his proposal at north of $10 milion), perhaps it was the resources involved (a full blown, stand alone site that would, in essence, have competed with The Post), but myself, I kind of think they turned him down mostly because he'd argued himself out of a job.
Wonkblog has been a curious exercise, a relatively readable, occasionally interesting blog that has some great healthcare reporting (via the brilliant Suzy Khimm and Sarah Kliff), some good economics coverage (mostly from Brad Plumer), and... well, that's about it. Long before the last few months, when Klein seemed to turn his attention well towards other projects, his presence was largely minimal. Though the focus was basically on politics and the DC whirl, the blog was (and remains) parked in the Business section as an Economics blog, a field where Klein is no one's idea of a formal expert. I don't doubt that it's widely read and (relatively) successful, but I'm not sure how much of this, ultimately, can be attributed to Ezra Klein, or what he brought to it at the beginning.
One of the more obvious resons for this would be that Klein has never really developed into a great writer, never mind reporter. Much of his work has been pedestrian, at best. His insights were never especially brave or unique, and I don't mean that cruelly or unfairly - many have made more out of less. At the time of his initial rise, he did respresent something of a fresh start, if only because, like others of his age and background, he was at the core of the "new liberalism" wave that produced first Howard Dean and ultimately, with some tinkering, the success of Barack Obama. A confirmed Obama prostletyzer, Klein nearly led the way in promoting Obama's presidency early and often, while pushing endlessly to marginalize or sidetrack Hillary Clinton.
To the victor, naturally, go the spoils, and Klein's rise into the Post was surely an acknowledgement by their powers that be of his importance in the DC establishment. But much that way Obama's presidency never quite lived up to the dreamy visions of his most ardent followers, Klein's career has kind of stalled. What looked like a promising venture into TV via "analyst" and sub-hosting gigs at MSNBC never quite turned into a show (the geek/wonk parts now being played by Chris Hayes, Steve Kornacki, et al). Though he had a regular column at the Post, and pieces for Bloomberg, they rarely made a ripple. And an apparent book deal with Simon and Schuster has not yielded a finished manuscript.
Maybe it will, but I'd probably cancel the advance if I were them. The sense that Klein's moment has passed can't really be ignored. He doesn't have the showmanship or huckster mentality of, say, an Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Beck, the two most prominent web successes along the model Ezra's pursuing; nor does he have the natural following, these days, of such a signature presence. Nor does he have the specialized skill of, say, Nate Silver, who never seemed an entirely good fit at the Times, and whose decampment to ESPN provides a more year-round use of his stantistical skills and interests.
It may be that Klein is onto something in the group curation, editorial role he seems to envision for himself... but that organizer role isn't new and requires a clearer sense of the product he's looking to put out - and why there's a public waiting for it - than anything I've seen thus far. I don't think it's surprising that the Post's new owners - or the old ones - would have asked just those questions, and not seen value in the answers. Nor do I think Klein's onto the next Politico; DC's just not big enough to need much more of that. So there he sits, developing an as yet unnamed, unseen site, spending millions of other people's money, and maybe, I suppose this thing could burst forth and amaze us all. For the moment... I'll stick with my doubts.
It's not that I yearn for Ezra Klein to fail - God knows, if I really want to take this blog thing bigger, I'll need to have someone like me - it's just that, in the tale of his ups and downs, I find it reassuring that my faith in familiar, time tested, notions still carries through - develop your skills, don't get too caught up in flashy trendy of the moment fads, and sometimes, the instinct that it's too good to be true will prove out. As much as I'd like to believe in the magical powers of the internet and its limitless potential, I remain, at heart, a web skeptic. I don't think online advertising will yet prove to be all it claims, and I think much of the "brave new projects" launched online won't be much more than what we already know - the magazine, the long form book, the TV show. But hey, seriously, good luck with that, Mr. K. Maybe I'll yet find new inspiration out of it.