It's a given that no one knows what's next for the media industry -- be it digital only, mainstream or hyper-local.
But Vox CEO Jim Bankoff, interviewed by broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien, took a stab at the subject during a South by Southwest panel at the Hilton Austin Downtown on Saturday.
Bankoff's take: Expect continued disruption of all media companies, regardless of size or platform. But he also expressed optimism that in the end, quality journalism will win out.
That's what Vox is betting on, Bankoff said. The digital media company, which owns editorial brands including The Verge, Vox, SB Nation, Eater, Curbed and Recode, is putting creating quality content first, while furiously working to create revenue streams that can support it.
"From a business perspective there is a great economic opportunity that we're pursuing, but it's all rooted in us telling stories," Bankoff said. "Part of why I'm optimistic is if you look at it coldly, there is a need for quality journalism more than ever. As long as there is a need for journalism, and there always will be, then it will be a positive for journalism."
Here are some takeaways:
• Business models will be constantly evolving. Vox generates most of its revenue from advertising, but it is also growing a new revenue stream through selling and licensing both content and its technology platform.
Soon, Vox will pursue an additional revenue path: Paid subscriptions. "Later on this year Vox will start to introduce membership tiers," Bankoff said. "We're not going to take away anything you're already getting. But it will add to the experience."
Vox will be the first site to launch memberships, followed by Verge and SB Nation. "It will give more access to content, more access to our team and more access to events," he said. "Great content has to be supported not only through advertising, but through subscription. We provide the vast majority of our content to anyone who has an internet connection. We'll continue to do that in a way that is supported by premium advertising. We also support other models that can balance open access to information."
•Vox is doubling down on podcasts. The company currently hosts 75 podcasts, and you can expect that to grow. "Fortunately podcasting is still a relatively small market, but it's growing incredibly fast," Bankoff said. "One of the reasons it works so well is its a very intimate connection where distraction is voided out, in that you literally have someone talking into your ear."
• In the end, users want news they can trust over media circuses. "There is a myth that crazy sells," O'Brien said. "I know there are conversations about it. I actually think quality does sell. It sells to advertisers, it sells to viewers and it burnishes that brand every time."
Bankoff agreed: "Can you create viable and sustainable and profitable businesses from this? The answer is you can. When the internet sprung up there were companies that thought they could take shortcuts. But technology that isn't paired with a commitment to journalism (is doomed)."
• Workforce diversity doesn't just happen; it takes work. "We started off as a sports company (SB Nation), which is historically male dominated. We were a bunch of white guys sitting around who loved sports. We had some engineers, also a historically male thing. We were just focused on survival," Bankoff said.
But once the company got to about 50 employees, "we looked around and thought: 'We're not living the value we believe in here.' It's a trap a lot of companies fall into. In our case, we decided to do something about it."
Today, Bankoff said, the Vox workforce is majority female "across the whole company and management and executive layers as well. (In terms of ) people of color -- we're not where we need to be but we are focused on it."