It’s a strategy media experts say could work because of the similarities in Vox and New York Media’s online brands. And if executives can keep their promise and avoid editorial layoffs, analysts say, the combination would stand apart from other media mergers that hollow out their ranks to meet financial targets.
“This sounds as if it could be a ‘good merger’ for once, not one that is cheered by Wall Street because they’re going to lay off hundreds of people,” said Jane Hall, an associate professor of media studies at American University. “So we’ll see.”
The acquisition will include New York Media’s namesake print magazine, which has chronicled characters from the city’s high rollers to its bottom feeders for more than five decades. New York Media also has an array of websites focusing on food, politics, style and culture, including the Cut, Grub Street and Vulture.
Vox’s digital portfolio has similar coverage areas. They include SB Nation, the Verge, Polygon, Eater, Curbed and Recode.
Jim Bankoff, the Vox Media chief executive and chairman, and Pam Wasserstein, the CEO of New York Media, said the merger will not diminish the brands of either company or spark a competitive showdown. Rather, they said, the deal is a logical step.
Wasserstein said in a statement that as she talked with Bankoff about “what the future might look like together, it quickly became apparent that our companies pair incredibly well.”
“Vox is kind of like a family of sites, and the digital part of New York is a family of sites,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism training center. “It’s kind of a ‘Brady Bunch’ story when you put them all together.” (At least one person took the marriage metaphor one step further.)
Still, there was some initial eyebrow-raising at the sudden shake-up. In August, the merger between Gannett and GateHouse Media came amid turmoil for the print newspaper industry and marked an uncertain new chapter for a former titan of American media.
With their online and magazine products, Vox and New York Media are distinct from Gannett and other traditional newspaper companies. But they face many of the same head winds in charting a future that both satisfies readers and makes financial sense. In an email to employees, which was widely circulated online, New York Magazine editor in chief David Haskell wrote that he “had a rush of vertigo” when he first heard about the deal.
“Change is alarming,” he wrote, before going on to explain his excitement.
Bankoff and Wasserstein told the New York Times that Vox expects to remain profitable, even with the addition of New York Media. Two people familiar with the deal told the Times that Vox expects to exceed $300 million in revenue by the end of 2020, putting it on par, in terms of annual revenue, with BuzzFeed.
In March, New York Media laid off 16 full-time staffers and another 16 freelancers or part-time employees as it underwent a restructuring. The cut represented roughly 5 percent of New York Media’s full-time staff, CNN reported.
New York Magazine’s union released a statement Wednesday morning saying that while Wasserstein “attempted to reassure us that our day-to-day professional lives will remain the same,” employees were “deeply unsettled” by the way they found out. The union said that staff learned of the deal only after the New York Times published an article and after a news release was issued.
In public statements, Bankoff and Wasserstein held themselves apart from other media mergers they said were meant to “buy some time or quickly change a narrative if a company has failed to innovate.” They wrote that they’ve “observed a spate of mergers and acquisitions in our sector and have often been struck by their lackluster rationales and ambitions.”
By contrast, they wrote, “this combination is solely about leadership, growth, and opportunity. Two companies that are already strong — creatively, financially, and culturally — are coming together to be even stronger.”
Bankoff will remain at the helm of the expanded Vox, and Wasserstein will take on a new role as president of Vox, overseeing initiatives including consumer businesses and the current New York Media brands.
Edmonds said it will probably take years before Bankoff, Wasserstein and their teams sort out how to integrate Vox and New York Media’s products. For example, the merger could pose an opening to drive more traffic across the brands and give advertisers more placement options.
Time will tell, Edmonds said.
“They always say it’s a perfect marriage,” he said. “And sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.”