When Vox Media acquired New York Media for an undisclosed sum last year, New York Magazine editor in chief David Haskell freely admits that Vox-owned real estate web site Curbed was far from being at the top of his mind as he digested what the merger could mean for the publication.
Fast-forward 13 months and that has all changed, with Curbed relaunching as part of New York Magazine on Tuesday, marking the first time New York has brought on an outside vertical, as Vox executives rethink strategy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The opportunity with Curbed came up in a very particular situation, exacerbated by the pandemic where it became clear to the executives at Vox that its best path forward would be if we were interested in our family because a lot of what Curbed has to offer isn’t best served by a business model that’s relying 100 percent on scale,” Haskell said in an interview. “So the question was posed to me, ‘What do you think about Curbed?’ and it just happened to be this coincidence that I felt both an attachment to it and I had the sense that we had a hole in architecture on our site that was making it difficult to invest in precisely the areas of coverage that Curbed was about…so it’s a happy coincidence.”
Not only does it fill a hole at New York Magazine (there was some coverage in these areas but split between different verticals and without a home base), but Haskell, who has been editor in chief since 2019, is hoping that on the business side it will draw in more advertisers, plus boost digital subscriptions as 14-year-old Curbed, which Vox acquired in 2013, will now be under a paywall.
While bringing on Curbed made sense to Haskell both editorially and business-wise, he’s quick to stress that there won’t be any more Vox properties moving to New York Magazine — apart from Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway’s podcast Pivot, which became part of Intelligencer earlier this year.
As for the new look Curbed — with executives shuttering its network of regional sites in cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco as the company sought to cut costs due to the COVID-19-induced fall in advertising revenues — coverage will now largely focus on New York, with some national stories and dispatches from other cities. (When Vox ceased publication of several sites such as Atlanta and Boston in April as it furloughed staffers, there was a possibility that some could reopen, but executives have since decided to close all of them.)
It won’t have dedicated pages in the biweekly magazine, but Curbed articles will feature regularly in print and Curbed will have its own vertical on the site, similar to The Cut, Grub Street and Vulture. The vertical will revolve around three sections: “Cityscape” will include architecture criticism and development news; “real estate” will cover what’s on the market, and “design hunting” will be an expanded version of New York Magazine writer Wendy Goodman’s segment.
“I wanted to make sure that Curbed wasn’t read as simply a lifestyle magazine or a shelter magazine. It’s not just a place to escape, but it’s also interrogating questions about the future of cities and in particular of New York City,” Haskell said of the type of coverage to expect. “You’ll see this combination of big questions of homelessness in the Upper West Side, evictions, the mayoral race as a study of real estate tensions.”
On interior design, he’s interested in that “as expressions of personality.” “Wendy’s signature is to just be curious about how a freshman philosophy major lives; how a 96-year-old artist in the West Village lives — a very New York Magazine approach to characters and curiosity and then looking at their interiors as a type of self expression,” he continued.
Asked if it will dive deeper into the often traffic-boosting business of celebrity real estate, he said coverage of celebrities buying and selling homes will be a component, but that he doesn’t want to assign anything for traffic ploys.
At 10, the team producing all these features is much smaller than before the pandemic. (Vox laid off 72 staffers in July, with Curbed disproportionately affected.) It’s made up of eight existing Curbed staffers, plus New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson and Goodman, who will write almost exclusively for Curbed. Previously, Davidson’s architecture criticism was living on Intelligencer and Goodman’s design articles were on The Cut.
“I’m hoping the staff can grow in time and it is a consequence of launching this in this crazy horrific year of 2020 that it’s a smaller staff than I would’ve wished,” said Haskell, adding that there will likely be some crossover of staff.
Curbed staffers officially joined New York Magazine on May 1 and have been working on the relaunch ever since.
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