I first started working with Melissa Bell at the Washington Post. I was trying to launch a new product — Wonkblog — and I needed some design work done. Melissa wasn’t a designer. She wasn’t a coder. She didn’t manage designers or coders. She was, rather, a blogger, like me. But somehow, no one would meet with me to talk Wonkblog unless Melissa was also in the room.
It was my first exposure to Melissa’s unusual talent for finding and connecting the different parts of a modern newsroom. We went on to start Vox together, and it’s no exaggeration to say Vox simply wouldn’t exist without Melissa’s vision, her managerial brilliance, or her unerring sense of where journalism is going. She’s also one of my very favorite people — working with her has been one of the highlights of my career.
Melissa was recently named publisher for all of Vox Media — so if you’re wondering what’s next in journalism, she’s someone you’ll want to listen to, because she’ll be building it. In this conversation, we discuss:
-How Melissa started her journalism career in India
-Her experience working near the World Trade Center on 9/11
-What she learned from her time as a waitress, and how it was crucial to her development as a journalist
-Her pending case before the Indian Supreme Court
-How observing large institutions reveals how little information and control any one person really has
-How Bell thinks about “mapping out” organizations and creating informal networks within those organizations to get things done
-Why it’s hard to create new things in big organizations and how to create better systems for making those things
-How the distinctions between “old” and “new” media have largely collapsed
-What it was like starting Vox, and what we got wrong from the beginning
-How Vox’s brand identity emerged, and why it proved more important than either of us expected
And much more. I work very closely with Melissa, and I learned a lot about her in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.