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Oct. 15, 2018, 7 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Will Vox’s new section on effective altruism…well, do any good?

“It came out of a sense that there were some really important topics with impacts on human beings that didn’t get as much coverage in traditional journalism sections and pieces.”

Earlier this year, Vox Media closed the closet on Racked, folding the standalone site into Vox.com itself and introducing a condensed version called The Goods as its own section.

Now, a new kind of good is coming to Vox.com. And it’s getting a philanthropic boost.

Future Perfect, a section led by longtime Vox-er/senior correspondent Dylan Matthews and Vox senior policy editor Elbert Ventura, starts explaining effective altruism today. The concept is about as straightforward as the words themselves: doing good in a way that makes the most good (and doesn’t just feel good). Got it? Good.

“It came out of a sense that there were some really important topics with impacts on human beings that didn’t get as much coverage in traditional journalism sections and pieces,” Matthews said. “Animal welfare is something that felt like it got treated a bit like what animal rights people might read about, but it’s not a greater concern…John Paul Getty cared a lot about art [but] he didn’t sit down and think: Where is the place my money could do the most good? We thought the lens of effective altruism was a good way to get at this.”

But it’s more than the decline of fur in fashion or inhumane treatment of pregnant pigs (though those are still important!). Matthews has highlighted effective altruism-related topics on Vox before, from the story of why he donated his own kidney to a stranger to using CRISPR to eradicate malaria to the concept of effective altruism itself.

Now those types of stories will be wrapped up in Future Perfect’s section, a twice-weekly newsletter, and a weekly podcast. On the section today, they have items like a Bill Gates Q&A, an analysis on ways to get out of extreme poverty, and a piece on epidemics by Obama’s Ebola czar.

Writing for the section will be Matthews, Abby Higgins and Kelsey Piper. Byrd Pinkerton will be producing the podcast, and engagement manager Sammy Fries will handle coordinating the newsletter.

The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting Vox.com with a $380,000 grant over 14 months to launch Future Perfect, Rockefeller spokesperson Matt Herrick told me. Think of it as market research.

“From our perspective, to make a big impact in the world and to lift as many people out of poverty as possible in a responsible way, it’s going to take big, bold ideas, and new people and organizations with wealth and means are stepping forward to make those big bets,” Herrick said. “This project by Vox explores the social impact of those efforts, and we feel that’s an important, worthy endeavor and in the public’s interest.”

It’s kind of a nerdy topic, which fits with Vox’s explaining wonkiness. But it’s an unexpected addition to its list of sections, alongside bits like Technology, Energy & Environment, and Politics & Policy. But hey, as journalism turns to new kinds of altruism and the nonprofit news industry reaching almost $350 million in total annual revenue, there’s always room for a deeper conversation about effectiveness.

Image a tree on the grounds of the Getty Museum, home to part of John Paul Getty’s art collection, by Ted used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Oct. 15, 2018, 7 a.m.
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“Things that were on the fires-and-car-accident side of things would get a lot of pageviews, but didn’t seem to have lasting impact on the way that people live their lives around here.”