Medium adds tech heavyweight Steven Levy as it builds its digital magazine/platform

While media observers worry about whether Medium is more of a platform or a publisher, the site itself — however you define it — continues to grow: it announced recently that it is expanding Matter, the digital magazine it acquired last year, and now veteran technology writer Steven Levy has said he is leaving Wired magazine to join Medium. In a post on the site, Levy said he will be launching a tech vertical that will include his own long-form journalism as well as pieces that he will be commissioning from outside writers.

In a sense, what Levy describes — although it may not be clear enough for some — seems to be one of the clearest examples yet of founder Evan Williams’ vision of a combination digital magazine and open-publishing platform. While the tech hub (which has yet to be named) will mostly feature the former Wired and Newsweek staffer’s writings, he will also act as the editor-in-chief of what sounds a lot like a tech magazine by assigning writers, and at the same time will be curating pieces that emerge from within Medium itself. According to Levy:

“It will feature not only my own best writing but the work of contributors who share my belief in deeply reported, colorfully rendered stories in and around the tech explosion. We will also draw on some of the amazing contributions that are already flowing into Medium—not only professional writers but also smart people chiming in spontaneously—and bring in outside voices of authority who will express their concerns, share their thoughts, and generally provoke our readers.”

Magazine or platform? Yes

Ever since it launched in 2012, Medium has confused some and irritated others, by refusing to say exactly what it is or what it wants to become — a traditional-style publisher that selects and curates (and pays for) editorial content, or an open platform for anyone to publish. Williams, the former CEO of Twitter, seems happy to do all of those things at once: some of the site’s content appears automatically, some of it is assigned and reviewed by editors, some of it is commissioned and paid for, and some appears in verticals that appear to function very much like mini-magazines, of which Matter is one.

That desire to do everything has caused some friction, however: the editor of a collection called Ladybits, Arikia Millikan, announced recently that she was leaving, and her dissatisfaction seemed to stem in part from the way in which she and her contributors were paid — that is, based on traffic. Medium editor Evan Hansen later said the site has changed the way it compensates such writers, and now pays them based on a metric it developed called “total time reading” (other writers are commissioned and paid a flat fee).

Williams has said repeatedly that he sees Medium as a digital take on the traditional magazine model, and that he sees it as a publisher, and that seems to be where the site is devoting much of its resources, if Levy’s hiring and the expansion of Matter are any indication. The open-platform aspects of the site, it seems, will be a kind of raw pool of content that editors like Levy and Matter’s Mark Lotto can choose from — and possibly even as a source of new writers whom they can commission and pay. Regardless, it’s interesting to watch.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Kuligssen