By DAVID BAUDER, AP Media Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The news organization Semafor launches today with no less an ambition than reinventing the news story.
The brainchild of Ben Smith, former media reporter for The New York Times, and Justin Smith, ex-CEO of Bloomberg Media, Semafor has raised $25 million and hired more than 50 staff members since both men quit their previous jobs in January. They are not related.
Semafor’s website, with a distinctive yellow-tinged backdrop that looks like a newspaper left out in the sun, went live shortly after 6 a.m. Eastern time on Oct. 18, with eight newsletters in place as well as an events business.
“We see, and are very excited about, a big opportunity to create a new and high-quality, independent global news brand that is obsessed with solving a number of big consumer frustrations that we see in the news business, primarily polarization,” said Justin Smith, the company CEO.
Founders also believe people suffer from information overload, and while another news organization may seem an odd way to deal with that issue, they envision Semafor helping consumers make sense of all that’s out there.
News stories will contain separate sections that will present the news, the author’s analysis of what is going on, a counter to that viewpoint, perspective on how the issue is seen elsewhere in the world and a distillation of other stories on the topic.
“Really good reporters do analysis all the time,” said Gina Chua, executive editor, a post she formerly held at Reuters. “That’s great in a story but oftentimes readers don’t know where the facts stop and the analysis begins. What we’re doing is very clearly separating them out.”
It’s probably the highest-risk move Semafor is making, said Ben Smith, the organization’s editor-in-chief.
Among the stories Semafor is offering at launch: a previously unreported accident at SpaceX that injured a rocket technician, by Reed Albergotti, formerly of The Washington Post; and an investor group’s campaign to force Coca-Cola into the garbage business, by Liz Hoffmann, formerly of The Wall Street Journal.
Ex-Washington Post writer David Weigel interviews Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman and Ben Smith looks at his old shop, with a story about an identity crisis at The New York Times.
Smith will author a newsletter on the media, and others will center on business, technology and climate. Semafor Flagship, the day’s main newsletter, will be written from London, while Semafor Principals will look at Washington, D.C., power players.
The latter is the turf of Politico and Axios, two of the century’s most successful media startups.
Events will also be a big part of Semafor’s business, and 11 have been held already. They include a series on trust in news, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, that featured Ben Smith’s interview with Tucker Carlson.
“It’s an extension of our journalism, it’s very very popular with clients and an important way to monetize news,” Justin Smith said.
An event is planned for December when many African leaders will be in Washington. Semafor is anticipating worldwide expansion, with Africa the first area overseas where it is investing in reporting.
At its start, the company is looking to make money through advertising and brand partnerships, said Rachel Oppenheim, chief revenue officer.
The news site will be available free initially. After a year, the company will look for ways to charge for its service, Justin Smith said.
“Ultimately, we believe we will have subscriptions over time,” he said.
The Free Speech Center newsletter offers a digest of First Amendment and news media-related news every other week. Subscribe for free here: https://bit.ly/3kG9uiJ