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Semaphore makes its debut in a challenging media environment

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Ben Smith, left and Justin Smith

Source: Semaphore

Semafor, a new digital media company focused on global news for college-educated readers, debuted on Tuesday with the intent of bringing transparency and clarity to a news business that its co-founders believe is too polarized.

Semaphore has been preparing for its launch since last January. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith and former Bloomberg Media Chief Executive Justin Smith quit their jobs to launch the initiative. and its mobile site will have a yellow background to match coverage in the US and sub-Saharan Africa. The news company will broadcast regionally and nationally in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and other countries.

The unrelated Smiths will take lessons learned from more than 20 years of digital media to drive Semaphore into what they hope will be a global, profitable business.

Recent sales of Axios (to Cox Enterprises), The Athletic (to The New York Times) and Politico (to Axel Springer) have given Semaphor a path to build and sell a business for hundreds of millions of dollars. , but Justin Smith said he hasn’t done that yet. We did not have any discussions with Semafor’s investors about selling with a specific valuation. These include Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, and Jessica Lessin, founder of tech news site The Information.

Still, ad-supported digital media is an industry known for recession droughts and low growth – with many cautionary tales. BuzzFeed has seen its valuation drop 80% since going public. Vice’s attempt to go public has failed as investors have cooled off from its future prospects. He has been trying to find buyers for several years.

Semaphore will immediately stand out from old news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or with its unique article structure. Except for possible breaking news, all news will adhere to a “Semaform” with five parts: “News”, “Reporter Opinion”, “Disagreement”, “Aspect” and “Important”.

Each story will give reporters a chance to weigh the news for themselves in a particular section, while also including paragraphs about why their comments might be wrong. Stories will also include a section that gives a macro/global perspective to limit local bias.

According to Justin Smith, to address information overload, a major flaw in the current media ecosystem, external media analysis will be cut and found in the Important section. “Semaform” derives from Justin Smith’s experience running newsrooms at Bloomberg, The Atlantic, Quartz, and The Week, as well as Ben Smith’s time as editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed News and The New York Times.

This is an evolution of Axios’ emphasis on news bulletins, the “Bloomberg Way” (a style guide focused on clarity), and The Week’s emphasis on a wide range of perspectives.

“We tried to isolate and resolve individual problems such as polarization and information overload,” Smith said. “We went to different user segments in meaningful conversations and asked them about some of the ideas we had developed. There was a real sense of frustration, but it was also astonishing that the basic unit of journalism – the article – hadn’t really evolved in literally hundreds and hundreds of years.”

business plan

Justin Smith said that Semaphore will start as a free, ad-supported media site, but will evolve into a paywalled subscription site in about 12 to 18 months as the brand gains awareness. Despite launching in a time of economic uncertainty when brands are cautious about how they spend on digital media advertising, Semafor will form partnerships with companies including: verizon and Pfizer.

“We are definitely ahead of where we expect to be on the revenue and monetization front,” said Rachel Oppenheim, Head of Semaphore Revenue Service. “We operate in a specific segment of the advertising market, which is corporate reputation and brand advertising. While brands are under financial pressure, they are also under tremendous pressure to advance their reputations and reach key stakeholders. One of the hallmarks of many of the conversations we’ve had is, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. ‘. It was extremely humble and encouraging.”

Justin Smith said that Semaphore has raised $25 million and shared its five-year business plan with investors. It will spend its initial investment and measure how the business is doing before the firm sets profitability targets or raises more money, he added.

Ben and Justin Smith named the company Semaphore after the word “semaphore,” a visual signaling device that sounds the same in about 35 different languages. The media company will start operating with around 60 employees, more than half of whom are reporters.

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