Semaphore makes its debut in a tough media environment

Ben Smith (left) and Justin Smith

Source: Semaphore

Semafor, a new digital media company specializing in global news for college-educated readers, debuted Tuesday with the intention of bringing transparency and clarity to a news business that its co-founders say has become too polarized.

Semaphore has been preparing for launch since January, when the former The newspaper “New York Times Media columnist Ben Smith and former Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith quit their jobs to start the venture. and its mobile site will have a branded yellow background to match coverage in the US and Sub-Saharan Africa. The news company will provide regional and national coverage in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and beyond.

The Smiths, who are unrelated, will draw lessons learned from over 20 years of digital media experience to guide Semafor into what they hope will become a global and profitable business.

Recent sales of Axios (Cox Enterprises), The Athletic (The New York Times) and Politico (to Axel Springer) paved the way for Semaphore to build and sell hundreds of millions of dollars of business, though Justin Smith said he didn’t. I have not had any conversations about selling at a certain price with Semafor investors. Sam is among them. Bankman-Fried, founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, and Jessica Lessin, founder of technology news website The Information.

However, ad-supported digital media is a sector known for recession drought and low growth — with many cautionary tales. buzzfeed its valuation has fallen by 80% since going public. vices attempt to enter the exchange failed as investors questioned his future prospects. We have been trying to find a buyer for several years.

Semafor immediately stands out from traditional news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or thanks to its unique article structure. All stories, with the possible exception of breaking news, will adhere to the “Semaform” consisting of five sections: “News”, “Reporter’s Opinion”, “Point of Controversy”, “View from”, and “Notable”.

Each story will give reporters the opportunity to evaluate the news in a particular section for themselves, as well as include paragraphs about why their opinion might be wrong. The stories will also include a macro/global section to limit local bias.

According to Justin Smith, in order to eliminate information overload, a key flaw in the current media ecosystem, external media analysis will be truncated and found in the Known section. Semaform draws on Justin Smith’s experience managing newsrooms at Bloomberg, The Atlantic, Quartz, and The Week, as well as Ben Smith’s work as editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News and The New York Times.

It’s an evolution of Axios’ bullet point news, Bloomberg’s Way (a style guide that focuses on clarity), and The Week’s emphasis on a wide range of viewpoints.

“We started trying to isolate individual issues like polarization and information overload and unravel them,” Smith said. “We reached out to different segments of users with meaningful conversations, asking them about some of the ideas we developed. There was a real sense of disappointment, but also surprise that the basic unit of journalism, the article, hadn’t really evolved in literally hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Business plan

According to Justin Smith, Semafor will initially be a free, ad-supported media site, but in 12 to 18 months it will evolve into a paid subscription site as brand awareness grows. Despite launching during a period of economic uncertainty when brands are cautious about how they spend on digital media advertising, Semafor debuts partnerships with companies such as Verizon as well as pfizer.

“We have certainly exceeded our revenue and monetization expectations,” said Semafor Chief Revenue Officer Rachel Oppenheim. “We work in a certain part of the advertising market, namely in corporate reputation and brand advertising. While brands are under financial pressure, they are also under a lot of pressure to improve their reputation and attract key stakeholders. One of the hallmarks of many of our conversations is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” It was deeply humbling and reassuring.”

Semafor raised $25 million and did not discuss a potential exit valuation with its investors, despite sharing a five-year business plan with investors, Justin Smith said. He will spend his initial investment and assess how the business is doing before setting firm profit targets or raising more money, he added.

Ben and Justin Smith Semafor company name after the word “semaphore” – a visual signaling device that sounds the same in about 35 different languages. The media company will be launched with about 60 employees, more than half of which are journalists.

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