Semafor, the latest among the new American media

Posted Oct 18, 2022 4:09 PMUpdated on Oct 18, 2022 at 4:28 PM

Ben Smith and Justin Smith (who are not related) are betting the world is ready for a new medium. “The first consumer frustration that we want to address is polarization, as well as the distorting effect of social networks”, explains the latter to “Echos. »

The first of the Smiths launched the online media Buzzfeed News, which won prestigious prizes including a Pulitzer. He then left to write a media column for the New York Times, before resigning in January. The second worked at the International Herald Tribune and for the group The Economist before joining The Atlantic, where he helped launch The Wire and Quartz, and run Bloomberg Media Group.

Between them, they raised 25 million dollars from a few wealthy investors, and hired about sixty people, including 35 journalists. The duo launched Semafor on Tuesday, which will be available in a website and a mobile version. The name, chosen because it is pronounced the same way in many languages, designates a system of communication by means of articulated arms, visible from afar.

An original format

To restore readers’ confidence in the information, the two Smiths are betting on an original format. The first part of the article will summarize the news in question. Ideally, this will be proprietary information. Even before its launch, Semafor highlights some scoops on its Twitter account.

So far, nothing new. But the article will also include a more analytical section, in which the journalist can express his point of view on the subject treated. Another section, called “room for disagreement”, will highlight another way of looking at things.

The organization also wants to highlight its global footprint by offering another country’s perspective on the same issue. “For example, if it is a transatlantic problem, it could be seen from Brussels, Paris or London” on American information, comments Justin Smith. Finally, the articles will include links to other resources, together with a summary of their content.

Washington and Lagos

“The three elements that make us stand out from traditional media are these principles of transparent journalism, with a completely new format,” summarizes the entrepreneur.

“Secondly, we will strive to distill other sources and combine their content with ours, which organizations like Les Echos do not do, but also the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Finally, the third element that differentiates us is our global presence, which will be integrated into our articles. »

Initially, Semafor will have two teams: one in the United States, mainly in Washington, and the other in Nigeria. “We have the start of an office in Africa, in Lagos,” explains Justin Smith. “We are going to create an African edition of Semafor, initially intended for the 27 English-speaking countries of Africa. »

The choice of the African continent was essential because it allowed Semafor to quickly gain in power and to equal, or even exceed, the editorial staff of other foreign media in Africa. “We are fascinated by Africa because it is one of the fastest growing markets in the world,” notes the co-founder. “Furthermore, it’s a market completely neglected by the media around the world. »

In six months, Semafor plans to launch another edition, in another region of the world. Among the possible regions, it is the Middle East which holds the rope for the moment, but “the European Union, the United Kingdom and Asia-Pacific” are not excluded. Eventually, the start-up could have editions in other languages.

Need for renewal

The media landscape, in the United States as elsewhere, remains dominated by the same institutions, points out Douglas McCabe, analyst at Enders Analysis. This sector “desperately needs more innovation,” he told the Financial Times.

The success of historical players, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, nevertheless restored investor confidence after the debacle caused by the rise of the tech giants in the 2000s.

In addition, new media, including Politico and Axios, have established themselves in the media landscape thanks to their atypical formats (newsletters for the first and clever brevity for the second). Semafor hopes to find a place alongside these competitors.

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Semafor, the latest among the new American media