An unfinished list of ventures in journalism you should be watching (and why)
October 20, 2013 (updated on April 12, 2022)
One thing that makes current times so interesting for journalism is that everybody is still looking for a model that will work for journalism in the 21st century. Given the speed of technological change and the complexity of what is now the media landscape, it’s unlikely we’ll ever find a model that will work for more than a few years for more than a few publishers. The hype around native advertising or metered paywalls is primarily a manifestation of the hope for silver bullets.
There will have to be lots of experiments.
So here’s a list of journalism ventures worth watching closely, each for a different set of reasons.
I’m fully aware that this list falls short of highlighting all the movers and shakers in the field of journalism. That’s why I invite everyone to suggest additions (either in the comments section or via Twitter). My view is inevitably biased towards European and English language ventures, so I’m especially glad if you point me to ventures from Africa, South America and Asia.
For now, I’ve left out all the ventures that are entering the media sphere from a tech background, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more. Neither have I included the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Guardian, assuming that everyone is watching them already.
What? London-based online magazine about «nature, culture and ideas».
Why? Simple concept, great content: one essay each weekday. The kind of venture to answer one of the key questions of the industry: How to fund quality content when you’re not subsidizing it?
Where? Aeon Magazine
What? Al Jazeera’s attempt to produce news for a generation that doesn’t watch news networks on TV anymore.
Why? Their approach to producing video content that is designed specifically for mobile and social.
What? A site for investigative citizen journalism, founded by Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses.
Why? Cutting-edge, web-based reporting by «outsiders» who manage to produce worldwide scoops. A perfect example of how journalism is no longer something only pros in large newsrooms do, but anyone with skills and passion to «commit acts of journalism».
What? A news site aimed at millenials, launched by Spiegel Online.
Why? Bento is based on the assumption that young people do not want trivialised news, but news told in a different, more personal way.
What? Startup incubator, investor, builder based in New York City.
Why? With Digg, Instapaper, Tapestry and Bloglovin in their portfolio, they’ve only started connecting the dots (pun intended).
What? An «iTunes for news», started in the Netherlands, expanded to Germany in 2015, will expand to the US in 2016. Funded by NYT and Axel Springer.
Why? The idea of an «iTunes for news» has been around for years. This is the first all-in implementation of it and the news industry will be able to learn a lot from either its success or failure. Most interesting – because bold – feature: If a user didn’t like an article s/he just paid for, getting a refund is only a click away.
What? Non-profit investigative newsroom. A «German Pro Publica».
Why? Strong team, strong mission, strong initial funding. Can they become the «German Pro Publica», not just in terms of how they are organised, but in terms of impact?
What? Amsterdam-based site for in depth-reporting.
Why? Engaged subscribers and no advertisers – a model for the future?
Where? De Correspondent
What? Publisher of longform stories that have the potential to become movie scripts.
Why? How to plan lifecycle monetisation of big narratives.
Where? Epic Magazine
What? A network of podcasts, so far «Startup» and «Reply All» have launched.
Why? Can podcasts scale enough to support a business of their own. What makes Gimlet so interesting to watch (ok, well: listen to) is that they document their own progress in their «Startup» podcast.
Where? Gimlet Media
What? Platform for storytelling around images and places.
Why? A novel, yet very intuitive approach to storytelling: You start short – when people ask you to «Tell more», you expand.
What? Multinational, independent network of data journalists.
Why? As data journalism is still growing slowly within newsrooms, they are paving the way by producing exemplary work and educating others.
What? Paris-based news site with ironclad paywall.
Why? How to be profitable with no advertising at all.
What? A publishing platform by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
Why? Medium seems to evolve into a 21st century magazine publisher. The beauty of the site and the writing environment attract a lot of great content Medium doesn’t have to pay for.
What? Independent bimonthly magazine and news site based in San Francisco.
Why? A striking example of the strength of non-profit, reader and donation supported journalism.
Where? Mother Jones
What? New York City based digital magazine, dedicated on «sharing in-depth local stories with a universal appeal»
Why? This is what doubling down on local, human-interest narratives looks like. One topic each week, one piece per day, they use the full spectrum of storytelling means to make untold stories big.
What? The publisher behind single-topic sites Syria Deeply, Ebola Deeply, Water Deeply and Arctic Deeply.
Why? Take one big issue of our time, double down on it and become the go-to-source for anyone interested in it (while making more people interested in it in the first place). Question remains: feature or company?
What? One man curation newsletter by Dave Pell.
Why? Curation is 50% finding the right content and 50% finding a distinct style to present it. Dave Pell is a model for both.
Where? Next Draft
What? News site that produces content specifically for social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat or Vine.
Why? How to produce content that not only spreads over social media, but actually lives right there?
What? Paid, digital-only news venture, inspired by Quartz, launched by Switzerland’s most renowned newspaper.
Why? Will enough people pay? The bet is on reducing noise, by focusing on briefs and context/opinion.
What? Collaborative platform from Chile (translates as Powerpedia) to uncover relationships between people, companies and organizations in power.
Why? Rather than pinning the news cycle, they are visualising the fabric that explains a lot about why in in what context some things are happening.
What? Joint-venture by Politico and Axel Springer to bring Politico to Europe.
Why? Can Politico establish itself as the first strong pan-European news site?
What? Business news site, founded by The Atlantic in 2012.
Why? Charts. Quartz has made charts a core part of its coverage, not least by making their production highly standardised and efficient charts editor. The keep innovating around charts, having launched a platform for all their charts, called, Atlas, which they will open to everyone in 2016. (it might seem a little unfair to say you should be watching Quartz for their charts – there is indeed a lot more to learn from them – but their approach to charts stands out to me).
What? A «global news community» by First Look Media, headed by Andy Carvin.
Why? What’s possible if a news organisation is freed from the need to pull people to their site and can report and publish wherever there is an audience?
What? Blockbuster podcast success of 2014, one large investigation, told in episodes. Season 2 started in late 2015.
Why? Put the success formula of tv dramas to work for journalism, introducing podcasts to the mainstream along the way. Where can they take it from there?
Where? Serial Podcast
What? A «news agency of the social media age» from Dublin, Ireland. Acquired by News Corp. in December 2013.
Why? The news agency the 21st century calls for, using technology and crowdsourcing to discover and verify content before anyone else.
The 19 Million Project
What? A network of journalists from a dozen countries who collaborate to provide in-depth coverage of the ongoing refugee crisis.
Why? The biggest issues of our time are increasingly covered by teams from multiple countries and organisations. A model for the future?
Where? The 19 Million Project
What? Not-for-profit journalism project from Melbourne, Australia, «featuring content from the sharpest academic minds»
Why? A journalistic interface between academic discourse and the public, implicitly raising the question: Is science best covered by scientists?
Where? The Conversation
What? A morning briefing, aimed at millennial women.
Why? $6m investment. In a newsletter.
Where? The Skimm
What? The NYT’s outlet for data driven reporting.
Why? Second to none when it comes to pushing the envelope of what we mean by modern quality journalism.
Where? The Upshot
What? Curation site, dedicated to spreading «things that matter».
Why? They’ve proved that you can make serious matters go viral. Should be a lesson to everyone who, when writing headlines, still mistakes boring for serious and who thinks data cannot drive good editorial decisions.
What? Vice Magazine’s global news network, launched in February 2014.
Why? Can Vice grow to be the «CNN for Generation Y» it wants to be? And what exactly does that mean?
Where? Vice News
What? New York City based investigative news site, backed by security tech magnate Mati Kochavi.
Why? Dedicated to «mining the unindexed, un-Google-able Web», they are heavily relying on technology to «identify clusters of disparate signals» on the web that will lead to stories.
What? Ezra Klein’s new venture within Vox Media, focused on «explaining the news».
Why? Their approach: Find the questions a lot of people have, answer them in a way that is helpful and doesn’t make anyone feel stupid. They experiment with providing the same content in different forms for different audiences.
What? The publisher behind Vox.com, The Verge, SB Nation, amongst others.
Why? One of the very few media ventures where the CMS drives, not hinders creativity.
Where? Vox Media
Wait But Why
What? One-man blog (mostly) about science, told in absurdly long articles featuring silly comics.
Why? A unique approach to storytelling and the web’s best proof that longreads can go viral.
Where? Wait But Why
What? Zurich-based news site, launched in January 2014.
Why? The first digital only, technology-driven news venture in Switzerland.
What? Copenhagen based publisher of journalistic singles, texts that are longer than articles but shorter than books.
Why? Is extralongform the kind of journalism that can be sold in the digital age, by breaking into the non-fiction book market? «Zetland live» is a experiement to create a «live magazine» that only exists on stage.
Now, add yours.
I have first published this list in October 2013 and continuously updated it. Here are the ventures that used to be on this list, but have been removed since (for very different reasons, see italics).
- Buzzfeed, listicle powerhouse turning itself into a force in journalism. – If you’re not watching them already, I guess I can’t help you.
- Matter, a publication for longform storytelling. – Acquired by Medium, now exemplary for their publications approach.
- OnOn.at, an Austrian platform, «re-imagining» the article. – Ceased to be.
- Byliner, an author-centered platform for discovering longform journalism. – Pivoted.
- Evening Edition, an evening briefing on the most important stories of the day. – Ceased to be.
- Krautreporter, a crowdfunded platform for independent journalism. – A disappointment so far. Put back on watchlist.
- Forbes, a business news magazine that pioneered a contributer model for bloggers and advertisers. – Not much news lately, back to watchlist.
- Numbeez, a personalised news app from Tel Aviv for «the numbers you care about». – Didn’t live up to its potential.
- Usvsth3m, started out as a Tumblr and a perfect example of how to pull off innovation from within a large news organisation. Popularised newsgames like no other outlet. – Axed by Trinity Mirror
- Ampp3d, a site for «socially shareable data journalism» that mainly showed how to do data journalism is to be done in a mobile context. – Axed by Trinity Mirror
- Contributoria, a Guardian-backed platform for writers to get funding and find collaborators for stories. – Closed in September 2015
- Atavist, a publisher that, through its own app, explored the possibilities of rich multimedia stories – pivoted in March 2015
- Circa, a news app that pioneered what they called «the atomisation of news», breaking down narratives to individual facts, making them easy to follow on mobile. – shut down in 2015, will relaunch with a new focus in 2016
- Fivethirtyeight, a general interest data journalism site, headed by Nate Silver, owned by ESPN. – while data journalism has gone mainstream, others have taken the lead
- First Look Media, a digital news organisation, funded by billionaire Pierre Omidyar, publisher of The Intercept. – hasn’t lived up to its potential (yet)
This list has received way more attention than I had anticipated and I’ve received tons of suggestions for ventures to be added. Here are those I’m currently considering, but haven’t made up my mind about.
3nz, 4newswall, Africa Check, Al Jazeera America, Animalpolitico, Apache.be, BIRN, Delayed Gratification, Der Sender, Dossier.at, Forbes, Grasswire, Internews, Krautreporter, Latterly Magazine, Mindmarket, Niu.ws, OhmyNews, Ozy, Päng!, Politifact, Prozess.report, Quien Manda, Reportagen, Safecast, Texas Tribune, The Coral Project, The Detail, The Marshall Project, Transterramedia, ushahidi, Vio, Webedia.
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in this:
- The end of journalism in the digital age. My optimistic Tumblr.
- To compete with the web’s giants, news organisations need to become better at sending people away
- Weekly Filet. My curation newsletter.