Jan 5, 2022 - Economy

Media disrupters chase global audience

Ben Smith speaks at a  conference

Ben Smith, then editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, speaks in 2019. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Calling legacy media "almost paralyzed," two of journalism's top disrupters —  Bloomberg's Justin Smith and Ben Smith of the New York Times — unveiled a long-secret idea for a richly-funded global news platform.

  • The Smiths either are very early in their planning or are cleverly disguising their intentions: No name was announced, and neither could say where the venture will be headquartered.
  • So far all they're saying is it will be new, globally focused — not social-media focused — and event heavy.

Why it matters: Despite the vagueness, the two unrelated Smiths have such track records atop American media that their departures from Bloomberg and the Times elicited intense media fascination.

  • Both news veterans resigned just this week, but already are reaching out to potential recruits.
  • Ben Smith's last day as the Times' media columnist is next Monday.
  • Justin Smith will stay on as an adviser to Bloomberg Media through March 15.

Driving the news: The new company aims to fill a void they say neither of their previous employers are capable of addressing, according to a memo obtained by Axios that Justin Smith sent to close confidants.

  • "Faced with the technological and societal disruptions of the past two decades, traditional editorial institutions have become almost paralyzed — operationally, politically, culturally," the memo says.
  • The target market is what they say are 200 million members of an "English-speaking, college-educated, professional class" around the world.
  • Justin Smith noted in an interview that the success of Netflix, while spanning across many languages, shows that there's a new affluent, global and digitally connected audience today that's willing to pay for high-quality content.

Between the lines: The business will go after some of the most valuable prospects for the Smiths' previous employers. Both the Times and Bloomberg court international customers for their digital subscriptions. Those are also top targets for the new business.

  • Justin Smith, who will be CEO of the new operation, told Axios that the venture will focus on digital consumer subscriptions and premium advertising. "The only traditional platform we're pursuing will be events," he said, noting the success of global forums hosted by Bloomberg Media.
  • Ben Smith, who will lead the outlet's newsroom, said he's thinking through what it means for a newsroom entering "a post-social media moment and in the news business."

The big picture: In his memo, Justin Smith argues that the global news business "hasn’t seen significant new entrants in more than 40 years," and that the leading incumbents, "often see the world through a domestic lens, the international market an afterthought."

  • The huge wire services — including AP, Reuters and Bloomberg — are very much rooted in global reporting. But the New York Times and the Washington Post are pushing to get ahead. The Times announced last quarter that it now has over 1 million digital-only international subscribers.

What to watch: The duo aims to launch the new venture by the end of the year.

  • For now, Justin Smith will be self-funding the business while he finalizes late-stage talks with "individuals" who have "high integrity and great business acumen" about long-term investments, instead of venture-type investors.

Go deeper: Read the full memo below.

Go deeper