As news of Smith’s exit plan surfaced this morning, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith also said he would be coming aboard the startup. After eight years as founding editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed, he joined the Times in 2020. While his run was relatively brief, he made his mark on the media beat with columns like ones that revealed dysfunction and misleading practices at Ozy Media.
In an interview with the Times, Smith delivered a quote that prompted head-scratching among his soon-to-be-former colleagues and media industry vets. “There are 200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us,” he said. “That’s who we see as our audience.”
The new venture has no official name and its funding is still being shaped up. David Bradley, chairman emeritus of the Atlantic, is among the potential backers. Prior to his arrival at Bloomberg, Smith had led Atlantic Media. Among his other accomplishments are launching the U.S. edition of the Week magazine and founding Breaking Media, parent of digital brands like Above the Law and Dealbreaker.
In a tweet, Justin Smith described the new venture as “a personal dream, and a market opportunity.”
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of Justin Smith’s departure from Bloomberg, Bradley said the startup had the working title “Project Coda.” It is expected to include digital publishing, newsletters, podcasts and video offerings, he said.
Echoing and expanding on Ben Smith’s comment, Bradley said Justin Smith has often noted that there are 200 million English-speaking, college-educated media consumers and professionals in the world. “The big bet he’s making is that they’re more like each other than their individual countrymen,” Bradley said.
The new venture comes as a number of new companies have tested the waters, emboldened by well-capitalized private equity firms looking for investment venues. One standard bearer giving some financiers and media vets pause is BuzzFeed, which started trading on the Nasdaq last month after a SPAC merger. Shares in the company, the first digital media outlet to go public, have been underwater since their IPO, rising a fraction today to about $5.32 midway through the market session.
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