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Digital news outlets aimed at millennials have an edge in global startup space

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Digital news outlets aimed at millennials have an edge in global startup space

James Breiner | April 16, 2014

Some of the fastest-growing digital media in Asia, Latin America and the U.S. are tapping into a young audience that wants news that is less partisan, more believable and sometimes irreverent.

Animal Politico in Mexico started out as a Twitter feed with an edge. News Lens in Taiwan was designed for people who distrust all traditional media. And PolicyMic in the U.S. is aimed at millennials who want to participate in a conversation around the news.

The founders told their stories April 4-5 at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the Knight Center for Digital Journalism in the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Who are millennials? Loosely defined, they are a generation of digital natives aged 18 to 34 and they are sought after by marketers for their high levels of income and education.

In Taiwan, credibility

Joey Chung, co-founder and CEO of the News Lens, said the Chinese-language publication launched in July and now has an audience of 3 million unique users monthly.

Polls show the vast majority of Taiwanese do not believe the news they get from traditional media, which they perceive as partisan toward the left or right, Chung said. "There's anger and frustration with the news, and we want to represent a change." So the News Lens attempts to provide news that is fearless, balanced, fair, and credible.

The publication has 180 writers producing 40 articles a day, 20 from aggregation and 20 from columnists. At the beginning the the founders could not convince investors to put money into their project because there are already thousands of news outlets in the region.

"In the end, you just have to close your eyes and jump," Chung said. So they launched with their own money.

However, they have since attracted high-profile angel investors Marcus Brauchli and Sasa Vucinic. “Sasa and I are hugely impressed with the vision and energy that Joey Chung and Mario Yang and their team bring to The News Lens. Both of us have spent time with them in Taipei,” Brauchli told Catherine Shu of Techcrunch.

Chung described a distribution strategy that aims to be in front of users all day long. They publish on the most popular social media platforms in Asia. They have cut deals with operators of video screens in taxis, elevators and subway trains, where the clips run for 90 seconds, the time it takes to travel between stops.

Video: Chung explains how their entrepreneurial venture tries to revamp its journalistic model every few months.

Serious and entertaining

Daniel Eilemberg, founder of Animal Politico, is only 35 but has been an editor at several major business and news publications in the U.S. and Latin America. The Spanish language site began three years ago as a Twitter feed and thrives on being at the center of social conversations about the news. It employs 20 journalists to report news for a Mexican audience in a way that is both entertaining and informative.

In an interview, Eilemberg told me that the site’s traffic averages about 4 million unique users and 7 million page views a month and that it expects to achieve profitability this year. More than half the traffic comes from mobile devices.

The target audience is millennials, aged 18 to 34. “One of the big lessons we have learned in Animal Politico is how to generate engagement with them, how to generate dialogue with them around the news.”

He has taken those lessons with him to Univison’s Fusion.net, where he is aiming to reach the same demographic among young Hispanics in the U.S. In January he was appointed chief digital officer in charge of Fusion’s digital, mobile and social platforms.

Eilemberg advises budding entrepreneurs “to just do it. The worst mistake you can make is not to try. Start small, test the idea and once you show the idea is successful, everything will flow from that.”

“We launched Animal Politico on Twitter, and for a year barely made anything but barely spent anything. We wanted to prove the concept that there could be a brand that talked about politics and important issues and could connect with the younger generation. Once we had the proof that it would work, we invested in Animal Politico.”

Empower young people

PolicyMic.com also aims at millennials who are dissatisfied with traditional news outlets. It reaches 14.5 million unique users a month, according to Jake Horowitz, co-founder and editor-in-chief.

The site started 2 1/2 years ago, and “the goal all along has been to empower young people who want to be a part of the conversation around the news and feel that news outlets historically have done a poor job of appealing to our generation.”

“Young people want to read about serious topics, but they want to hear authentic voices. They’ve been lied to one too many times by politicians, they’ve been misled one too many times by news outlets.”

The site has attracted a little over $3 million in seed funding, Horowitz said, which has allowed them to focus on growth without having to worry for the moment about generating a profit.

PolicyMic is based in New York City and has 13 editors as well as freelancers all over the world. One element of the editorial strategy is to frame stories for a younger audience that wants to hear more authentic voices that challenge the status quo, Horowitz said.

Part of that strategy includes distributing news through social networks, which is where the target audience is consuming news and sharing stories. “Young people are not going to news sites. They’re going to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine. You have to reach young people where they’re having conversations. And stories have to look different on each of those different social platforms. We’re shaping stories so that they are appropriate for each of those platforms.”

So far, PolicyMic has run a few test advertising campaigns. Eventually, “there will be huge opportunities to work with brands to produce engaging content in a unique way, in the authentic voice I’m talking about,” Horowitz said. One thing is certain, he said: “My generation does not read banner ads.”

This post originally appeared on the blog News Entrepreneurs. It is published on IJNet with the author's permission.

James Breiner is a consultant in online journalism and leadership. He is a former co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University and a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Image of Joey Chung, co-founder of The News Lens, courtesy of James Breiner.

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