Later tonight, Justin Smith will open his home in Washington’s baronial Kalorama neighborhood for an “informal get together” to celebrate Semafor, the new global media start-up that he and Ben Smith plan to launch this fall. The event, which is “not a launch party,” according to the invitation, is nevertheless among the most buzzed-about shindigs on the White House Correspondents Dinner circuit this year—largely because, three and a half months after the Smiths announced their start up, and then semi-breathlessly kept announcing it in a series of early leaks, almost no one in media or politics has any idea what it’s going to look like, who’s going to be writing for it, or how it intends to differentiate itself and follow through on its promise of better serving the 200 million college-educated, English-reading people who, according to the Smiths, are underserved by the myriad English-language news organizations that already exist.
After the early press wave, The Smiths went underground and began the hard work of raising a business from scratch. They started soliciting capital from family offices and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. They eventually announced hires, such as Caitlin Roman, a former Athletic executive, to run product; Mark Wilkie, the former Buzzfeed C.T.O., to run technology; Rachel Oppenheim, formerly of The New York Times Company, to oversee revenue; Gina Chua, formerly the executive editor of Reuters, to become Ben’s deputy editor; and Steve Clemons, formerly of The Atlantic, to oversee events. Like everyone else running a new venture, the Smiths missed on some things and learned along the way. And spent zillions of hours with models and lawyers.
By the way, Semafor is ostensibly a competitor to Puck, but I also realize that new journalistic ventures can raise the tides for everyone, so I’m rooting for these guys. I’ve also known both of them for years, and spent two memorable months working for Ben at Politico, just before he joined BuzzFeed. Obviously I’m a reporter first, but not an entirely disinterested party as an equity holder in Puck’s business.