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Semafor Is Almost Ready for Prime Time

Ben Smith
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
September 9, 2022

There are a number of ways to start a media company. When a trio of congressional reporters decamped from Politico two years ago to launch Punchbowl News, they very quietly went about the business of raising a small amount of seed money, keeping their intentions to themselves, and launching an M.V.P. product after the holidays. Steadily and iteratively, they built their business in plain sight, promising exclusive, well-sourced reporting from Capitol Hill, but making few bold proclamations about any intention to revolutionize or reinvent political news. 

Six years ago, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen were ever so slightly less low-key. They spent the spring, summer, and fall of 2016 keeping mum about their exit from Politico and future plans. Sure, people in the industry knew that they were coming up to New York to meet with venture capitalists and institutional investors, but the business was still largely a black box minus some well-orchestrated leaks in Vanity Fair’s The Hive and other sources. Eventually, Jim began to drop more effusive hints about the concept, adding to his thesis that the media was “broken,” and “too often a scam.” He and his co-founders promised, in typical VandeHeian fashion, to introduce an entirely different style of journalism, dubbed “smart brevity,” that would scrape away the crap and give readers nothing but the essential information and analysis.  It was only three months before launch that news broke that they’d hired Fortune’s private equity scoop machine Dan Primack, offering the first real hint of what was in store.