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On a recent visit to New York, I had a chance to catch up with some of that city’s new-media stars, including BuzzFeed, Quartz, VICE Media, Gawker and Tumblr. I’ve already written about one of my takeaways from that trip: namely, how some or all of those companies are looking at what they do through a different lens than many traditional outlets, by seeing their journalism as a service — that is, part of a two-way relationship with readers — rather than just the distribution of content.
This post is more of a round-up of what is happening at each of those companies, as they expand into new areas, which all of them are doing. In fact, my other major takeaway was just how rapidly some of them are growing — Quartz and The Wire just moved into a new space in January and have almost outgrown it, Gawker is moving into a new building next year, and Tumblr is taking over a third floor.
I should point out that my focus on these companies doesn’t mean they are the only ones worth watching in new media, by any stretch. There are dozens of other interesting startups and players both in NYC and elsewhere, including Circa (which just rolled out an upgrade) and NBC’s Breaking News — which recently launched an interesting experiment in location-based news — as well as Business Insider, Vox and solo operations like The Daily Dish and The Information.
Although it is still seen by some as a new-media startup, BuzzFeed looks a lot more like a well-established media entity when you visit its headquarters in the Flatiron district. The main editorial space, including the canteen, is about the size of a football field, and the same floor also has other sections for the business operations, advertising sales, etc. BuzzFeed also has a rapidly expanding video unit based in Los Angeles that is run by former independent video star Ze Frank, and the site is hiring editors and reporters for a standalone news app that it plans to launch soon.
Quick fact: If you happen to meet editor-in-chief and former Politico blogger Ben Smith in Madison Square Park next door to the BuzzFeed offices, he may regale you with fascinating details about former political stars like Roscoe Conkling, a senator and bodyguard to Thaddeus Stevens who has a statue dedicated to him at the entrance to the park.
Like most of the other companies in this list, VICE is expanding so quickly it is looking at moving, because it has used up all of the available space in the former railway warehouse it occupies across the street from a brewery in Williamsburg, the trendy area of Brooklyn. The office houses more than 400 people, many of them stuffed into a rabbit-warren style collection of video-editing suites, and hundreds more are being hired around the world — thanks in part to the massive injection of cash it recently got from A&E and a venture firm, which values it at about $2.5 billion.
Quick fact: Co-founders Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith, who started the company as a lifestyle magazine based in Montreal, have fairly tiny offices in the existing building, but the room where Smith was holding an editorial meeting when I visited has a large mural of a winter scene complete with a stuffed and mounted grizzly bear that was given to the company after a video shoot.
According to the New York Times‘ piece on his recent wedding, Gawker founder Nick Denton’s icy heart has been melted by love, and he did seem somewhat more gregarious when I met him for lunch in SoHo. He has even said that he sees Gawker as the “guardian of independent media,” a position he would likely have scorned in the past. But as optimistic as he is about the growth of the company — including its upcoming move to the Flatiron district — he is still consumed by the desire to make the Kinja platform the kind of disruptive force in journalism that he envisioned it to be when it first launched in 2012.
Quick fact: Many Gawker staffers and visitors say they will miss the great rooftop deck/garden at the building in SoHo, but Denton says the new office near the Flatiron building will have something even better — a two-storey, atrium-style greenhouse event space and workspace.
Although the history of Yahoo acquisitions is not generally a rosy one, Tumblr founder David Karp told me his company is happy with how the integration between the two has been going since Yahoo bought Tumblr last year for $1.1 billion, and says Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has more than kept her word. There was “a kind of forcefield” around Tumblr for the first six months, Karp says, but that barrier has since been lowered and the two are working together on a number of projects — including plugging Tumblr into Yahoo’s ad machinery, so the site can offer not just its own canvas for native ads, but access to Yahoo’s massive audience.
Quick fact: Karp, who recently turned 28, built a $1.6-million apartment for himself and his girlfriend in Williamsburg that was written up by net-neutrality guru Tim Wu in the New York Times. He is now single, however, so now that large space is mostly taken up by old motorcycles that the Tumblr founder is busy restoring.
As mentioned above, the business-focused spinoff from Atlantic Media shares an office with The Wire, the news-wire style site that Atlantic recently announced it was absorbing back into the magazine, and recasting as a socially-driven element within the Atlantic. Quartz, meanwhile, has made Zach Seward director of product for the site — which recently launched an experiment in replacing the idea of a traditional home page (which it never had) with an email-newsletter style briefing — and Seward says more interesting projects are in the works.
Quick fact: The Quartz/Atlantic newsroom has a large video screen that tracks visitors to the site in real time, and also shows other interesting data, which during my visit included the price of Bitcoin and the status of nearby Citibike stands.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Joshua Haviv