Digital News Asia Raises $300K To Bring Old School ICT Journalism To The Web In Southeast Asia

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What Is Journalism Anymore?

A tech news site writing about another tech news site has the potential to get very insider baseball-ery, so I try to carefully pick and choose which of our peers to shed light on. With that in mind, Digital News Asia (DNA) — a small but interesting collection of unashamed “old school” journalists — has raised a $300,000 seed round as it aims to expand its brand of reporting across Southeast Asia.

Started by three experienced tech hacks based in Malaysia and with a total editorial team of five, the two-year-old company netted its first funding round from IdeaRiverRun (IRR), a Malaysian private investment firm with a track record of working with digital media startups.

There are plenty of tech blogs covering news from across Asia — including us here at TechCrunch, of course — so what makes DNA so special?

Well, the founders believe their identity is a little different. Rather than focusing on tech news, DNA wants to cover the entire ICT pie — including the very much trade and B2B aspects of tech news.

Oh, and it isn’t a blog. So they say.

“Bloggers serve a very important function in disseminating news and views, but we also believe that the ecosystem has matured to a point where tech journalism can also play a role,” Asohan Aryaduray, the publication’s Executive Editor and co-founder explained to TechCrunch over email.

“We also believe that while the consumer tech space, and more recently the startup scene, have been garnering a lot of media attention, there are entire aspects of the ICT ecosystem that are being neglected,” Asohan added.

Recent examples of that editorial focus include stories on Dell’s latest firewall technology, telecom industry partnerships and a strong focus on enterprise news, but there are also more general stories — such as an interview with 500 Startup’s Southeast Asia head Khailee Ng and a recent interview with Hailo.

Not only is the focus on the unsexy unique, but DNA isn’t rushing out to be regional or global. To date it has focused on Malaysia with some regional stories, though it recently expanded its team to Singapore and intends to staff up in Indonesia next. Thailand and the Philippines are also on its radar.

That slow rollout is very deliberate and part of an approach that Asohan called “multiple-market”. That, he argued, allows DNA to provide a “localized, in-depth perspective” on ecosystems as a whole.

DNA-IRR Photo 1

Aside from expanding the team and its geographical scope, DNA is also planning to widen its coverage into consumer tech topics — or “personal technology,” as Asohan referred to it, with more than a hint of old school print-ism. Again, rather than overly focus on gadgets and gizmos themselves, the site’s editorial team hopes to communicate “how such technologies are changing society, communities, and business, etc.”

DNA has been part of my regular reading for some time now and, while it doesn’t necessary race to publish stories first and I don’t read many of the enterprise/trade-oriented articles, there is a print journalism quality to its work.

But the rise of click bait media and the ease in which stories can be sourced mean DNA’s approach goes against the grain and flies in the face of strategies used (successfully) by other tech media. There’s plenty to like about an old school, boots-on-the-ground approach to reporting, but can some (frankly, dull) niche topics bring in enough readers for sustainable revenue via advertising, particularly when the website is not particular consumer friendly? (The company says a website revamp is on the cards, for what it’s worth.)

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Asohan declined to reveal the site’s traffic numbers or revenue volumes. Asked on plans for the immediate future, he said that an exit isn’t something that the company is thinking about.

“We’re more intent on ensuring that technology journalism plays its proper role in terms of serving the community: Which is to act as the Fourth Estate,” he explained. Crucially, he added, the site’s editorial focus will remain independent — that’s something that IRR has agreed to.

Top blogs and websites today have become media companies in their own right — taking BuzzFeed as the obvious example — yet sites like subscription-based The Information show that, in the U.S. at least, there’s an appetite for tech trades. I’m fascinated to see whether DNA can pull off a very different approach in Southeast Asia’s nascent online media space.

Featured Image: Welcomia/Shutterstock