PolicyMic Raises $3M, Betting That Millennials Want Substantive News And Commentary

How many younger readers really care about news and politics — as opposed to celebrity gossip, viral videos, and cat GIFs? Well, a site called PolicyMic is built around the proposition that readers under 35 are looking for something more substantive, and it just raised $3 million in new funding.

Co-founder and CEO Christopher Altchek argued that most existing sites aimed at a younger audience are “very much focused on lighter and more entertaining content,” creating an opportunity for a competitor that’s tailored to the same audience but tackles “meaty topics.”

“My sense is that of the 80 million millennials in the United States, 40 million consume some form of news every day,” he said. “And if you took a poll of the average one, they’re pretty dissatisfied with their options for high quality news right now.”

PolicyMic publishes between 50 and 100 pieces of content each day, created by a network 2,500 writers — some of them paid, some not (it sounds like the unpaid writers can work their way up to paid status), all of them supervised by PolicyMic’s 20-person editorial team. The site’s strength isn’t original or investigative reporting, Altchek said, but rather opinion and analysis.

As I write this, for example, the front page includes stories like “Wall Street May Be In Decline, and Here’s Why That Should Worry You” and “Inside the Newest Battle to Crush Voter Rights.” They’re not exactly policy papers, but they’re certainly on the more serious side. And there’s lighter fare like “10 TV Theme Songs That Defined The 90s.”

PolicyMic currently receives 9 million unique visitors per month, Altchek said, and the team has learned a lot about how to frame and promote stories to give them a better chance of significant exposure to social media. To illustrate that point, he sent me links to a story on Syrian refugees that was shared more than 94,000 times on Facebook and a story on protests in Turkey that was shared more than 92,000 times.

(Update: I also asked comScore about PolicyMic’s traffic, and its data shows 3.6 million uniques for September 2013, up 523 percent from the same period last year.)

As I talked to Altchek about his vision, I was reminded of some of my conversations with executives at BuzzFeed, which also aims for younger readers with a mix of serious and light content. The mix at PolicyMic definitely skews much more to the political side, and Altchek said he doesn’t see the two sites as competitive — after all, they share an investor (more on that in a second).

As for making money, Altchek told me that PolicyMic will be staying away from standard ads and instead be rolling out “high quality, thoughtful sponsored content” over the next few months.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from Lerer Ventures (which also backed BuzzFeed), Advancit Capital, and Red Swan Ventures. PolicyMic previously raised $1.8 million from the Knight Foundation, Digital News Ventures, and various angels.

The site also launched its redesign yesterday, giving it a look that’s more polished. In their post about the redesign, Altchek and his co-founder/editor-in-chief Jake Horowitz wrote:

We want millions of millennials to use our platform to find the next generation of creative thinkers and work together to solve our most pressing challenges. Our promise is to give the PolicyMic community the platform, editorial resources, and reach to make a true difference.

Altcheck also told me that the site is looking to expand into other topics (it currently focuses on politics, arts and entertainment, and “identity”) where it can find a passionate, engaged audience. As it grows, he said he’s open to renaming PolicyMic — but regardless of the name, he wants everything to stay on a single URL, rather than launching a bunch of different sites.