The News Lens, an online journalism startup that aims to be the voice of reason in Asia’s raucous media landscape, will focus on creating more original video content after landing a Series B round. The startup hasn’t disclosed the exact amount, but says it is in the range of $2 million to $3 million.
Founded in 2013 as an antidote to the country’s scandal-obsessed tabloids, The News Lens has since grown to include separate editions for Hong Kong and international readers.
Its Series B was led by Wiskey Capital and includes returning investor North Base Media, a fund created by former Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli and Media Development Loan Fund founder Sasa Vucinic to support independent media startups.
Other investment firms and angel investors that took part were Walden International, Trinity Investment, Angelvest, Dorcas Investments, Vic Chen, Ogilvy PR Taiwan managing director Wei Shang, Irene Chen, board director of the Foundation for Excellent Journalism, Camp Mobile Taiwan general manager Edgar Chiu and Alice Sun, co-founder and COO of Knock Know.
Chung says that when The News Lens announced its Series A in May 2015, it had about 3 million to 4 million monthly unique visitors. That metric has now increased to 5 million to 6 million, and the company’s goal is to add another million monthly unique visitors to its sites by the end of this year.
The News Lens currently has a staff of about 70 and offices in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Its Series B will be used to create more video content and live streams with The News Lens’ new global news anchor, Jennifer Shen, one of Taiwan’s most prolific and recognizable TV journalists.
The addition of Shen is a big step because it shows that the site—which started as a Facebook page—now has the power to compete with established media organizations not only for eyeballs, but also for talent.
“It’s the first time in Taiwan history where someone of her caliber from traditional TV has come over to join new media, so it’s like a milestone, where a new media startup in Taiwan has finally grown up and we finally meet in the middle,” says Chung. “It really symbolizes that it’s a major player and can attract high-caliber talent—the number one anchor from the number one TV channel—to our company.”
The News Lens is one of the most prominent digital media startups based in Asia or created for Asian readers that have gained traction through social media, such as YouTube channel 88Rising, lifestyle magazine Juksy, and travel site Black Buddha. Like The News Lens, these companies are targeted to younger, educated audiences who are disillusioned by traditional media outlets.
Another signal that The News Lens is becoming a bona fide competitor to mainstream publications (in Taiwan, these include the Apple Daily, the Liberty Times and the United Daily) is its new content partnership with Time Inc., which allows it to translate and publish articles from Time and Fortune. Content licensing to textbook publishers and other sites is also a growing revenue stream.
Chung says that over the next couple of years, The News Lens plans to create three or four new sites that will focus on business, women’s issues, lifestyle and travel. Its first lifestyle site, called Every Little D (which stands for “details”), launched in January and Chung hopes it will create new opportunities for targeted advertising by attracting readers who usually skip headline news. Politically neutral soft news may also help The News Lens break through mainland China’s Great Firewall.
“There’s no reason why a piece on bespoke custom suit can’t be taken across platforms in Greater China and in English editions. We want to experiment with this for the Chinese market,” says Chung. “Lifestyle might be the one that’s not blocked in China.”