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Bari Weiss Reveals Business Plans for Hot New Media Startup

Free Press co-founder and CEO Bari Weiss (right) sits next to social media producer Lucy Biggers during the company’s launch on Thursday, December 8, 2022.Photo credit: Andy Mills

New York Times columnist-turned-independent newsletter writer Bari Weiss hired 10 full-time employees and more than a dozen to help build her new media company, The Free Press. It hired a contractor, Weiss said in an interview with Axios.

why it matters: The success of Weiss’s Substack newsletter and podcast (both launched last year after she left The New York Times) shows an appetite for coverage meant to denounce traditional media products. increase.

  • “I’m meeting demand and expanding based on the hunger of the audience. And that hunger and appetite is huge. We’re at the very beginning of what this is going to be.

News promotion: Weiss launched The Free Press last Thursday, four days ahead of schedule, to capitalize on media coverage of her “Twitter Files” report.

  • In less than a week, The Free Press has amassed over 105,000 followers on Twitter, and its flagship newsletter has added an additional 25,000 free and paid subscribers.
  • Weiss’ Twitter following has exploded, growing from over 500,000 followers to over 900,000 in less than a week.

Weiss and Mrs. Nellie Bowles, co-founder of The Free Press and former New York Times correspondent, wasted no time accelerating growth.

  • The company has already launched its first paid marketing campaign, which includes digital ads and posters, and will take place in cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Austin and San Francisco. “Until now, we haven’t spent a dime,” Weiss said.
Photo of a paid promotional poster for The Free Press in New York City. Photo credit: Free Press.

catch up soon: Weiss left The New York Times as an op-ed columnist in July 2020, claiming he had fallen victim to “the ‘new McCarthyism’ that has taken hold in the papers of record.” Bowles said he left The Times soon after in 2021.

  • The pair created The Free Press from their Los Angeles kitchen table.

By numbers: In January 2021, Weiss launched Substack’s newsletter, Common Sense, and has since amassed over 283,000 free and paid subscribers. (Common Sense is now rebranded as The Free Press.)

  • Weiss said her subscriber count has more than doubled since the beginning of the year to 283,000.
  • Earlier this year, Weiss and Bowles launched a small family and friends funding round for The Free Press. Weiss declined to share the amount raised.
  • Prior to that, the pair relied on subscription income from Weiss’ newsletter ($5 per month). (Currently owned by The Free Press and costs $8/month.)
  • Last year, Marketwatch reported that Weiss made more than $800,000 from her newsletter alone, which had 14,000 paying subscribers at the time. The newsletter has more than double the number of paid subscribers she has today.

note: The Weiss newsletter and other Free Press e-mail newsletters will continue to be sent using Substack. Substack also provides technical support for The Free Press website.

detail: Looking ahead, Weiss will launch a series of newsletters and podcasts, all under The Free Press.

  • She hired multiple podcast producers, including Andy Mills, the former producer of The Daily’s flagship podcast for The New York Times. More audio series are coming in the new year, she said, including podcast debate shows and long-form podcasts that feel more like documentaries.

  • Weiss has already started hiring full-time writers, including Olivia Reingold and Rupa Subramanya, who cover politics and culture.
  • These writers join the New York Post’s Peter Savodnik, Emily Yoffe and Susie Weiss in addition to Free Press’s existing journalists, including Bowles.
  • Several other independent writers join us as regular columnists, including Andreessen Horowitz general partner Katherine Boyle and author and Substack writer Michael Shellenberger.
  • In addition to newsletters and podcasts, Weiss said The Free Press will launch more products, especially for paying subscribers, including subscriber-only events and discussion threads.
  • Subscribers will continue to be “the heart of our business,” Weiss said, but Weiss said the company is also open to exploring other forms of revenue, such as advertising and event sponsorships. It says it’s open.

between lines: The Free Press joins Semafor, Puck, Airmail and many other news startups that have launched in recent years as digital updates to the timely, scooped, voice-driven reporting that print once offered.

  • The Free Press website is designed to resemble an old-fashioned broadsheet newspaper, says Weiss, and aims to recreate a bygone era of honest, relentless reporting.

Big picture: Weiss, along with other freelance writers such as Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, has received renewed attention for Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter.

  • “There are many politically homeless people in this country who feel that the old labels of Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, etc. no longer suit them or are as meaningless as they once were. I think,” Weiss said.

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