Leading the Sulzberger Program

The Redesigned Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia Journalism School Is Open For Applications From Rising Leaders in Media and Journalism

Corey Ford

Today I am excited to announce that I, in partnership with Raju Narisetti, will be leading the redesigned Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia Journalism School. The program is designed to train the future leaders of the world’s most impactful journalism and media organizations during a time of rapid transformation, uncertainty, and opportunity. The next program kicks off in January and applications are now open.

For those of you who have been following my journey building Matter Ventures, you know that I made the difficult decision to pause late last year in order to flare on new and different ways to make a difference in the space. Many of you reached out saying how much Matter has impacted you and your organization. You reinforced how deep of a need Matter had filled in the journalism industry and how much of a gap its absence has left behind.

One person who reached out was longtime Matter mentor Raju Narisetti. He had an idea: What if you were able to continue the impact of Matter by taking over the Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School and infusing the essence of Matter into it?

It was a chance for Matter to live on when it was needed the most. I was in.

While this is, in essence, a side gig as I continue to flare on what I will pour myself into full-time, it guarantees that I have an outlet to continue to impact leaders within journalism and it ensures that the transformative experience of Matter has the opportunity to continue in a new form.

The redesigned Sulzberger Program draws heavily from my experience training both entrepreneurs and journalism leaders through Matter. But it also combines forces with Raju, who has led internal transformation at some of the most important journalism institutions. In addition, it leverages the assets of Columbia University, pulling instructors from Columbia Journalism and Business Schools, drawing industry innovators working in one of the world’s great media capitals, and tapping into the powerful Sulzberger alumni network. This community will give Sulzberger Fellows a powerful breadth of perspective on what it takes to lead innovation in media and journalism.

Like any rising executive, these fellows need a way to improve their leadership, business, and management skills while on the job. But because they are also navigating an industry facing constant disruption, traditional management training won’t suffice. They need to build cultures and create processes within these media companies that doesn’t just help them come up with “the next big thing” but enables the organization to constantly understand the changing needs of their audiences, experiment with emerging technologies, and seek sustainable business models as the world rapidly changes beneath their feet. They need to recognize opportunities for innovation and pursue them without being told what to do or how to do it. They need to lead.

Through the redesigned Sulzberger Program, these rising leaders will learn how to be entrepreneurial within their own media organizations. This is a hands-on, real-world, innovation-focused mini-executive MBA for rising leaders in the fast transforming world of media and journalism.

The program is organized from the point of view of the fellow as the GM/CEO/Founder of their own internal venture or enterprise-wide project. At the heart of the program is the Sulzberger Project. Each fellow will be required to define a project of strategic importance to their employer that they will lead throughout the course of the program. The project can be the launch of a brand new initiative, product, or strategy but it can also be taking charge of an existing one. Most importantly, it should be mission critical to the organization and fit naturally into the fellow’s full-time job.

The 16-week program starts on Jan. 6 with an intensive two weeks on campus at Columbia University. The first week is an immersive team-based experience where fellows will learn how to build a venture from scratch using design thinking processes and mindsets. The second week builds on the venture frameworks established in week one and dives deeper into each module through a series of lectures, case studies, workshops, and guest speakers leveraging experts throughout Columbia and the industry at large.

The modules that organize the Sulzberger experience will be based on the leader as an individual, the leader in the context of a team, and the leader deeply understanding the core variables that must be combined in any successful innovation. Those “venture variables” include understanding Top-Down Trends (The Macro Environment), developing a Bottom-Up Point of View (Audience/User/Customer), creating and managing a Minimum Desirable Experience (Product & User Experience), finding a sustainable Business Model, executing on a Growth Hypothesis (Marketing), establishing a Sustainable Competition Advantage (Strategy), and putting it all together in a Story that coherently brings all these variables together in a vision, plan, and pitch to obtain resources.

After two weeks at Columbia, fellows will return to their organizations with new lenses on themselves, their teams, and their organization. fellows will immediately get an opportunity to directly apply their learning to their own organization through a series of assignments as well as the ongoing project. They will receive feedback and support through regular check-ins with their cohort and myself.

On April 20, fellows will return to Columbia for the final week of the Sulzberger Program ready to share and discuss their real-world experiences while going deeper into the modules through more lectures, case studies, workshops, and guest speakers. The Sulzberger experience will conclude with final project presentations and the opportunity to pitch key stakeholders at their own company.

As with anything I touch, this experience is a prototype and always will be. In a rapidly changing industry, the Sulzberger program will need to change with it. We will strive to deliver timely case studies and guest speakers, adjust modules to fit the observed needs of our fellows and their companies, and constantly improve through feedback.

If you have any case studies, expertise, or feedback that that you think would be particularly relevant to our fellows, please reach out to me at

I’m excited. Are you? If so, dig into the details and apply through Columbia Journalism School here.

It’s time to flare.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made at Matter, the team we’ve built, and the people that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to explore.

As all Matter entrepreneurs know, venture design is a process that consists of a series of flaring and focusing, knowing how and when to explore and knowing how and when to execute. In a flare, you uncritically explore and ideate; when you’re focusing, you filter and execute on your ideas. Successful venture designers do that as many times as possible as they create a venture that is feasible, viable, and desirable. I call this journey “The Drunken Walk of the Entrepreneur.

Recently I’ve come to the realization that for the last 7 years I have been in extreme focus mode. Since starting Matter from scratch in 2012, Matter has raised 2 venture funds, run 8 accelerator cohorts, invested in 73 portfolio companies, brought together 12 institutional media and technology partners, delivered 5 partner accelerator programs, trained local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific through Open Matter, assembled a network of 340 mentors, established media innovation spaces and communities in both SF and NYC, and built a team of extraordinary human beings on both coasts. We’ve proven that our repeatable and scalable venture design process works. Matter startups have raised over $53M and have been acquired by companies like Snap, Buzzfeed, and Kickstarter. In this tough early-stage media space, Matter startups have proven to be resilient, with 84% of our Fund II companies still operating or achieving an exit. And, in an industry with a terrible track record of diversity and inclusion, 50% of our Fund II founder CEOs are women and 40% are people of color.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made, the team we’ve built, and the people and organizations that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to flare.

For the last two years I have tried to secure Matter’s future. While I succeeded at figuring out how to successfully expand Matter and its unique culture to NYC and to tranform Matter into an organization that could continue to operate if I were hit by a bus, I have yet to successfully raise Matter Fund III and we’ve come to the end of our runway.

As the investment period for Matter Fund II has now come to a close, I have decided to pause raising Matter Fund III and take a step back to decide where I want to take Matter and, most importantly, what I want to pour myself into next. That could take many forms, from deciding to raise Matter Fund III with a different strategy, to pivoting Matter to a services business, to starting my next company, to taking a leadership role at an existing company in media, venture capital, technology, education, or government. The whole point is I need to flare — get out into the world, have lots of conversations, and generate multiple directions before focusing on one. So if you’re up for exploring possibilities, let’s talk.

Up until this exact moment I haven’t allowed myself to think about anything besides figuring out how to keep Matter alive. Matter is my baby. And I have made the classic (and inevitable) founder mistake of intertwining my identity and my self-worth with the identity and the success of Matter. That’s not healthy. That’s why I need to take a step back. So I am allowing myself to separate the two as I explore potential futures for myself in which Matter continues — and in which it doesn’t.

I’ve been focusing too long. It’s time to flare.

The practical implications of this are that the Matter accelerator program is on pause indefinitely and I have knocked down our burn rate to the studs. The Matter spaces in SF and NYC have been subleased and, effective February 1, the full-time Matter team will just be me. I will continue to support our portfolio of 73 companies across our two funds. I may also continue to provide Matter services like bootcamps, workshops, consulting, coaching, and speaking. I will do this full-time for now but this may shift to part-time in the future depending on how my personal exploration takes shape.

I don’t make this decision lightly. In fact, I’ve been struggling with it for the last 6 months. But if there’s one lesson that all Matter entrepreneurs know, it’s that sometimes you have to “Kill Your Puppies” in order to truly make your venture succeed. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I still fundamentally believe in Matter’s mission to support early-stage entrepreneurs and leaders within essential institutions of journalism to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Journalism and democracy are now under attack around the world. Social media giants have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of their users and of democracy. Mission-driven media entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever to build alternatives and to strengthen our media ecosystem. And existing media institutions need to become more resilient by transforming their culture. The world is moving so fast that media organizations will only be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in the future if they focus on building culture, people, and processes that enable them to constantly be understanding the needs and behaviors of their audiences, leveraging emerging technologies, and seeking sustainable business models. That starts and ends with culture.

Matter is a community and it is a community that will continue. I am forever grateful to each and every one of you who have made the last seven years of the Matter accelerator program possible. Our founding institutional partners, KQED, Knight Foundation, and PRX, and my co-founder, Jake Shapiro, made a huge bet on me when Matter was only a crazy idea on a whiteboard. After we proved out our process for entrepreneurs in Fund I, The Associated Press, McClatchy, CNHI, and AH Belo made a bet on us that we could expand those offerings to our partners in Fund II. And when we decided to expand to NYC, The New York Times, Tribune Publishing, and Tamedia made a bet on us that we could successfully replicate our model and, most importantly, our culture in a new city. Steve Grove of the Google News Initiative has had our back at every step of the way, first by becoming our technology partner, then by supporting our expansion to NYC, and then by enabling us to offer our Open Matter Bootcamps to local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific. And Google for Startups has connected us into a startup community that has enabled us to learn best practices from around the world.

I am thankful for the entrepreneurs from our 73 portfolio companies for trusting us to invest in their companies and guide them on their journeys. We may have been investing in them but they were the ones really betting on us. Entrepreneurship is hard. I see the grit and determination and creativity of founders every single day. The highs are high and the lows are low and the chances of failure are almost certain. I believe many of our investments will succeed in fulfilling their bold visions AND the truth of the matter is that most entrepreneurs we invest in will fail. It’s the nature of the beast. But regardless of whether their business venture succeeds, I know that the Matter experience has transformed each and every founder who has come through our door and I believe in the impact that these incredible humans will have in their current venture, their next venture, or in leadership positions at the most influential organizations throughout media and technology. That is success.

We have built an incredible team at Matter and the thing I most regret is that I haven’t found a way to keep this team together. Everyone who chose to work at Matter made a bet on me and I’m grateful for that. Each of our employees has made me a better leader and a better person through their example, their empathy, their creativity, their grit, and their gifts of feedback. Lara Ortiz-Luis, Ben Werdmuller, Pete Mortensen, Roxann Stafford, Josh Lucido, Liz Kopp Morrison, Shereen Adel, Lindsay Abrams, Kourtney Bitterly, Nikita Shamdasani, Rebecca Bowring Radnaev, and Jigar Mehta, I hope to work with each and every one of you again one day. Thanks also to our Google News Lab Fellows, our Morehead-Cain Scholars, and our Stanford GSB Associates who got thrown in the deep end every summer and thrived as true members of our team.

I am also thankful for the guidance of Matter Advisory Board members past and present who have been the sounding board for Matter’s strategy and have given me encouragement and confidence through Matter’s own drunken walk. I am especially thankful for the steadfast support and guidance from Jake Shapiro, Jim Kennedy, Tim Olson, Andy Pergam, John Boland, Kerri Hoffman, Steve Grove, Jake Smilovitz, Nick Rockwell, Jeremey Gockel, Pat Talamantes, Craig Forman, Matthew Ipsan, Nicki Purcell, John Bracken, Ben Wirz, and Pietro Supino.

Finally, I want to thank our mentors — 340 strong! — who volunteered their time, their advice, their personal narratives, their “gloves off” feedback, and their connections. Matter’s core team has always been small and you were the leverage that made Matter possible.

Thank you all for creating a community that continues to change media for good. Onward.

Meet the teams of Open Matter Berkeley and Open Matter Georgia!

After a brief interlude for a little thing called Matter Demo Days, we’re back next week with the final two installments of the first Open Matter bootcamp program. They’re happening on opposite coasts on the same days. Up first (by three hours, thanks to the Eastern Time Zone) is the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which will be ably led by my colleagues Roxann Stafford, Josh Lucido, and Lindsay Abrams. On the West Coast, Ben Werdmuller, Shereen Adel, and I will lead an Open Matter at UC Berkeley Advanced Media Institute.

We’re excited, and it’s a heck of a way to get summer off to a roaring start. But we’re even more excited about who will be joining us for the experience!

Here are the 10 teams who will participate in the first-ever Double Open Matter!

Gatehouse Media (Florida), publisher of local newspapers
As I mentioned in my post about our Mizzou Boot Camp, I started my career at the Holland Sentinel, which is now owned by Gatehouse. Their publications reach an incredibly large number of people as the local paper of their community. The team for Georgia comes from Gatehouse’s corporate side, as well as leaders from their papers in Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Sarasota, Palm Beach, and Jacksonville, Florida.

CNHI, publisher of more than 100 local newspapers
We’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with CNHI as a partner of Matter’s for several years now, and we’re thrilled to be able to deepen our impact with them. They own more than 100 newspapers in 22 states and are based in Montgomery, Alabama. Thanks to Open Matter, more of their team will be able to train and apply their learning throughout the chain. Their team of five come to us from CNHI itself, as well as publications in Texas, Massachusetts, and Indiana.

American City Business Journals, covering business where it happens
It’s all-too easy to break the news ecosystem into what’s local by geography, and then what’s vertical and therefore national and global. But business is local, too. Inherently local, even for global businesses. And American City Business Journals is a major lens for how people understand the business environment around them. They publish 43 business publications covering 43 distinct metropolitan areas. We’re thrilled to welcome them to Georgia.

Cox Media Group, Atlanta’s news source
Atlanta is the Empire City of the South — the center of industry, news, and entertainment alike. It’s only appropriate, then, that we welcome Cox Media Group for our Georgia bootcamp. Cox owns six newspapers and dozens of TV and radio stations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB in Atlanta, and WGAU in Athens. They are the largest news source in the largest market in the region. We’re proud to include their Atlanta-based team in our group.

Berkeleyside, an innovative news publisher and events company
Many see a potential new revenue stream for local news organizations of all kinds in hosting events in the community. Few have realized it so successfully as Berkeleyside with Uncharted, the Berkeley Festival of Ideas, hosted each fall and bringing together world-class thinkers and doers. We’re excited to welcome their team to our Berkeley Open Matter.

Mission Local, award-winning hyperlocal publication
Originally started at the Berkeley School of Journalism, Mission Local is the definitive news source for San Francisco’s Mission District, covering its many changes and breaking news since 2008. Like Berkeleyside and past participant Spirited Media, they’re part of a movement of built-from-scratch new local publications that are starting from the bottom-up and validating their model and experiments as they scale.

Gatehouse Media Ohio
Like their Florida colleagues, the teams from the Ohio wing of Gatehouse represent many corners of a major state. They represent Columbus, Canton, and regional coverage of all Ohio. As a Great Lakes region transplant myself, I’m excited to see them out here by the Bay.

Mt. Angel Publishing, community news in the Oregon countryside
Open Matter has been home to every scale of local news organization, from hyperlocal digital-only publications to major metros. Having been an editor of a community weekly, however, I’m glad to see the category represented in Mt. Angel, which publishes a wide variety of publications based in Silverton and Stayton, Oregon. Serving those two towns, each with fewer than 10,000 residents, and their surrounding areas is an important and essential part of the news ecosystem.

Reno Gazette-Journal, chronicler of the biggest little city in the world
Reno, Nevada is a fascinating and fast-changing city. Its population has grown by more than 30% since 2000 and now sits near 250,000. And the Gazette-Journal has covered its growth, economy, and population throughout. I’m thrilled they’ll be traveling over the Sierras to see us down here by the water., digital-first publishing for curious locals
Arriving in a new place is a challenge. What does it take to become a real local? That’s the problem set out to solve as it set itself up, first in Miami, with support from the Knight Foundation, and now Seattle, Portland, and Orlando. I had the pleasure of meeting their CEO Christopher Sopher a few years ago, and I’m excited to welcome the team as they plan their future growth.

What an incredible group! The entire first wave of Open Matter has been a remarkable journey with great participants, hosts, and, of course, partners. It’s been the honor of my life to lead this effort for Matter, and I can’t wait to welcome all these teams to Berkeley and Georgia next week to wrap up this cycle.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E5: Jennifer Brandel— CEO, Hearken

For this week’s speaker series, we were lucky to welcome a longtime member of our community back to Matter. Jennifer Brandel, CEO of Hearken and Matter Four entrepreneur, joined us in New York City where she and Roxann Stafford, our Director of Program there, sat down to talk about her “Drunken Walk” as an entrepreneur who really sought to change the way journalists tell stories.

Hearken has turned journalism on its head by actually bringing audiences into the reporting process. It provides journalists the tools they need to ask people what they want to know before going out into the field. Hearken really opens up newsrooms to find out the real questions in their communities and create more inclusive content.

Meet the teams of Open Matter Mizzou!

Six incredible organizations will convene to innovate in the birthplace of modern journalism education.

Open Matter rolls on! Our series of four design thinking and business model innovation bootcamps kicks off in earnest at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Monday, and we’re buzzing in anticipation to connect with and coach the incredible publications that are participating.

Next up will be the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, the birthplace of modern journalism education. It’s a fitting venue and an incredible partner, located in the near-geographic center of the lower 48 states and the almost-exact center of Missouri. From May 7 to 9, six more incredible organizations will gather to collaborate, experiment, immerse in new process and methods, and emerge with fresh perspectives and skills to take back home and apply to some of the most challenging problems in local news.

Without further ado, here are the seven teams who will join us at Mizzou:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, based in St. Louis, Missouri
Formed in 1878 when Joseph Pulitzer merged two St. Louis papers, the Post-Dispatch has been a stalwart of superior local journalism for generations (there’s a reason Pulitzer’s name adorns the most prestigious journalism awards). In recent years, its digital version,, has been host to some impressive forays into data journalism and enterprise service journalism. The Post-Dispatch’s team for Open Matter represents reporting, design, development, digital strategy, and business.

The Dallas Morning News
For some time, Texas has been the fastest-growing state in the US, both in absolute and relative terms. It’s a vast and complicated place. And the Dallas Morning News has been critical to understanding one of its biggest cities for 133 years. I’m really excited to welcome the Morning News to Open Matter. We’ve engaged the paper’s parent company, AH Belo, as a media partner of Matter’s since early 2015 and have had the chance to work with several leaders there over the last three years. That makes us all the more excited to directly collaborate with leaders from the paper itself in editorial, digital, analytics, and retention at Open Matter.

Gatehouse Media, publisher of 130 daily newspapers
My first job as a reporter was at the Holland Sentinel, a daily in the southwest of my home state Michigan. Gatehouse owns the Sentinel now, along with 129 other daily newspapers, including their most recent additions, the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio. Gatehouse also owns 640 other community publications and 540 local market websites. Their publishing network is extensive, deep, and spans the entire country. We’re delighted to welcome their Austin-based Open Matter team.

Schurz Communications, based in South Bend, Indiana
Schurz publishes vital newspapers in Indiana, Maryland, South Dakota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Their Open Matter team carries representatives from all those states save only Maryland. While continuing to support the communities they cover, Schurz also has an active innovation department pursuing new revenue-generating activity both digital and analog (a basketball box for Indiana Hoosier fans!). They’ll be represented by editorial, digital, marketing, reporting, and innovation leaders at Open Matter.

TownNews, a Lee Enterprises company
Look under the hood at more than 1,600 local newspaper websites, and you’ll find Blox CMS from TownNews. It’s quite possible that no other single piece of software powers as much of the local news ecosystem. That means that as and when TownNews finds new revenue opportunities it can enable through its platform, they can cascade positively through the entire industry. The Moline, Illinois-based team for Open Matter covers revenue, product, tech, and business development, and we’re thrilled to have them.

The Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, Virginia
The Virginian-Pilot has long been a critical piece of the news landscape in the south, recognized both for a tradition of excellence in design and reporting and of speaking truth to power (a Pulitzer-winning anti-lynching editorial in 1929 and another in 1960 in favor of desegregation and the end of Jim Crow). They continue to serve the large and diverse Hampton Roads metro area, where Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina collide. We’re honored to welcome their team of four from editorial and digital to Open Matter.

Here’s to supporting the invigoration of some incredible institutions and the development of the next great set of local news businesses.

Open Matter is a series of tuition-free bootcamps offered through an open application process to for-profit local news organizations of all kinds. To learn more and apply, read the announcement of the opportunity. If you have questions, please reach out to!

Announcing the Open Matter NYC Teams

Seven incredible organizations will launch our first-ever bootcamp offered to teams outside our existing community

Less than two months ago, we had the tremendous privilege to announce Open Matter, a series of four design thinking and business model innovation bootcamps at leading journalism schools offered to for-profit news organizations. In partnership with Google News Lab and News Media Alliance, we’ll accept at least 20 organizations and 120 individuals the opportunity to attend, tuition-free, these three-day workshops in an effort to provide tools for discovering and creating more sustainable models for local news.

Today, I’m equally excited to actually announce which remarkable organizations have made it through our competitive application process to earn a coveted slot at our very first Open Matter Bootcamp in New York City. April 23–25, they will gather at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, to collaborate, experiment, immerse in new process and methods, and emerge with fresh perspectives and skills to take back home and apply to some of the most challenging problems in local news.

Without further ado, here are the seven teams who will join us at CUNY:

Newsday, The Long Island Newspaper, based in Melville, New York
The nation’s largest suburban daily newspaper will be sending a team of seven leaders and front-line contributors, spanning content, tech, design, and audience. Their recent efforts in data journalism, new products like Feed Me TV, along with their continued dedication to the communities throughout Suffolk and Nassau County, show considerable promise.

Spirited Media, including Billy Penn, the Incline, and Denverite
People in media talk about younger audiences all the time. Spirited Media was created to provide local news to them. With Billy Penn (Philadelphia), the Incline (Pittsburgh), and Denverite (Denver, obviously), the team behind Spirited Media is building a model for local news upstarts that could transform how it’s made and consumed. We’re thrilled to welcome their four-person leadership team.

The Journal News/, part of the USA Today Network
Serving Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam counties, is a key voice in the many and varied communities north of New York City. A team of four spanning engagement, digital, editorial, and storytelling will join us in hopes of finding fuel for new experiences targeted to a mobile audience across new reporting channels and approaches.

W42ST Magazine, serving Hell’s Kitchen
There’s no contest for which publication has the shortest journey to our venue — W42ST is just down the street. An emerging and quickly growing magazine and hyperlocal news provider, W24ST is resolutely focused on Hell’s Kitchen. Hyperlocal publishing remains an intriguing place to dig for new models and exciting forms of engagement that can influence the entire industry. Their team of five joining us includes the entire leadership of the organization, and we’re excited to welcome them.

Lee Enterprises, including the Billings Gazette and Wisconsin State Journal
When we first announced Open Matter NYC, we didn’t expect to welcome folks from Montana and Wisconsin — but we’re thrilled to see them here. Lee Enterprises has shown a commitment to innovating in digital across their broad, midwestern and Rockies-based portfolio. Their team of six bridges product, design, tech, and editorial, and we’re excited for their potential for impact when they get home.

Times Union, serving the New York Capital Region
With a history stretching back to 1857, Times Union has covered the area surrounding Albany well throughout tremendous change, now covering the entire four-county Capital Region. Part of Hearst since 1924, the paper recently became digital-first, print-second, and the six-person, multidisciplinary team behind that initiative will represent the publication at Open Matter.

Luminary Media, serving the arts and culture of the Hudson Valley
Luminary began in 1993 with Chronogram, a black and white zine covering arts and culture throughout the Hudson Valley. Now a leading regional-interest publication, they’ve added three other magazines and are about to launch a digital-only newsroom to provide investigative, policy-influencing original reporting in their region.

What an amazing crew. I’m inspired writing about them — and can only imagine working with them in the same room. It’s only fitting we start in New York, as our venue is the beautiful CUNY Graduate School of Journalism located in the former New York Herald-Tribune building. And that’s because the Herald-Tribune provides a hopeful story in the reinvention of local news. In the 1960s, the paper, like so many have over time, shut down due to market and competitive forces. But from the ashes of the Herald-Tribune rose New York Magazine, one of the most vital and essential local publications in the country: brash, topical, and fiercely focused on what New Yorkers care about and unconcerned with readers from elsewhere.

Here’s to supporting the invigoration of some incredible institutions and the development of the next great set of local news businesses.

Open Matter is a series of bootcamps offered through an open application process to for-profit local news organizations of all kinds. To learn more and apply, read the announcement of the opportunity. If you have questions, please reach out to!

What Open Matter will equip you to do.

There’s no silver bullet. That’s why we need to take a lot of shots.

This spring, we’re launching Open Matter: Local News Bootcamps, in partnership with Google News Lab, News Media Alliance, and 4 Top J. schools. You can read more about the program and opportunities for local, for-profit news organizations here. The live application is here.

Scenes from a past Media Partner Bootcamp at Matter.

Local news companies don’t need false hope. Times are tough, and the trends that have shrunken newsrooms and trust in the media are likely to continue. We’re designing Open Matter bootcamps for local news professionals from editorial, business, and design backgrounds; there’s no room for hype here, not least because newspeople can smell nonsense a mile away.

So let me be perfectly clear: Design Thinking is not a magical savior. Attendees will not leave Open Matter at the end of day three with a perfect plan for how to reinvent their publications and turn community journalism into a thriving industry once more.

This lack of magical promise is a feature, not bug, and this is still an incredibly exciting opportunity. Anyone who would tell you otherwise is kidding themselves or trying to put one over on you. Big innovations that fuel business growth, contrary to popular legend, usually don’t come from a single burst of creativity, a bolt of lightning from the sky. They develop gradually, over time, through lots and lots of experiments, most of them little failures.

That’s the goal of Open Matter. We want to help participating organizations put structure around the new product and service experiments they’re already running. We want to help teams to effectively navigate the hard work that starts when the workshop ends: identifying a problem worth solving in someone else’s life, churning through dozens of prototypes to create a resonant product, and then building a business model and organization around that turns that product into a viable business. We’ll deliver both a process for how to find new business opportunities, as well as a set of mindsets for doggedly pursuing them.

Here’s what Open Matter participants will bring back to work with them:

A gut sense of how to focus on the user, the product, and the business

It is impossible to come up with a great implementation for a new revenue-generating product or service on the first try. The goal of design thinking is to instead take a human-centered, prototype-driven approach to discovering what’s desirable to people, what’s feasible to execute, and what will be viable from a business standpoint. By rapidly toggling between those three different lenses, it’s possible to iterate toward a thriving new business.

At Open Matter, we’ll provide exposure to what it feels like to apply each lens individually, how to run experiments in each, how to know when to focus on each one, and how to make hard decisions, quickly. That intuitive sense for how and when to see the world through the eyes of the user, how to prototype everything from a tech stack to an operations manual, and when and how to focus creativity on revenue modeling — that’s what we’ll deliver to Open Matter attendees.

Tools to infuse creativity into the “serious” parts of the business.

Most of us tend to assume that creativity is important for coming up with ideas and interfaces for products, for marketing campaigns, and for content production — but not when making technical development decisions or when building the business systems around those ideas.

This assumption is flat-out wrong. Creative businesses are creative at business. There’s good reason for this — unless you have fun and play with how the business can work, what part of the value chain to monetize, which customers to serve, even what to measure, you’re inevitably just choosing to go with what someone else decided was the way to do things decades or even centuries ago. We’ll share and provide training in methods that make it easy to play with business factors just as we play with content or design.

Frameworks for creating a real sense of team, the only thing that matters

Trying to create game-changing businesses in an industry under threat isn’t an easy job. Actually, let me restate that: it’s an insanely difficult job, and it’s not one anybody can do on their own. Consequently, people burn out really fast in the job. It’s easy for things to get tense quickly, for tempers to flare. For people to start going through the motions. It’s only possible to survive with a team that’s designed to survive the journey.

That’s why we actually mix up our participants into new teams from across multiple news organizations: it’s easier to try out new ways of collaborating and engaging on a team when you’re out of your status quo. During the bootcamp, we share and put into practice leading thinking around how to give and receive feedback, how to think about goal-setting, and how to express culture. That can make it easier to get back with your own colleagues and figure out how you want to carry culture forward as you pursue innovation.

Seeing the light beyond the buzz

Open Matter won’t unilaterally transform the local news industry. Design Thinking alone can’t, either. But there’s good news in this story. After the hype, and with commitment, practice, and adaptation, new ideas can be molded to the needs of organizations willing to change, learn and grow. Reading a book or taking a class won’t transform a company. Providing a supportive culture, a shared toolkit, and rewarding people who try new things, whether successful or not, can turn the corner to a more sustainable future for local news. At the end of the day, only you can provide the change this industry and the people it serves so richly need. & the future of social media is the world’s first online community built by and for people who really read articles on the internet.

The single biggest problem with internet media and journalism is that most people don’t read.

The average amount of time spent on an article is 2.5 seconds.

This is the source of countless internet frustrations: clickbait, trolls, echo-chambers, and fake news. It’s why a vast majority of people who get their news from social media (which is almost everyone) say they don’t enjoy the experience. And they don’t trust it.

Two years ago we set out on a quest to fix the comment section, everyone’s least favorite part of the web. We accomplished that. And so now we’re taking it a step further — we’re building a social media network powered by reading.

And we’re live. Come join us.

In our community, people can’t comment on articles they haven’t really read. Our homepage algorithmically organizes the best articles from web based on what people are reading — really reading. There are no moderators or human curators.

We’re on every day, reading and commenting on articles from our favorite publications like The New York Times and The Economist as well as our favorite blogs from all around the world. Pretty much anything can be read and shared with the community.

So — how does it work?

For now, community members add a chrome extension which enables them to track their reading progress and get credit for things they’ve really read. (In the coming months we’re going to release several more ways for people to use our technology and join our community. Our mobile app is launching in March.)

Our technology is impossible to cheat. You can’t just scroll to the bottom or wait a long time. To earn the right to comment, you have to really read.

Our solution is simple and effectively addresses all of the worst aspects of the web:

  • Clickbait. People on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are liking and sharing things they haven’t actually read. So when you look at your feed, what you’re seeing are people’s knee-jerk reactions to headlines. The defining characteristic of clickbait is that people don’t spend time reading it. Our algorithm crushes it and promotes the opposite kind of content—longer stuff that people are engaging with deeply.
  • Trolls. Trolls use internet anarchy to their advantage. In our community, commenting isn’t a right. It’s a privilege that takes some time to earn. Conversations on are more thoughtful and insightful. People are more respectful to one another when they have a shared experience. In this case, the shared experience is that they read the same article.
  • Echo-chambers. On, there is exactly one comment thread for every article on the internet. No more and no less. So although you’re still having a conversation with a subset of people, they are only defined by the fact that they really read a given article, not some pre-existing ideology.
  • Fake news. Fake news is fake news — it has always existed and always will. We should never trust any corporation or government to do our thinking for us. When people refer to the problem of “fake news,” they are referring to the proliferation of bad information across junk networks where people aren’t reading. Or thinking. Reading is the only solution.

Visit to get started today. Can’t wait to see you in the comment section!

Meet Matter Eight

Media is the connective tissue of our society. Introducing the twelve startups aiming to make us more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.

When Matter was founded in 2012, the media industry was struggling in the face of huge changes in revenue models, technology, and audiences. The internet created a completely new playing field — one that allowed more voices to be heard, but also for a select few to make the rules.

While we’ve been working to create a more robust media ecosystem, our society has become more divided. You may have heard the stats — only 35% of Americans say they trust the media, and 16% say they have high confidence in the news they read online. It can be hard to tell what’s real in a world where news spreads more based on followers than facts.

Before each Matter class we come together with our partners, some of the world’s biggest media institutions, to identify which core themes we believe will make a real difference. As we sourced Matter Eight, we were on the lookout for start-ups focused on amplifying voices that aren’t always being heard; building secure technologies to protect free speech; rebuilding trust; moving beyond targeted advertising to new business models; harnessing emerging technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence to create new models for understanding and empathy; and creating ways for individuals and media companies to own their online identities and relationships.

We built our accelerator so that media entrepreneurs working in these spaces could test lots and lots of experiments in a supportive environment, through a human-centered, prototype-driven process. This year’s class is building ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people. We spent the last two weeks coming together as a community. Now we’re ready to get started.

Meet this year’s brave entrepreneurs. Meet Matter Eight.

In San Francisco, they are: Scriptd, nēdl, Drop, LedBetter, Kerning Cultures, and Pixinote.

In New York: Compass News,, Ovee, Optimera, kweliTV, and Paytime.

Scriptd: A marketplace democratizing Hollywood.

COO Esteban Gast, CEO Denise Hewett, and Lead Engineer Eugene Hauptmann

Have you ever heard of the “Will and Grace Effect”? It’s what happened in the 90s when the hit show Will and Grace, with gay character leads, shifted societal attitudes about homosexuality. Denise Hewett, Esteban Gast, and Eugene Hauptman know the power of stories, and they know that right now in Hollywood, there are too many voices getting left out.

They’ve looked at a lot of numbers. Despite the fact that diverse, multi-dimensional characters would more closely resemble our diverse world, only 14% of writers are members of a minority ethnic group, Latinx have 3% speaking roles despite buying 23% of all movie tickets, and only 8% of directors, producers, editors and cinematographers are women — to name a few.

They’ve already optioned 7 films, 2 TV shows and a webseries (90% written by women and people of color) on their open community-based screenplay database and reader.

Scriptd is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Compass News: An AI editor to break the filter bubble.

Co-founders Matilde Giglio and Mayank Banerjee

Conceived amidst the anxiety of Brexit, Compass News has set out to restore to young news consumers that which is missing in the contemporary media ecosystem: headlines curated by factors other than your friends’ interests, a broad selection of articles from a variety of sources and viewpoints, and the time and resources to access quality journalism.

First, the team reinvented the newsfeed. They worked with over one thousand UK university students to co-design an app featuring the most important news of the day. Their team of journalists produce summaries that are quick-to-the-point but, crucially, come with the context intact.

Then, they scaled it, training an AI editor on hundreds of thousands of hand-picked articles until it gained the ability to make these curation decisions on its own — as well as to surface content that Compass News’ human editors missed. With that technology in hand, they’re setting their sights further, pursuing in-depth personalization while growing their user base on the promise of getting smarter, quicker.

Compass News is based in New York. Read more.

nēdl: Reach everyone everywhere with the power of audio.

CEO Ayinde Alakoye

Ayinde Alakoye has been in radio for 20 years. Since 2003, he’s been streaming live radio to mobile phones to make broadcasts accessible to everyone, everywhere. Now, he’s taking it a step further. He created nēdl with his co-founder Jason Medeiros to let anyone create a station and appear in a database that’s be searchable in real-time, just like a web browser search engine. Inspired by the lack of trust in the media and the current political landscape, Ayinde aims to democratize the microphone—giving real people a voice in a space where bots can’t hide.

nēdl is based in San Francisco. Read more. A social network powered by reading.

Co-founders Bill Loundy and Jeff Camera

The founders of know whether you’ve really read an article on the internet (if you’ve opted in to their Chrome extension). They know if you just scanned the headline before posting it to Facebook. They know if you skimmed most of it before sharing it to all of your followers on Twitters. And if you didn’t really read it, but think you have something relevant to say about it in the comments section…think again.

On, you can only comment on an article once you’ve read it. From that simple premise, the team is building an online community of readers and commenters interested in having real discussion based on content. Along the way, they’re curating a collection of the best articles on the internet based on reading rate instead of virality. And there’s a lot more to come.

For now, try out the Chrome extension for yourself. You may find that you’ve really read a lot less than you think you have. is based in New York. Read more.

Drop: Search in an immersive world.

Russel Ladson, Geoffrey Griffin, Dustin Boyle, and Victor Knai do a lot in their spare time—from gardening, to reading comic books, to developing virtual reality games. For Russ, one of these hobbies became an obsession and eventually developed into much, much more.

Russ had a near-fatal accident that reshaped how he thought about his relationship with physical space and daily work. He realized that he wanted to use virtual reality to change the way we discover and interact with information in the world around us. He built Drop to design a new daily routine centered within a world of virtual and/or augmented reality.

Drop is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Ovee: Giving young women agency over their sexual health.

Co-founders Jane Mitchell and Courtney Snavely

Ovee’s founders draw their expertise from their backgrounds as health scientists and user-centered designers. But their product is the result of interviews with hundreds of young women about their sexual and reproductive healthcare, or lack thereof.

Out of those interviews arose a clear need: for healthcare that’s personalized, demystified, and de-stigmatized. Their solution, Ovee, is an app designed to empower users to seek out the care they need, right when they need it.

What might more empowered sexual and reproductive healthcare look like? An AI-powered bot that allows them to ask questions without fear of judgement. Information delivered discretely, via augmented reality, instead of through pamphlets that practically scream, “Hey, I have an STI!” Above all else, it means providing women everywhere, particularly in areas where access to healthcare is restricted, to the reliable, accurate information they need and deserve.

Ovee is based in New York City. Read more.

LedBetter: Looking at diversity and inclusion from the top down.

Technology Advisor Ipsheeta Furtado and Co-founder/CEO Iris Kuo

It didn’t come as a shock to journalist Iris Kuo that very few women are in leadership roles at large corporations — both at executive and board levels. What’s more surprising is how few women are in influential positions at companies with products geared primarily towards women. At a time when more and more companies are under pressure to be more inclusive, Iris realized how important it is to get a comprehensive picture of the problem.

LedBetter is a striking, data-intensive, visually-interactive site that makes information on diversity in leadership readily available and easy to sort. It’s a tool that puts power back in the hands of the buyer to hold companies accountable in a deeper, more meaningful way — going beyond lip service and good PR tactics.

LedBetter is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Optimera: Optimizing digital ad revenue.

Founder Keith Candiotti

Keith Candiotti became an entrepreneur because he had a job to do, and the solutions available to him just weren’t good enough. As the Ad Technology and Ad Operations manager at the New York Daily News, he needed a way to measure advertisements’ viewability — whether they’re actually seen by readers.

The existing solutions for measuring viewability weren’t, in Keith’s opinion, up to par. As a crack coder, not to mention someone committed to optimizing digital revenue for the sake of the reporters and editors in his newsroom, he went home and developed something better. Optimera was developed as a better way of measuring viewability; first for the Daily News, then for other publishers that wanted in. And Keith quit his job to go all-in on Optimera, which he‘s building into “an amazing suite of revenue optimization products at a price point far below anyone else in the industry.”

Optimera is based in New York. Read more.

Kerning Cultures: Intimate narratives from the Middle East.

Co-Founder and Business Director Hebah Fisher

Growing up inundated with overwhelmingly politicized stories coming out of the Middle East, Hebah Fisher and her co-founder Razan Alzayani decided it was time to bring stories that reflect their lived experiences to the mainstream media.

Kerning Cultures uses the intimacy of audio documentary to do just that. The Guardian has called themThis American Life for the Middle East” because of their focus on longform, character-driven narratives. Starting out as a single podcast, their aim is to grow into a network of 10–15 curated podcasts in English and Arabic to reach audiences in the Middle East and abroad—anyone who is curious to learn more about the region.

Kerning Cultures is based in San Francisco. Read more.

kweliTV: The global black experience, streaming now.

DeShuna Spencer, Founder/CEO and Charlotte Haizel, Director of Operations & External Affairs

DeShuna Spencer is obsessed with quality content: thought-provoking documentaries, award-winning independent films, and deep-dives into history. Like most film buffs, she values clever storylines, engaging characters, and, of course, having options. But based on what she was seeing on cable television and mainstream streaming services, the options for quality content featuring black subjects seemed incredibly limited.

kweliTV proves that this content — free from cliches, and reflective of communities and cultures throughout the global African diaspora — is out there. And with its growing collection of titles, 65 percent of which are award winning, and 85 percent of which were created by filmmakers of African descent, it is the place to stream it.

“Kweli” means truth in Swahili, and kweliTV is committed to delivering to its audience authentic black stories. “I learned from an early age how media images play a role in how people stereotype others,” DeShuna says. “And since then, I’ve been on a quest to change it.”

kweliTV is based in New York. Read more.

Pixinote: Meaningful photo sharing.

Founder and CEO Daniel Kushner and Developer Cliff Wright

In a world where we post 1.8 billion photos online every day, Daniel Kushner asked himself, “How might we build a platform for fostering deeper relationships?”

With a camera in every pocket, photo sharing has become a go-to mode of storytelling, but meaningful connection gets lost in the cascade. Daniel’s vision is to create the world’s first physical messaging app. Pixinote prints photos on short messages and cards and delivers them to people’s homes. In so doing, they aim to empower both individuals and businesses to foster more meaningful connections with the people who matter most.

Pixinote is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Paytime: Turning attention into currency.

CTO Eduardo Suarez and CEO Ignacio Linares

The old models, as we often say, are broken. Nowhere is that more true than for advertising. But as more and more media companies transition to subscription models and paywalls, what does that mean for access to information? And what will it mean for society if high-quality journalism is only available to the elite few who can afford it?

Enter, Paytime. Paytime gives users back control over two of their most valuable assets — their time and their data — and allows them to use these assets to “pay” for premium digital content. Watch an advertisement, answer survey questions, and unlock what before could only be accessed with a credit card.

The user gets a choice: what information to share, and what ads to watch and when. The advertiser gets their full attention. And the publisher is given the ability to offer an accessible alternative while still getting paid. When information is shared voluntarily, and with transparency, trust is fostered.

Paytime is based in New York. Read more.

Compass News: How we built an AI editor that makes young people smarter, quicker.


Mayank and I met at a pub in Covent Garden, the day after the Brexit vote. We chatted about how our friends had started blocking each other on Facebook because of comments on the 2015 election and Brexit. Initially, we thought this behaviour was hilarious — but the more we discussed it, the scarier it became. Why were they so surprised — and angry — to find people holding views that differed from their own? Had they really never encountered these ideas before?

Co-founder Matilde Giglio; Co-founder Mayank Banerjee.

It turned out that Mayank and I had spent the past year obsessed with the same thing. I was studying at the London School of Economics, he was at Oxford, and both of us were working on theses dissecting how Facebook had screwed journalism, and subsequently democracy.

Despite, or perhaps because of our fears, we decided to start working on an insane idea to “save journalism”, together with a small team including Harry Robertson, our head of editorial and Rohan Tahiliani, our CTO. I quit my cosy consultancy job and Mayank dropped out of University (much to the dismay of his family).

Our friends and family took some time to come around to the idea — but after a year of countless angry phone calls and awkward dinners, they started to come around.

And they weren’t alone: 10 months after launch we have a team of 12 and 50,000 users.
Compass HQ in London

What happens in Covent Garden… doesn’t stay there.

If you’ve ever been as broke and busy as we are now, then you’ve probably noticed that your news sources rapidly become limited to what you see on Facebook and Twitter. These sites are great for quips, jokes and gifs of animals doing fun things.

What they’re not great for is high quality journalism. That’s because they base the ranking of what you see on popularity, what your “friends” enjoy and, crucially, what they agree with.

Simultaneously, advertising revenue from news has rapidly declined, and publishers have responded by erecting paywalls. This is understandable, but it only exacerbates the problem. The average consumer can only really afford to pay for a single publication — and therefore a limited point of view. Newspapers themselves end up compounding the filter bubble created by Facebook and Twitter.

So, unless you have shed-loads of expendable income and tons of free time, you have three options:

1: A stream of clickbait that reinforces your current opinions

2: Loads of decent articles — but all from a single publication

3: Completely ignoring the news.

So here’s the obvious question:

“What does a news platform that is accessible to everyone look like?”

How we answered the question

We started by touring universities across the UK and speaking with more than 1,000 students. They wanted to be better informed and were worried that it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so.

We didn’t want to just build an app for students: we wanted to build an app with students.

Our community of students

From our conversations with students and our own studies, we distilled the task into three challenges:

  • Create a feed of quality journalism that can’t be found on Facebook
  • Make that feed accessible to as many people as possible
  • Make it possible to consume that feed in the shortest amount of time possible

Solve these, and journalism becomes open to everyone — no matter how much money you have, or how lazy you are.

What does “quality” mean?

In the early days of the internet, the AOL homepage was paid for and curated by humans. Then Google came along, and proclaimed that quality content was determined by the strength and number of links to it. Finally, Facebook arrived, which considers your friends to be the best metric of quality. It’s become painfully obvious that the last systems have proven to be enormous failures at sourcing reliable, quality news pieces.

The answer: curation.

The holy grail of sorting content is to have expertise, experience and skill determine what is of the highest importance.

The only issue? That type of curation doesn’t scale.

Enter artificial intelligence. We’ve spent 18 months training an AI editor, by having it shadow the curation performed by professional journalists on a gigantic range of topics. After reading hundreds of thousands of articles and observing literally millions of curation decisions, it now works independently.

We’ve combined the expertise of trained curators with the limitless scalability of an algorithm.

This AI can work on any topic, spotting articles that our team miss. Oddly enough, no one on our team has ever fought sheep before. They’d never even heard of it. But that didn’t stop the AI editor picking out probably the most interesting perspective on the Algerian sheep fighting industry.

And this is just the beginning. Every day the AI editor reads new articles, learns more from our curation team, and redesigns itself. It’s only going to get better.

Compass News: get smarter, quicker.

Compass is like having your own personal journalist on hand at all times, ready to explain what’s going on in the world.

You get real-time updates on important headlines, explained in the most succinct way possible. The day’s best articles are chosen, summarised and presented with background explanations by a expert curation team working in tandem with our AI editor. You’ll have a practical understanding of a topic in a matter of minutes — something that would take you hours to get anywhere else.

All of this happens in one app, which has been live for ten months, and is used by 50,000 students.

This is what our audience looks like:

What now?

We’re deploying new proprietary AI which will massively expand the scope of Compass — and simultaneously enable in-depth personalisation for every user.

We’re lucky to have a team of incredibly talented journalists, developers and engineers who genuinely want to make journalism accessible for everyone.

Our Slack channels, Facebook groups and Trello boards are filled with the chatter of a generation which cares far more about journalism than anyone gives them credit for. We’re going to keep listening to them.

Joining Matter, an investor that cares about the future of media, is exciting as hell. We can’t wait to work with the Matter Eight teams in New York and San Francisco.

If you want to drop us a line you’ll find us at, but for now, thanks for reading.