Taiwan’s The News Lens raises Series B, plans to diversify content channels

Kevin McSpadden
the_news_lens

The News Lens has a strict commitment to being an independent news agency, which is especially challenging in Taiwan

The News Lens (TNL), an independent Chinese-language news portal out of Taiwan, announced today it has closed a Series B round of funding from a host of investors.

The financial details of the deal were undisclosed.

The round was led by WISKEY CAPITAL and included participation from a host of investors. They are listed below:

  • Northbase Media
  • Sasa Vucinic, the former manager of Media Development Loan Fund and Executive Editor of The Washington Post
  • Walden International
  • Trinity Investment
  • Angelvest
  • Dorcas Investments
  • Vic Chen (angel investor)
  • Wei Shang (angel investor)
  • Irene Chen (angel investor)
  • Edgar Chiu (angel investor)
  • Alice Sun (angel investor)

With the money, the company plans to launch new types of content — exemplified by the on-boarding of the Taiwanese news presenter Jennifer Shen (沈春華). She will help TNL create live-streaming and other video-based news products. 

TNL also reached an agreement with Time Inc. The startup will translate and distribute content from the news giant’s TIME and Fortune properties. Time Inc. will grant TNL access to its library for the two brands and will help sell and promote the materials in Asia.

TNL is expecting to launch new content verticals as well, it has already created a lifestyle sub-brand named Every Little D and a column/podcast for whiskey lovers called Drink with Mario.

Eventually — in part because most of TNL’s investors are international — the media company wants to expand across Asia.

“From day one, it was meant to organically grow to hopefully [fill] an overseas, international, Chinese market,” Co-founder and CEO Joey Chung told e27 in an interview.

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According to the company, traffic for TNL has grown 30 per cent from last year and it employs 70 people (including having an office in Hong Kong).

“When we first started, it was three people. It was extremely garage-like…For us, the name of the game is ‘for the first year, maybe two years, you suffer’. It has to be very bootstrapped, it has to be very streamline. It forces you to focus on the problems. You’re nothing until you get maybe one or even two million uniques (monthly users),” said Chung.

An independent news source in a tricky media environment

Media is a tough business in general, and maintaining editorial neutrality despite the wishes of stakeholders is one of the hardest parts of the industry. It is especially challenging for a small company that may not have the clout of, say, The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

It is an issue from Singapore to America. From Europe to Asia. Yet, there are two countries that stand out as having particularly aggressive and powerful forces influencing what are traditionally considered open media environments — Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“You’re either pro-Beijing, anti-Beijing, pro-Independence, pro-Hong Kong, anti-Hong Kong, pro-This Party, anti-This Party. Everyone here is political, so if you don’t choose sides, it becomes very, very challenging,” said Chung.

TNL is built around the idea of ‘independent media’ and newsmakers are required to sign an agreement that states they will be fair and balanced in their reporting. The idea was to create a new media company that was beholden to no-one.

Chung explained that the romanticised idea was to return the roots of journalism and as best as possible doesn’t tell readers what to think.

“I think the most exhausting thing is, how do we never sacrifice those ideals? At the same time, those ideals basically restrict us from taking money from risky investors. Investors with a family or business anchor that is political. Also, what kind of advertisers we take money from,” he said.

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He said that is the biggest challenge of running TNL and something the team grapples with every day.

In a world of new media and fake news, trustworthiness may be the most important brand-equity for any digital media company. And TNL hopes to become the leader for independent, Chinese-language, media.

Copyright: elwynn / 123RF Stock Photo

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