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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Vox’s Joe Posner Hired to Lead Video For Justin Smith and Ben Smith’s Semafor (Exclusive) – Hollywood Reporter

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Semafor wants “to build helpful antidotes to the toxic, polarized information ecosystem that blankets cable news and social platforms,” Posner says.
By Alex Weprin
Media & Business Writer
Semafor will be in the video business.
The news startup, founded by Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith and former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, plans to roll out video programming shortly after launch, and has hired Joe Posner, who co-founded Vox.com’s Vox Video division, to lead its efforts in the space.

Posner, who helped launch Vox Video in 2014, spearheaded its Explained franchise for Netflix, and Glad You Asked for YouTube, among other programming. Shows that Posner has worked on have secured 10 Emmy nominations.
“I’ve admired — and been jealous — of Joe and his team’s work and success for years,” Ben Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When we started talking it became clear that we share obsessions with transparency and optimism about reaching audiences around the world through video.”

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Semafor is hoping to appeal to a global audience, and has been building a powerhouse editorial team that includes Gina Chua, who will be its executive editor, as well as Liz Hoffman, who will lead the business and finance team, and Reed Albergotti, who will lead the technology team. According to The New York Times, Semafor has raised money from FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, The Atlantic‘s David Bradley, and The Information‘s Jessica Lessin.
The specific formats and types of video programming that Semafor is looking to produce remain under development, though Posner tells THR that “[Semafor’s] goal is my goal: We hope to build helpful antidotes to the toxic, polarized information ecosystem that blankets cable news and social platforms.”
While video may not be a top priority for many news organizations outside of the TV ecosystem, Posner noted that it is the “medium people consume most,” which makes it an important space to be in.
“I’ve always been focused on visual evidence whether working on feature docs, shortform and in between,” Posner says. “It’s the best way I know to make complicated stories clear, and to fully make use of the medium. It also is my best answer to fulfilling Semafor’s mission to focus on transparency: visual evidence is showing your work.”
“But between those guard rails is still infinitely large,” he adds. “We’re incredibly excited to try a lot of new shortform ideas and experiments quickly at Semafor. So it’d be wrong to say I know what we’ll make, because the best work invariably comes from an intensely creative, collaborative and unpredictable process.”

Smith notes that after investing in the space for years, many digital media companies are beginning to deemphasize video content, and that he thinks Semafor will be able to bring some innovation to the news video genre.
“I think it’s ironic that the publishing industry is at a moment of exhaustion and a slow down in experimentation in digital video — just as there’s an enormous space for innovation opening,” he says.
BuzzFeed, where Smith was previously editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, mostly leaned into entertainment content for its video work, releasing series on its YouTube channels (The BuzzFeed video team created Tasty, while talent like The Try Guys and Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson worked as video producers for the division).
The New York Times has invested heavily in shortform documentary series through its Op-Docs division, and into TV through a deal with FX. Vice, another digital media darling, initially used a TV deal with HBO to help burnish and grow its overall business.
And of course Vox’s efforts, which Posner led, combined owned channels on social platforms and YouTube with third-party deals with companies like Netflix and HBO.
Posner adds that he is “incredibly proud” of the Vox video team, and leaves open the possibility of a Vox-Semafor team-up.
“I will miss it terribly, and will always look forward to seeing its work — and to collaborate whenever we can,” he says.
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