NEW YORK, NEW YORK — When Capital launched in beta in June 2010, it joined an ever-swelling scrum of startups crowding the most covered, and coverable, city on Earth. How did Capital’s co-founder Josh Benson, a longtime writer and editor at the New York Observer, hope to break out from the pack? You can find his answer on Capital’s About page: “The premise of Capital is that it is possible for a news website to do well by being good.”
[Profile updated April 17, 2012]
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Good, and different. Where New York’s political blogs tend to offer blow-by-blow snippets from City Hall and Albany, and its culture sites swoon and snipe over restaurant openings and gallery soirees, Capital dives deep across the media, politics, arts, and business with multi-page takes on angles over which others gloss. Take, for example, August’s profile of social media consultant Oz Sultan, hired to work on messaging for the Park51 Muslim Community Center; the simple, interesting story became an examination of divides between web-natives and their elders, New York and the rest of the country. Salon news editor Steve Kornacki’s lengthy analysis of the complex relationship between House Representative Anthony Weiner and his one-time mentor Chuck Schumer is another strong example of the emerging Capital brand. The site launched with a culture focus, but Benson plans for it to become “newsier” and expand to more strictly beat-based coverage when it emerges from beta. [Update: as of spring 2012, Benson has made good on this promise. See the site’s healthy politics and media verticals.]
Benson and co-founder Tom McGeveran—another Observer vet—left the paper early in 2010 and set up shop in the corner of the Personal Democracy Forum’s offices on Lafayette Street in New York’s Soho neighborhood. They brought together an editorial staff of five, most of whom had also worked at the Observer. PDF chief Andrew Rasiej is a Capital adviser, and he and several others helped the team put together a for-profit business plan based mostly, at this stage, on advertising. Benson says that as Capital moves out of beta, it will move away from CPM-based advertising to direct advertising deals, custom content, and “real space” branding, such as events. For the moment they have found some revenue while, in the grand startup tradition, managing to exist “pretty inexpensively.” [Update: see the site’s media kit for detailed information on recent advertising efforts, including “sponsored social media” and “advertorial” offerings.]
The advisers, along with family and friends, fronted the cash to get Capital started—enough to employ designers Hazan and Company and developers Alley Interactive (who also developed the Observer online) to produce a site which is free, streamlined, and geared for interaction.
Since this profile was first published, Capital has moved into new offices in midtown Manhattan. The staff has expanded to ten full-timers including McGeveran and Benson thanks to a $1.7 million investment led by angel investor Adam Riggs.
In 2011, Capital continued to write pieces that reflected its commitment to in-depth coverage of New York. Writer-at-large Kevin Heldman received a grant from The Fund for Investigative Journalism for the Capital original series on the New York based Albanian mafia. Another writer-at-large, Steven Boone, documented experiences with the homeless.
Capital’s contributors’ tweets are featured prominently in a box on the homepage, linking mostly to their work for other outlets; another homepage box features the tweets of those whom @capitalnewyork follows. Far from being daunted by the competitive New York startup landscape, Benson says Capital thrives because of it. “We need there to be other outlets to play with,” says Benson. “It’s a bit of an anachronism in my opinion to think of it as a zero-sum competition between all publications. That’s not how it works. We have to be where the conversation is happening, and it’s not always on our site.”
City: New York
Revenue Sources, other: Private investment capital
Principal Staff: Josh Benson, co-founder and editor; Tom McGeveran, co-founder and editor.
Affiliations: Received $1.7 private investment in August 2011 from investors led by Adam Riggs.