Marcus Brauchli has edited some of the leading American publications, but as co-founder and managing partner of investment firm North Base Media, he and his fellow partners are focused on putting money into emerging media markets abroad instead.
“This is a very competitive market,” he said of the U.S. media industry. “There’s a lot of capital. There’s a lot of people chasing the same few ideas. And in so much of the world, the opportunity to be the first provider of serious content, or the first provider of a certain kind of sports content in a big market, is to us more attractive than competing for a sliver of marketshare in the U.S.”
North Base Media launched with an initial investment in January 2014. Mr. Brauchli, the former editor of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, co-founded the company with Serbian journalist Saša Vučinić; Stuart Karle, formerly chief operating officer for Reuters News, serves as general counsel.
To date, North Base Media has raised more than $20 million, mostly from strategic investors. Mr. Brauchli said that media companies who invest “let us hunt out interesting ideas and relay back to them trends that we see.”
North Base Media invests in media companies and technology companies that have applications for media, and is particularly focused on India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and key markets in Latin America. North Base Media has invested in two American companies, Atlas Obscura, which bills itself as “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places,” and video platform Nameless.tv, because, Mr. Brauchli said, both companies have the potential to “go overseas.”
“In the last 15 years, there’s been a huge upheaval in U.S. media business,” he said. “But not that much overall growth in the size of the media business. Just a giant reallocation of mindshare and dollars from old media to new media, and this parallel compression of CPMs. And it’s been a mortal struggle among new and old players in this market.”
He contrasted the U.S. media market, which he said is “locked in this death match for marketshare with advertising dollars,” and the market in China, which he said has grown dramatically and seen an “explosion in media companies and in content created.”
Mr. Brauchli, who edited the Post from 2008 to 2012, had kind things to say about his former employer. “I think the Post is in a really good place and doing a lot of very smart things right now, and I have great respect for how they’ve pivoted,” he said.
He also threw some water on the battle between the Post and The New York Times for traffic supremacy, which seemed to lose a little steam when the Times came back on top in January. He called it a “misleading thing,” and said, “I don’t think it’s entirely an apples-to-apples comparison anymore when you measure the Post against the Times.”
The Post, Mr. Brauchli said, “was always head-to-head in some areas with the Times, and in some areas not head-to-head. … Today in digital, the Post does a lot of digital things the Times hasn’t yet started to do; it may yet do. The Post is doing a whole lot of repurposing of stories and content, overnight and throughout the day, that has viral potential, or that draws signfiicant audiences. The Times hasn’t yet started to do the same thing. The Times, I think, puts a lot of resources into … more traditional, but certainly deeper, longer-form journalism that the Post does some of, but perhaps puts less emphasis on.”
Although most of his career was spend at legacy publications, Mr. Brauchli was comfortable discussing the digital media news story of the moment, whether it was Mashable’s news pivot (“I thought Mashable’s transition was about as ham-fisted as any I’ve ever seen”) or BuzzFeed reportedly missing its 2015 revenue target (he’s not surprised at the report, but said “they’ve done an impressive job getting to large numbers of users by connecting with those users wherever they are, and nobody should take anything away from them on that”).
Asked whether he’s tempted to get back into the editorial side of things, Mr. Brauchli said that what he’s doing now draws on the lot of skills he built up throughout his career, and that he’s “quite content” to be where he is.
“I think for the last decade or so I was at the Journal or the Post, I probably spent more than I would have liked in meetings at which we discussed possible scenarios for our businesses, and the scenarios were generally less positive than I would have liked,” he said. “I prefer engaging with people who are all talking about growth, and seeing the opportunities to transform their societies and to build new businesses.”