Free Press co-founder and CEO Bari Weiss (right) sits next to social media producer Lucy Biggers on Thursday, December 8, 2022, at the company’s launch. Image credit: Andy Mills
Bari Weiss, a New York Times columnist turned freelance newsletter writer, hired ten full-time employees and a dozen contractors to help build her new media company, The Free Press, Weiss told Axios in an interview.
Why is it important: The success of the Weiss Substack newsletter and podcast, which she launched last year after leaving The New York Times, shows that there is an appetite for coverage to rebuke traditional media products.
- “I respond to demand and develop based on audience hunger. And this hunger and appetite are just huge. We’re at the very beginning of what this could be,” Weiss said.
Keeping the news: Weiss launched The Free Press last Thursday, four days ahead of schedule, to capitalize on media coverage surrounding her “Twitter Files” coverage.
- In less than a week, The Free Press amassed over 105,000 Twitter followers, and its flagship newsletter added an additional 25,000 free and paid subscribers.
- Weiss’s Twitter followers exploded during this time, growing from over 500,000 followers to over 900,000 in less than a week.
Weiss and her wife Nellie Bowles, co-founder of The Free Press and former New York Times correspondent, wasted no time accelerating growth.
- The company has already launched its first paid marketing campaign, which includes digital advertising and posters in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and soon Austin and San Francisco. “We haven’t spent a dime so far,” Weiss said.
catch up quickly: Weiss left The New York Times as a columnist in July 2020, arguing that she had become a victim of a “new McCarthyism” that had taken root in the paper. Bowles left The Times shortly after in 2021.
- The couple created The Free Press from their kitchen table in Los Angeles.
By numbers: In January 2021, Weiss launched Common Sense, a newsletter on Substack which has since amassed over 283,000 free and paid subscribers. (Common Sense was renamed The Free Press.)
- Weiss said her number of subscribers had more than doubled since the start of the year to 283,000, she said.
- Earlier this year, Weiss and Bowles organized a small fundraiser for family and friends for The Free Press. Weiss declined to disclose the amount collected.
- Previously, the duo relied on revenue from subscriptions to Weiss’s newsletter, which costs $5 a month. (It’s currently $8 a month under the umbrella of The Free Press.)
- Last year, Marketwatch reported that Weiss earned over $800,000 from her newsletter alone, which at the time had 14,000 paid subscribers. The newsletter today has more than double the number of paid subscribers.
Notes: The Weiss newsletter and other Free Press email newsletters will continue to be sent using Substack, which also provides technical support for The Free Press website.
DetailsA: Looking ahead, Weiss plans to launch a set of newsletters and podcasts to accompany her own, all under the auspices of The Free Press.
- She hired several podcast producers, including Andy Mills, former producer of The New York Times flagship podcast “The Daily”. She said there will be more audio series in the new year, including a possible podcast debate program and lengthy podcasts that will feel more like documentaries.
- Weiss has already started hiring full-time writers, including Olivia Reingold, who will cover politics and culture, and Rupa Subramanya.
- These writers will join The Free Press’ existing roster of journalists that includes Bowles as well as Peter Savodnik, Emily Yoffe and Suzy Weiss of The New York Post.
- Several other freelance writers, including Katherine Boyle, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and author and Substack writer Michael Shellenberger are joining as regular columnists.
- In addition to newsletters and podcasts, Weiss said The Free Press plans to introduce more products specifically for paid subscribers, such as subscriber-only events and discussion threads.
- Weiss said subscribers will continue to be “at the heart of our business,” although Weiss said she’s open to exploring other forms of revenue, such as advertising and event sponsorship.
Between the lines: The Free Press joins many news startups, including Semafor, Puck and Airmail, who have launched digital updates to the kind of timely, slick, voice-controlled coverage that print has provided in recent years.
- The Free Press site is designed to resemble old-fashioned newspapers, Weiss said, and a bygone era of honest, dogged reporting.
big photo: Weiss, along with other freelance writers like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, is gaining new attention with Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
- “I think there are a lot of people in this country who are politically homeless and feel that the old labels – Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal – no longer fit them or no longer mean what they used to mean,” Weiss said.