Gannett Co. announced Tuesday that it invested an undisclosed amount in a Philadelphia mobile news site called Billy Penn, founded and owned by former Washington Post website executive editor Jim Brady.
The McLean-based media giant would only say its investment in Billy Penn’s parent company, Spirited Media, constituted a minority stake.
“The Spirited Media team has a proven track record of producing high-quality journalism and delivering engaging experiences for local markets,” said Gannett chief executive Bob Dickey in a statement.
Brady said he plans to use the money to hire more staff and expand into new markets.
“We added a cultural reporter yesterday,”said Brady, 48, of Great Falls, Va. “We are going to bring on an sports editor, and shore up sales and development.”
Billy Penn, named for a statue of William Penn that rests atop Philadelphia City Hall, includes four reporters, two editors, a developer and salesperson, in addition to Brady.
The website was named Philadelphia’s Startup of the Year at the 2015 Philadelphia Geek Awards and was recognized for its coverage of the Amtrak 188 disaster.
Brady said Spirited Media focuses on young, mobile-oriented audiences who crave content with attitude. Its primary revenue source is live events.l.
“The younger audience wants to get involved and wants to fix things,” said Brady. “To some extent, they want to meet each other.”
The company runs about eight to 10 events per month, including celebrations of up-and-coming city leaders or beer-tastings. Revenue comes from both sponsorships and tickets.
Brady said the company is not yet profitable, but plans to be in the near future.
“When you start a content company, you have to accept the fact that you lose money for a little bit while you build your audience.”
Brady said he has a list of four or five cities to expand.
“Because younger consumers and older consumers consume news so differently, it’s really hard to have a strategy that addresses both. If you are a large media company, your revenue is still mostly tied to the legacy product, whether it’s broadcast or print. You need to focus on the old demographic, which leaves an opening to go after the younger audience. That creates an opportunity for guys like me.”