If you invest, you're betting Ad Fontes Media will be worth more than $14.1M in the future.
The concept that sparked the creation of this company was a simple infographic--the Media Bias Chart. Now we are a data company that rates over 10,000 news sources and millions of articles for reliability and bias, serving all stakeholders in our information ecosystem. Our mission is to rate all the news to positively impact society. We do that by helping monetize high-quality journalism, helping folks steer clear of misleading and polarizing content, and teaching people of all ages how to discern media reliability and bias themselves.
We've come a long way, but we are also just getting started. It's 2024. Buckle up, folks.
Vanessa here to tell the story! In the run-up to the 2016 election, I thought it was nuts how people would share "news" articles that were loose with the facts and really biased.
Original 2016 Media Bias Chart
In my profession as a patent attorney, I explained complicated things through words and pictures and found the pictures were often the most helpful. I thought up a way to map news sources visually, from best to worst, and left to right. As a hobby, I made the first Media Bias Chart to talk to my friends about news and politics on Facebook. It went super viral, launching conversations, copycats, criticism, and praise from all corners.
I got inquiries from people all across the internet. They mostly wanted two things: 1) DATA and 2) MORE NEWS SOURCES. I didn't know what the opportunity was at the time, but I started working on it--just pulling at the thread of what people said they wanted.
For two years, it was a night-and-weekend-consuming side hobby. I thought that if there was a way to rate ALL THE NEWS like this, that could really transform the world for the better. So I founded Ad Fontes Media as a public benefit corporation in February 2018.
Over the last few years we raised some money, grew, raised a little more, and grew more. Here's how that has gone:
With that funding, we created a system and software to do news content ratings and more. This was the moment that Ad Fontes Media went from "me" to "us," so for the rest of the story, I am switching from "I" to "we."
We conducted a large multi-analyst ratings project to rate thousands of articles, developed our intial software to collect, weight, and display our ratings. We had about 130 news sources rated at the end of that project and our first-ever version of the Interactive Media Bias Chart.
We launched our first products--licenses, prints, mugs, and memberships, mostly to consumers and educators, but as word spread that we have this system to manually rate news articles with a robust methodology, we started getting interest from the business sector.
Advertisers wanted some data on the news landscape so they could make sure their ads weren't supporting misleading and polarizing content. Reputable publishers wanted us to audit their content to understand why consumers accused them of bias. Social media companies wanted to measure how unreliable and biased content moved across their platform.
By the end of 2020, we had some big commercial opportunities for one-off ratings projects. That was when I (last one) decided to leave my patent attorney job to work on growing Ad Fontes Media. We needed to raise a bit more money to hire analysts, software developers, and operational staff, so we launched our first WeFunder campaign in October 2020.
You may recall some stuff happened between October 2020 and January 2021 RE: elections and democracy, which only highlighted the problems caused by misinformation and extreme polarization.
More people saw that solutions to some of our most intractable societal and political issues would require us to get better at filtering our information sources.
We raised over $340,000 in our first WeFunder community round!
That funding gave us a springboard to raise even more from bigger angel investors and small VC funds. Throughout 2021, we raised an additional $450K on the same terms as our WeFunder community round.
All in all, we raised $800,000 in our pre-seed round, which was a combination of money raised both within WeFunder and outside of WeFunder in 2021.
We did a lot with that funding! Some highlights:
We also started to get noticed even more in the press. Lots of earned media has come our way. We got mentioned on Michael Smerconish's show on CNN:
-And I appeared for an interview on NewsNation's Dan Abrams Live:
We kept on trucking throughout 2022, and even though that was a very difficult year for folks to raise capital, we raised a seed round of $800,000; $550K outside of WeFunder already, led by Stout Street Capital, and another $250K on the same terms from our amazing WeFunder community.
With that funding we grew our news source ratings to over 3,000 sources and had several commercial deals and partnerships under our belt, including with ad-tech/data companies such as Comscore, Peer39, and Sightly, and had even struck a relatively small, but significant-to-us, data licensing deal with Facebook.
We also kept enhancing our media literacy educational products and started to find product-market fit with it, meaning that high schools, school districts, and colleges started to buy our subscriptions and renew in subsequent years, often just based on our site information and the product alone.
When we first started approaching the advertising market, around 2021, we initially thought our data would be most helpful for an industry concern known as "brand safety," which is the idea that brands don't want their ads showing up next to unsavory content on the internet. For us, we thought that was an opportunity to help brands not show up next to misleading, false, or polarizing content, because we saw plenty of big brand ads doing just that.
However, the more big advertisers we talked to, the more of them told us "well, that's not really a problem for us, because we just don't advertise in news at all anymore." That sounded SO MUCH WORSE.
Now the ad industry created the worst possible ecosystem where cheaply-created misinformation makes enough money to stick around and expensive journalism is abandoned by major brands and shuts down.
Going back to the idea from the beginning--what if we could rate ALL THE NEWS? It's impossible to do with humans alone, but without human ratings, it's impossible to have accurate AI ratings.
We have always been committed to the human + technology approach. We will always have a big team of analysts manually rating content; when it comes to sensitive questions like "how true is this?" and "how biased is this?" we will always want humans examining content around important political and social issues. We then used these ratings as manual training data to build state-of-the art AI for automatically scoring the sea of content out there--to rate ALL THE NEWS.
Imagine a world where each piece of content on your social media feed has a label for bias and reliability; where advertisers steer clear of junk news but fund important journalism; where news organizations hold themselves to only the highest standards of professionalism; where we as a society share an understanding of basic facts.
You can help create that world.
Dive deeper into our business model: