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THE STORY BEHIND “THE LATEST”
By Jeff Hall, CEO
March, 2017
  • The story behind today’s legendary startups usually goes something like this:

  • 1) Two kids in a dorm room come up with an idea.

  • 2) They program all weekend long, powered by Red Bull and pizza.

  • 3) They introduce some kind of clever app on Monday. By Friday, they are entertaining billion dollar-plus offers from the venture capitalists.

  • That is NOT the story of THE LATEST. We aren’t nearly so exciting.

“The French Fries”,
our programming interns from CPE Lyon (summer, 2016).
Our interns like to huddle.
  • If most of today’s startups are hares, we are definitely the tortoise. But don’t forget how that story ended!

  • I’m an old newspaper guy and proud of it. Once upon a time I was VP of Marketing at the Kansas City Star (where I started as an editorial intern); later I was named president of the Valley and Ventura County editions of the Los Angeles Times.

  • In 1991, I went out on my own and started a community newspaper called the Brentwood News. Over the years, I added more papers to my budding print empire. It was wonderful fun being a big fish in a small pond, but financially, it was never easy.

  • And then, during the crash of 2008-2009, I got completely clobbered. I actually shut down and thought it was “game over.”

  • A year later I came back with one paper only, the Brentwood News. It was a lot smaller and skinnier than before, but people were happy to see the return of an old friend.

  • Nevertheless, I figured, age 59 it was time to reinvent myself – before it was too late.

Joe in Search of Love,
during the shooting of our “Internet Speed Dating” video.
Joe learns about Second Amendment rights while making the rounds.
  • In 2010, I started exploring what might be done with a domain name I had purchased way back in 1996: TheLatest.com.

  • When I nabbed this URL – it was still possible to do things like that back in 1996 – I thought TheLatest.com had a nice, “newsy” sound to it. A site called “THE LATEST” could offer the latest headlines, the latest gossip, the latest gadget – the latest anything, really.

  • I began brainstorming with some buddies – mostly from the world of traditional media – about what a site called “THE LATEST” would look like, act like, feel like, smell like.

  • It was pretty clear most of the good ideas in news and information were already taken. Google News, the Huffington Post, Facebook, NYTimes.com, Yahoo and hundreds of other news sites already existed. How could THE LATEST possibly compete?

  • Things have only become more competitive, what with Snapchat, all the new apps and the explosion of social media. But, in an odd way, this explosion of online activity has actually played to our advantage.

Finally, Joe falls in love with THE LATEST
– a happy ending, indeed!
Carolyn Killefer, My Mother-in-Law,
seen here wearing THE LATEST sunglasses. She has been asking for years: “When will that site of yours ever be done?”
  • When talking to people about what they liked – and didn’t like – about online news, a common lament was this: Everyone feels like he or she is drowning in information and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with it all.

  • So our R&D group decided to tackle information overload head-on. That become our mission; “keeping up made easy” became our slogan.

  • Because all the money I made in life had gone up in smoke with my newspapers, I didn’t have much to work with. So I turned to student interns and sweat equity friends for help.

  • Over the last several years, we’ve had something like 175 student interns from approximately 25 countries help figure out what THE LATEST should be. We’ve had students from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and of course the United States.

  • It has been like the U.N. around here – lots and lots of fun, a real creative beehive. The students are great and we couldn’t have done it without them. We’ve had plenty of “adult supervision” as well – newspaper professionals, television veterans, financial types, programmers, ad agency executives.

Chiedza and Sarah
discuss “the latest” celebrity gossip.
The French Fries before heading home,
summer 2015. They earned their hoodies.
  • I have come to believe the older/younger mix is a really good one. Young people are much better at computers, mobile apps, design and social media than oldsters. But older people are needed to help provide perspective, historical context, direction and leadership.

  • We paid our interns and other sweat equity partners in company shares, not cash. Sweat equity only interests people for so long, and, with every semester break, we see people come and go. So it was hard to mount a consistent effort.

  • All the while, the Internet itself kept changing and we had to evolve as well.

  • Today, it’s not just information overload people complain about. Now there is a lot more concern about political partisanship, fake news, “alternative facts,” trolls, click-bait headlines, pop-up ads, “auto-play” videos (those videos that just start playing on their own) and privacy invasions.

  • The complaints don’t stop there. In recent years, so-called experts and pollsters have been proven wrong time and time again; several big names in journalism have been caught violating ethics we once held dear; it feels like some bizarre need to be a celebrity and make noise has overtaken better judgment.

French finance intern Helene Haramburu and my wife, Gail Killefer,
touring Los Angeles.
Emy and Marie Calmel,
two sisters from Benin, a small country in Africa.
  • According to Gallup, trust in media is now at an all time low.

  • I grew up reading the paper every day, back when people really did care about accuracy, balance and fairness. There used to be a guy, CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite, who was referred to as “the most trusted man in America.” People of my vintage remember him fondly; today’s kids don’t know what they’re missing.

  • And yet, at some level, I think they do. Millennials grew up in a world of spin and they are a very untrusting bunch, in the main. They never had an “Uncle Walter” they could turn to for the truth.

  • At THE LATEST, we think what’s old is about to become new again. We think the world is ready for a site that’s easy to use, comprehensive and completely neutral in terms of politics. We really are fair and balanced. We don’t carry fake news. We really do put users’ needs above those of advertisers.

  • If it’s a political story you’re looking at, we’ll show you the same story as told by multiple media outlets – liberal, moderate, conservative.

  • We’ll apply the same selection process to our commentators – we’ll do our best to keep everything in balance. We love a good debate; all reasonable views are welcome at THE LATEST.

Julia, Taylor and Fuzail,
editing a Video.
We love whiteboards.
  • Twenty five years ago, when I started the Brentwood News, I swore we’d never endorse a political candidate, and we haven’t. I’m convinced this is one of the reasons people like my little paper. We don’t take sides. We show all sides.

  • So, consistent with that, THE LATEST pledges to never endorse a political candidate. We believe you’re smart enough to figure things out for yourself. I’ve never understood why so many media outlets think it’s so important to cram a particular point of view down our throats. But clearly, they do.

  • I really don’t want you to think of THE LATEST as just a political site. It’s not. Politics is just one of 45 major topics we cover. “THE LATEST” is a wonderful phrase – anything can be “the latest.”

  • We will give you the latest in news, sports, movies, music, politics, craft beer, spirituality, gadgets, viral videos, cars – anything at all. Try our search engine. Type in a very simple word, hit return, see what happens.

  • You can also customize all this and save stories for later reading. You can save searches based on keywords that you want to follow. You can find out what’s going on in any of the top 100 cities in the U.S. You can follow your favorite writers and sources.

  • We also decided early on that if people clearly didn’t like some annoying practice found on the Internet (pop-up ads, etc.), we simply wouldn’t do it. We built a site WE wanted to use. We think you will like it, too.

Linsay and Rhavin,
actors
More hoodies and sunglasses,
2016
  • We are still finding bugs in our site and we have a long list of wonderful features we want to add. We ask that you bear with us as we get up to speed. If you have ideas, concerns or suggestions, please drop us a line.

  • It’s time to graduate from “interesting intern project” to “real company with a real future.” It’s time to raise money so we can really do this right.

  • Now that our site is done – or almost done – we are now ready to talk to prospective investors, strategic partners, writers, advertisers and other potential allies.

  • There might be a crowd-funding campaign in our future, so if you want to own a piece of TheLatest.com, Inc., we urge you to stay tuned.

Algan,
genius programmer, figured out in minutes what others dared not attempt.
Estefany and Alex of Kodetec,
our Venezuelan programmers.
  • The more financial support we get from everyday people, the more independent we can remain from those who want to use the media in furtherance of their political and commercial agendas.

  • We think remaining politically neutral and putting users’ needs above those of advertisers is the right thing to do. I know many agree.

  • I clearly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first got started with THE LATEST in 2010. I know how to spell, I don’t know how to code. I figured it would take a few months to get something up and running.

  • I’ve been at this nearly 7 years now. So Mark Zuckerberg or Evan Spiegel, I am not.

  • But somehow it feels like we now have come up with the right idea at the right time, and we’re excited to finally get going here.

Soli and Karl
discuss technology
Eric explains net neutrality to Jeff.
  • We used to say “keeping up made easy” was our slogan. Our thinking has become bigger as THE LATEST has come to life. We now see ourselves as “The World’s New Homepage.”

  • Thanks to the “cast of hundreds” who got us this far; it’s always a pleasure, especially, to hear back from former interns as they work their way up the ladder from college to grad school to first jobs. Many say their time at THE LATEST was transformative.

  • Thanks, especially, to my wife and kids who surely doubted they would ever see THE LATEST come to fruition in their lifetimes. I never doubted we’d get to this place, but I’m a little odd that way.

  • We look forward to meeting those who will join us in the years ahead. Maybe that includes you.

  • We hope you like THE LATEST, learn a lot from it and connect with other people of good will who want to explore what’s new, move things forward.

  • I’ve seen this happen countless times with my little Brentwood News. We write something; people talk about it; new ideas are put forward; eventually progress is made.

Our attorney Patrick Anding (of Wilson Sonsini) interviews Eric Feng of Kleiner Perkins
at Google’s Venice (LA) Office.
Coming Soon,
a site about online gaming.
  • I like to think of THE LATEST as a new kind of community newspaper. We are bringing back old-fashioned journalistic and community values, using today’s digital tools in order to do this on a global scale.

  • In a world that has become too complicated too quickly – and that has gone a little mad when it comes to civil discourse and practical problem-solving – we want to provide a fresh alternative. Let’s make things simple again. Let’s bring back trust.

  • Heard the latest? Now you have.

  • [email protected]

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