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November 15, 2022

Mapped: How global are Semafor’s coverage and audience?

Semafor has been publishing almost a month - which means we can get an idea of how global its outlook really is through the medium of maps.

By Bron Maher

Ahead of launch, media start-up Semafor promised to be “a global newsroom” that would serve “the 200 million or so English speakers with college degrees”.

Signalling that intent, the organisation began life in October with an editor dedicated to covering Africa and ambitions to grow further international bureaux. The company is currently advertising for reporters to be based in Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi.

The Ben Smith and Justin B Smith-led outlet has now been publishing for a little over four weeks – which means we can begin to get an idea of how global the publisher’s perspective (and audience) really is. And how better to chart that than on a map?

Mapping Semafor’s global vision

Each weekday, Semafor’s general interest newsletter, “Flagship”, lands in inboxes emblazoned with a world map annotated to show where the day’s action is.

Semafor World Today map screenshot
A screenshot of ‘The World Today’ section which leads Semafor’s ‘Flagship’ newsletter.

That map is very handy for analysis purposes, because semafor.com itself is difficult to explore – there’s no obvious content sections or navigable news archive, with older content tumbling off the bottom of the front page into oblivion.

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The Flagship map is an imperfect metric – many of its ten daily news-in-briefs summarise reporting by other outlets, and Semafor’s other newsletters will include some international stories not captured here. Nonetheless, Flagship tends to link to several original Semafor stories and gives a sense of the stories the newborn publisher thinks are important.

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Press Gazette went through all the 20 Flagship newsletters sent between the first on Tuesday 18 October and the twentieth on 14 November, tallying up which countries and regions received coverage in the “World Today” section.

For the purposes of methodological transparency (and knowing one of Flagship’s authors co-wrote a book about journalists’ dodgy use of statistics), the figures underpinning the map can be found on a Google sheet here.

In its first four weeks, Semafor's Flagship newsletter covered 47 countries (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) at least once - just shy of a quarter of the world's total.

The US came out as far and away the most-covered country, racking up 42 stories and accounting for approximately 21% of The World Today's focus. Next was China, which got 27 stories.

There were some notable omissions of countries that generally receive attention from the rest of the media. France and Canada each received their first mention in the past week; most European countries have gone un-covered, as has Turkey. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have each only featured in a single story.

Some countries that are not usually staples of the news agenda received coverage because of the news cycle: Qatar got three stories because of the World Cup, and the collapse of crypto exchange FTX garnered three for the company's country of incorporation, The Bahamas. (Coincidentally, FTX's founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, is one of Semafor's investors.) The war in Ukraine unsurprisingly brought attention to both the invaded country and Russia.

[Read more: Justin B Smith interview - Business booms for Bloomberg Media thanks to ad ‘windfall’ and 350,000 subs]

Nigeria has featured in as many stories as Australia and Iran. But stories about African countries still accounted for about 10% of all stories - in comparison, European stories made up more than 20% of output.

If there's a trend to be detected, it's that Semafor is interested in major emerging economies. The BRICS group - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - come up in most newsletters, and account for just shy of 30% of all country-focused stories. Nigeria, Mexico and Indonesia have all racked up more mentions than Italy, the here overlooked tenth-largest economy in the world.

Beyond the map, there have been a lot of globe-spanning stories that are difficult to pin to a particular place. The COP27 climate conference, for example, takes place in Egypt, but coverage tends to focus on international discussions or policy pitches from particular countries.

That kind of coverage is factored into the chart below, which shows Semafor's newsletter has put out more stories about transnational stories than it has about Ukraine and Russia combined.

How global is Semafor's audience?

Semafor receives some of its audience through newsletters and social media, which are difficult to gauge from outside. But we can get some idea of who's reading its website.

According to Similarweb, Semafor.com has notched up about 737,000 visits since launch. Its audience is just under two-thirds men and it is most popular in the 25 to 34 year-old age bracket, who make up 29% of its readership.

For comparison Bloomberg, which Justin B Smith left to set up Semafor, racked up 78 million visits in October, of whom 32.7% were women and 30.6% aged 25 to 34.

And where are they?

Although at first glance the above pie may look awfully American, when looked at comparatively Semafor does seem to be pulling in a somewhat more global - or at least, more European - readership than its competitors.

About 65% of Semafor's audience is in the US; that figure is 76% for The New York Times, 60% for Insider, and 45% for Bloomberg. Some 6.5% of Semafor's readers are in the UK, a figure which stands at 3% for NYT.

Semafor has relatively large audiences outside of English-speaking countries, with non-Anglophone nations accounting for about 22.6% of its traffic, per Similarweb figures. About 20.6% of Semafor's audience is in Europe, versus about 2% in Africa.

The New York Times' biggest non-Anglophone country for readers is Germany (0.93%). For Insider it's India (1.8%) - likewise for Bloomberg (3%) and The Washington Post (0.6%).

And for Semafor? The start-up's largest non-Anglophone audience, accounting for 3% of its global traffic, is poor, overlooked but nonetheless loyal Italy. The Italian audience must be trying to get away from the local news cycle.

Asked for comment, a Semafor spokesperson said: "While this doesn’t capture the true scale of our total global reach across all platforms or coverage areas, we are extremely proud of the breadth of our editorial offerings less than a month out from launch."

Picture: Screenshot of Semafor's "The World Today" newsletter

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
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  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
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