Jack Rivlin, who founded Tab Media with two other Cambridge University students in 2009 and now splits his time between New York and London, envisions the enterprise as a generation-defining media brand à la MTV.
Other publications should beware, said Mr. Rivlin, 28, who jokes that he has only recently begun to grow facial hair: “I want to eat their lunch.”
In Tab’s Williamsburg office — there’s another in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood — story ideas slingshot around the room, from the Pennsylvania State University hazing trial to wedding training programs at high schools to potential Dream Act-related deportations. There was also an idea from one correspondent to report on local sex parties by participating in several.
Tab uses traditional journalism tools like Freedom of Information Act filings, door-to-door sleuthing and libel training. But it also digs deep into Reddit, excavates meme chains and cultivates gossip.
Tab Media has two parts: The Tab, which publishes the college-centric content, and Babe, a website for young women that specializes in “good news reporting, trash trends, personal stories” and stories about men with certain unappealing qualities and “the pettiest celebrity drama.”
Each month, 40 million people watch videos that the two outlets post on social media, according to data the company compiled from YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Ten million people a month visit Tab sites, with roughly two-thirds going The Tab and the rest to Babe, according to Tab’s Google Analytics data.
In the past year, 2,300 students globally have written for the organization, nearly 1,000 of them regularly. The Tab has outlets at every Ivy League university and plans to expand to more than 100 American campuses.
Mr. Rivlin and The Tab’s other founders came up with the idea for company while working for the Cambridge student newspaper, a stuffy publication that none of their friends read, he said.
The Tab’s name is a play on “tabloid” and “Cantab,” a nickname for Cambridge alums. The enterprise initially drew criticism for its “Tab Totty” feature, which showcased photos of scantily clad female undergraduates. While that feature was quickly eliminated, two of The Tab’s British outlets still run a “Rear of the Year” competition.
But the website, which soon spread to other British campuses, also featured exclusive stories about a student who fought for ISIS and a Cambridge student in white tie burning cash in front of a homeless man. In the United States, much larger media organizations made reference to The Tab’s reporting on campus protests, and the publication delivered a scoop last year by reporting on Malia Obama’s decision to attend Harvard.
Mr. Herrmann, who first wrote for The Tab at Cambridge and later for The London Evening Standard, said that many of the volunteer writers sign up out of curiosity but eventually pursue media careers.
That is partly because The Tab offers its reporters training about sourcing, social media and privacy and sends out regular emails with journalism job listings. Editors at the two headquarters are paid, but few of the reporters are, and only for significant projects.
Roughly 70 percent of Tab Media’s revenue — $600,000 in August, the company said — comes from sponsored stories commissioned by companies like Spotify and Unilever and written to resemble news articles. The rest comes from display advertising from companies like Netflix and Ikea.
The company completed a round of financing this year that brought in $6 million for website improvements, training and special projects. The lead investor was News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
Mr. Rivlin said he and George Marangos-Gilks, one of the other founders, pitched the site to the News Corp chairman, Rupert Murdoch, using a 100-page book of printed Tab stories. Mr. Rivlin attended the meeting wearing shoes borrowed from a friend’s father. He still had traces of glitter on his face from a music festival he had recently attended.
The Tab is often compared to other youth-focused websites such as The Odyssey Online, launched from Indiana University in 2014, which also uses volunteer writers to cover a range of topics. Spoon University, which was bought in May by Scripps Networks Interactive, compiles articles about food contributed by college students and other young writers.
Balderton Capital, a venture capital firm in London, chose to invest in Tab Media. Suranga Chandratillake, a general partner, said he was impressed by company’s high engagement rates and reader loyalty.
“In a world where most new media titles basically push themselves on social media with click-bait headlines and hope for a random click, The Tab was able to write high quality journalism on serious and fun topics and have a community of readers come back loyally every week and sometimes every day,” Mr. Chandratillake wrote in an email.
Alumni of The Tab have gone on to work for Vice, The Guardian, Reuters, Huffington Post and many other publications. Several have stayed on to help shape the company as it evolves.
“In five years, what we’re going to be doing might be a bit broader,” Mr. Herrmann said. “We’ll keep passing this on, kind of recklessly throwing the keys to very young editorial people and see what they come up with.”
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