An investment pays off for RJI — and the news industry

Here at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute we’re lucky to have multiple ways to help ensure that journalism has a long and bright future, including providing seed funding and other resources to promising startup companies.

We’re mainly interested in how those companies can help make journalism better, stronger and more sustainable, but we’re also happy to share in profits that come from a sale to a bigger company or from a significant subsequent investment.

Two weeks ago, we had an opportunity to get happy.

Relay Media, a Silicon Valley-based startup that received $75,000 from RJI in 2016, was purchased by Google for an undisclosed amount. Two of the company’s three founders also got jobs at the search-engine giant as part of the deal.

When Dave Gehring, one of the founders of Relay, came to see us two years ago to tell us about his plan to start Relay it didn’t take us long to jump on board. I, for one, quickly appreciated the problem that Relay was planning to address.

Gehring, who previously worked at Google and The Guardian, played a key role in 2015 in developing the Accelerated Mobile Pages standard, which was created through a collaboration of Google and a group of European publishers.

That standard makes it possible for news organizations to have their content load very, very fast on mobile devices, which is critical for user satisfaction, revenue generation and keeping up with technology.

AMP was very promising, but for many news organizations it was a challenge to implement because technology staffs already had a backlog of priority projects. That was the problem Relay Media solved by building a simple converter — one line of code — that was easy to implement.

It appeared on the scene in 2016, working with 100 publishers and delivering about 70 million AMP page views a month when Google decided to buy it. Relay is a great example of an “overnight sensation” or, better yet, a “one-line-of-code wonder.”

From RJI’s perspective, we were delighted that the company was helping the news industry seize an opportunity at an otherwise unattainable rapid pace. We’re hopeful Google will continue the effort, and slow-loading news pages on your phone will be a relic of 2016!

We’re also eager to see what Gehring, who opted not to rejoin Google in order to pursue other AMP-related ideas, is thinking about to help quality publishers make the most of the digital era.


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