LINCOLN — Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Joe Ricketts is preparing another venture into the news business, and he’s chosen Omaha as his launching pad.
Ricketts is hiring staff to launch an online national news outlet called Straight Arrow News that he said will do what other outlets aren’t doing — providing news without a political slant.
“I think there’s a gap in the market — there’s no source for unbiased, fact-based news. And I believe there’s a business opportunity there,” he said.
“Some people say you can’t have unbiased news. I want to prove them wrong with Straight Arrow News,” he said.
In the past few weeks, online job advertisements have been posted for a video editor, senior producer, news reporter, and motion graphics designer/producer for Straightarrownews.com. The ads say the endeavor will be “dedicated to unbiased, nonpartisan reporting” and is projected to start in February.
The company was incorporated in Delaware in July. An October filing in New York State lists the company’ address as 9140 West Dodge Road. That is also the address of Hugo Enterprises, the holding company of for-profit and nonprofit endeavors of Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade. His family also owns the Chicago Cubs, and he opened a religious retreat center called Cloisters on the Platte south of Gretna.
Ricketts said Straight Arrow does not involve any members of his family. That would include a son who’s the state’s top political figure, Gov. Pete Ricketts.
It won’t be the first foray into journalism for Joe Ricketts, a leading funder of national conservative causes who is based in Wyoming.
In 2009, he launched DNAinfo, a news website devoted to local news in New York City and Chicago. He bought another New York-based news site, Gothamist, in 2017, then merged the two.
The news operation was said to have 9 million readers a month before Ricketts abruptly shut it down in November 2017 after staffers voted to form a union. He had written a blog months earlier saying unions create “a corrosive us-against-them dynamic” that harms business success. There were also reports that the news services were unprofitable.
Ricketts, in response to emailed questions last week, said he plans Straight Arrow to be a “sustainable company” that generates profit.
“I’ve built my career on the idea that a good business is one that serves an unmet customer need,” he said. “The market (now) is only giving them polarized, opinionated coverage.”
He declined to say how large of a staff he is hiring or when exactly the service will launch, but he said Straight Arrow would initially focus on national news.
Modern technology, Ricketts said, allows such an operation to be based anywhere there’s talent. And, he said, “there’s no place with more talented people than Omaha.”
But he added that he’s still assembling a staff, who could come from anywhere.
When asked about the launch of non-biased news source, Gary Kebbel, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said Straight Arrow News is a great name.
“I think most people will say that’s exactly what they want,” Kebbel said, but he’s not convinced that is really, truly what they’re seeking.
People’s attitudes about bias in news, he said, are colored by their own opinions. And people with strong political opinions on the right or left tend to be more passionate about seeking out stories than those in the middle of the spectrum, Kebbel said.
Who will be the audience for this? he asked. Will Ricketts be providing something that Fox News isn’t?
“I wonder if people would be open to it knowing (Ricketts’) background as a conservative, and if that will bring a certain amount of audience,” he said. “Or will they be ticked off if it’s not conservative enough, or ticked off if it’s truly nonbiased and nonpartisan?”
Ricketts expressed confidence and said he will be building in “safeguards” so that his startup will truly deliver news without bias or political spin.
“When Straight Arrow News is live, I think people will see there is an approach to news — news without bias — that is going to feel like a breath of fresh air,” he said.