Peter Kafka

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Former Publisher Jim Spanfeller Has VC Money; New Sites on the Way

Former publisher Jim Spanfeller has a new gig: A venture-backed Web publishing start-up.

Spanfeller Media Group, which plans to launch a series of new sites, is close to finishing a funding round that I’m told will total around $2 million. Backers include RRE Ventures, Greenhill SAVP, SoftBank and Lerer Media Ventures.

Once the deal is done, sources say, Spanfeller’s plan is to roll out a series of industry-specific “verticals.” First up: Food.

Aren’t there plenty of food sites out there already? You’d think so, but Spanfeller and his backers figure there’s room for more. After that, they have a list of categories to tackle, with the exception of five they think are overpopulated: News, business/finance, entertainment, traditional sports and technology. Spanfeller declined to comment.

When Spanfeller left Forbes last summer after eight-plus years at the site, his initial plan was to create a sort of repair shop for established publishers’ Web properties. That made sense, given that that’s essentially what he did for the Forbes family when he took over their Web site in 2001. But the new plan is to create stuff from scratch.

Within the Web publishing industry, Spanfeller gets lots of credit for moving from also-ran status into one of the biggest finance sites on the Web. And he gets a fair amount of derision as well, for both a blustery style and a lusty embrace of page views. His most infamous gambit, used more than once: A slideshow detailing the world’s “Top Topless Beaches.”

But the collapse of the last tech bubble and the realization the Web publishing economics require lots and lots and lots of scale have brought many other Web publishers much closer to Spanfeller’s tactics than they’d like to admit. His new challenge: Re-creating that scale with brand new properties.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik