Major media companies invest in online news startup

Some of the nation’s most prominent media companies are investing in a mysterious Silicon Valley online news venture called Ongo.

The company announced last week that the corporate parents of “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post” and “USA Today” have invested $4 million each and contributed members to the Cupertino, CA-based company’s board of directors.

On its website, Ongo said only it’s “a startup company soon to launch a consumer service for reading and sharing digital news and information from multiple publishers.” Its founder and CEO, Alex Kazim, once headed eBay’s Skype subsidiary.

Neither Ongo nor the investors would give more specifics about what exactly Ongo will do. However, the media companies that invested in Ongo are looking at a variety of strategies for making more money online as revenue from traditional print advertising declines. They are putting more of their offerings on mobile devices such as Apple’s iPad. Some, including “The New York Times,” plan on charging readers to view some material on their websites.

New York Times Co. spokeswoman Abbe Serphos told The Associated Press that those investing in Ongo have been talking with the company for more than a year, although it was officially incorporated only in April. “We see Ongo as a smart way to work with other news and information providers,” she said, declining to give further details.

Washington Post Co. spokeswoman Rima Calderon said, “We’re interested in experimenting with different ways to experience digital news and information.”

And Robin Pence, a spokeswoman for “USA Today” publisher Gannett Co., said “It’s an opportunity to work with two very high-quality media partners and an excellent and experienced technology group.”

Whatever shape Ongo takes, the publishers are gaining some measure of influence through seats on the company’s board. The Times Co.’s Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations, will serve as a director along with Washington Post Co. chief digital officer Vijay Ravindran and Gannett’s head of digital operations, Jack Williams.