Laurie Segall spent years at CNN examining the rise of Big Tech. Now she hopes to help people inundated by everything digital to feel a little more flesh and blood.
The journalist, who covered tech start-ups and Silicon Valley while at the news outlet, is launching her own production company, Dot Dot Dot, with colleague Derek Dodge, a media executive who has held roles at MTV, Discovery and CNN, among other places. The company today debuts its first podcast, “First Contact,” which is being distributed by iHeartMedia.
“I think the new next thing in technology is humanity,” says Segall, in an interview.
The first three episodes of “First Contact” offer a blueprint of sorts to the types of stories the new company might tell. In one, Segall discusses the potential rise of dating bots, artificial-intelligence creations that will browse dating apps, flirt and set up meetings. In another, she interviews WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who left Facebook with hundreds of millions in tow, and now is placing emphasis on privacy.
Will Pearson, the chief operating officer of the iHeart Podcast Network, thinks the programs will appeal not only to tech-savvy listeners but also to others who may not be as close to this dynamic industry. Other podcasters believe in limited release, he says, but iHeart can use its radio stations to generate wider pass-along. “We can make sure the audiences we feel would likely be interested will have the opportunity to learn about it.”
Podfund, an investor in “audio-first companies,” is an investor in Dot Dot Dot. Podfund was attracted to the notion of Dot Dot Dot making its first stand through audio, then branching out, says Nicola Korzenko. “There are other docuseries and probably lots more to come,” she adds.
LionTree Partners has also taken an equity stake in the new concern and, through its digital-media advisory subsidiary Kindred Media, will provide support to help accelerate content development. “The human experience rises above any consumer product, technology, or business model. Dot Dot Dot explores this complex and enduring relationship through the lens of the companies that define our culture, for better or worse,” says Aryeh B. Bourkoff, LionTree Founder and CEO, in a statement provided to Variety. “Kindred Media and LionTree are excited to support Laurie and her team as she begins this new journey.” Van Jones, the activist and CNN personality, Sam Esmail, the director and producer, and Michael Sugar, the movie and TV producer, are advisors.
Segall joins a growing exodus in the news business, as journalists of many stripes seek potential rewards from entrepreneurial ventures. Dan B. Harris, an ABC News anchor who did stints on both “Nightline” and the weekend edition of “Good Morning America,” in June announced he would leave his duties at the late-night ABC News program to focus on his own venture. Soledad O’Brien, a former CNN anchor, has for several years presided over her own production company. Dan Abrams moved from long-term jobs at ABC News and MSNBC to building his own media company. And Megyn Kelly now seems to be testing the waters, having delivered some recent news reports via Instagram and YouTube.
Some of the moves are sparked by the end of a tenure with a traditional news organization. Others come as the result of the journalist wanting to pursue outside ventures and ambitions. But at a time when digital media allows for the development of programs aimed at niche audiences, there is growing appetite for content from single producers, as well as from mainstream news organizations.
“There is an opportunity for this type of content. It doesn’t necessarily break down into soundbites. It’s nuanced and complicated and lives in a grey area,” says Segall. “Some are for podcasts. Some are for documentaries. Some are for scripted shows. Some are for broadcast. They just don’t fit into one box.”
Other projects are in the works. Segall has inked a deal for a non-fiction memoir with Harper Collins that is currently scheduled for publication in the spring of 2021. HarperCollins bills the project as “a voice-driven coming of age story about breaking barriers as a female journalist during the second wave of tech.” The studio is said to have an original documentary series in development.
“The real vision is a modern-day studio,” says Dodge. “We want to be creating and producing content for all of these different platforms, but we also want to have Dot Dot Dot be a brand that people know and have our own audience.”