TD Ameritrade founder launches facts-first news site

"Straight Arrow News" asks users to rate whether they think a story has too much bias.
(Image courtesy Straight Arrow News; Graphic by The Desk)

A billionaire philanthropist who is best known for his founding of the financial brokerage firm TD Ameritrade has set his sights on shaking up the digital news industry.

This week, a holding firm owned by philanthropist Joe Ricketts launched “Straight Arrow News,” a new digital news website that aims to offer fact-based top stories without any apparent political slant.

Ricketts’ approach is not entirely new: Some, like Newsy from the E.W. Scripps Company, have made it their mission to counter the plague of incendiary cable news opinion shows with an offering of factual information without any partisan spin.

But Ricketts thinks there’s still a deficit in the market, telling the Omaha News that there is “a gap in the market — there’s no source for unbiased, fact-based news”

“Some people say you can’t have unbiased news,” he charged, without specifying who those people were. “I want to prove them wrong with Straight Arrow News.”

In a sizzle reel for the new media venture, staffers at Straight Arrow News promise to offer top stories on domestic issues, business, politics and other matters without any obvious agenda. Through their website and apps, readers will be able to vote on whether they think a news story has any subliminal bias, and Straight Arrow News pledges full transparency on any editorial decisions it makes.

The project is not Ricketts’ first attempt at launching a digital news venture. More than a decade ago, he founded DNAinfo, which covered local news in the New York City and Chicago metropolitan areas. He later acquired Gothamist, another alternative local news website for New York City. He merged both operations in 2017 before shutting it down after staffers threatened to form a union. (The following year, Chance the Rapper acquired the assets of the Chicago media operation; other local websites were sold off to various public media broadcasters in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.)

Ricketts told the Omaha News that he plans for Straight Arrow News to operate as an independent and profitable entity. He did not offer specifics on how he intends to achieve this, but he said the product will serve an unmet customer demand in the journalism market.

“I’ve built my career on the idea that a good business is one that serves an unmet customer need,” he told the newspaper.

Conway Cliff, the former vice president of programming at the conservative-oriented startup television network The First, was hired last October to serve as the president of Straight Arrow News. Cliff previously served as a key executive in charge of programming development and Glenn Beck’s news venture The Blaze and is a veteran of cable news channels CNN, Bloomberg and CNBC.

Straight Arrow News will be based in Omaha, where his holding company is established, though Ricketts said the rise in remote working technology would ultimately allow Straight Arrow News employees to work from anywhere. The statement indicated Straight Arrow News might be open to hiring journalists in smaller cities where media opportunities are scarce.

The website is currently publishing a handful of news stories online and to an associated YouTube channel, where a sizzle reel promoting Straight Arrow News was uploaded late Wednesday night. It is operating with a skeleton staff spread out across multiple cities, according to people familiar with the service, but the company is aggressively hiring and has frequently posted listings for new employment through its LinkedIn page.

Thanks for reading and supporting The Desk. If you have a question, comment or news tip, send a message by email or text, or connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Also, check out our new membership service The Desk: Pro Access for exclusive reporting, news scoops and in-depth analysis.