The funding will help the company double its staff in the next year and develop new features, Hearken co-founder Jennifer Brandel told Current. It now employs six employees and an intern. By the end of next year, Hearken expects to have 12–15 employees “if our projections hold,” Brandel said.
Hearken’s platform helps news outlets engage audiences by allowing readers to submit and vote on ideas for stories that journalists should cover. (Current is a client of Hearken.) The company grew out of Curious City, which Brandel developed at Chicago’s WBEZ as one of the Association for Independents in Radio’s Localore projects.
Hearken plans to add an “interactive reporter’s notebook” to its platform over the next year, Brandel said. The tool will help reporters share updates with readers about their work on stories. It could work as a “very micro newsletter” that readers can sign up to receive after voting for stories and could also be published alongside stories as an “ingredient list to show what went into the story,” Brandel said. The tool is expected to launch in late spring.
Twenty-three investors put up the latest round of funding for Hearken, a for-profit company. Other than New Media Venture, which invested $50,000, Brandel declined to name the investors. She did say that investors include people in Chicago’s tech scene and angel investors interested in women-owned tech companies and media technology. The investments are convertible notes that will become equity in Hearken in the future, according to Brandel.
Founded earlier this year, Hearken has 40 clients, 27 of which are now using the platform on their sites. Eighteen are public media outlets, said Brandel, and 14 of those are public radio and television stations. Annual memberships start at $6,000, with nonprofit newsrooms receiving a discounted rate.
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