By Putting His Own Twist on the News, This UVA Alumnus Is Fulfilling a Dream

January 5, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

Max Frost’s success in the media industry shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider he landed his first newspaper gig at 7 years old. 

“It was a movie review about the first Harry Potter movie,” Frost said. “It was kind of a joke at the time.”

More than two decades later, Frost is a University of Virginia alumnus and the president of RocaNews, a media company that looks nothing like The (Glens Falls, New York) Chronicle that printed his debut article. 

Roca is a nontraditional outlet producing content in short, digestible bits posted on social media platforms and compiled in a daily morning newsletter. Launched less than four years ago, it has more than 5 million followers across Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and the newsletter

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Roca’s quick rise and apparent appeal to a young audience were among the reasons why Forbes chose its founders – Frost, William Carney and Max Towey – to be part of its most recent “30 Under 30” lists recognizing the brightest young minds in North America.

One could say Frost, 29, was destined for this kind of career from birth. His father, Mark, founded The Chronicle in 1980 and still serves as the weekly newspaper’s publisher and editor. While the younger Frost might have gotten his feet wet on the entertainment page, he soon dabbled in other beats and developed the goal of becoming a foreign correspondent. 

The path to Roca, though, went through UVA. It was on Grounds where Frost, who majored in foreign affairs and international economics, turned into a research assistant within the Department of Politics. As a fourth-year student, he worked with professor Peter Furia on a project analyzing the frequency and distribution of global terrorist attacks. 

Max and friends

Frost, right, and fellow RocaNews founders William Carney, center, and Max Towey, left, have had early success with their nontraditional media outlet. (Contributed photo)

“The professors I had there were unbelievable,” Frost said. “The breadth of knowledge that I covered in my classes was amazing. I took so many classes that are relevant to me now.”

Outside of the classroom, Frost founded UVA’s Alpha Sigma Phi chapter and guided the fraternity through its infancy stages. He said it was a draining, but fruitful experience that he still taps into when faced with the daily challenges of running a startup company. 

“Working a 12-hour day doesn’t feel like anything when you believe in what you’re doing and you feel like it’s working,” Frost said. “And that was something I got there. The late nights brainstorming ... it’s the same thing, right? ‘How are you going to recruit people? How are you going to do this? How are you going to do that?’

“Here it’s, ‘How are you going to get downloads? How are you going to increase your revenue?’”

Frost, who graduated from UVA in 2016, and Towey, a University of Notre Dame alumnus, were colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute in the spring of 2020 when the spread of COVID-19 was dominating the news cycle with a variety of headlines that frustrated the pair.

Max and family at graduation

Frost has roots in journalism, stemming from his father, left, owning a weekly newspaper since 1980. (Contributed photo)

“You went to one channel, you got one thing,” Frost said. “You went to another channel, you got the other thing. And we just realized that if you’re not particularly political or if you just want to know what’s going on and don’t trust mainstream news companies, there’s not really a good source.”

Their solution was to create their own niche in the crowded news market. With help from a third founder, Carney, another Notre Dame alumnus, Roca was formed in August 2020. It introduced its snappy style with a “quick cards” Instagram post on Jan. 5, 2021, that ran through the day’s major news stories with a meme and four swipes. 

 

 

Within a year of its launch, Roca hit 1 million Instagram followers and had tens of thousands of subscribers to its daily newsletter. It now has an interactive app – complete with games, polls and a discussion section – with 30,000 monthly active users. 

Forbes reported that Roca, which is based in New York City and has a full-time staff of 10, has generated $5.36 million in investments and projected $350,000 in revenue for 2023. 

Roca, Frost said, has separated itself from competing news outlets by concentrating on three areas. They always aim to make the news relatable, make complex topics simple, and to prioritize global stories because their audience grew to enjoy them. 

Max in Ethiopia

Roca has led Frost to report from all over the world, including a trip to Ethiopia. (Contributed photo)

“It was amazing to us what people found interesting,” Frost said. “It could be like a coup in Myanmar and we would write about it and people would be like, ‘I had no idea! This is so interesting!’”

Naturally, this development has fallen right in the wheelhouse of a former foreign affairs major – to the point where Frost has now fulfilled his dream of reporting overseas. 

Roca has led him to on-site coverage from Ukraine, Ethiopia and Kosovo, among other places. 

“Journalism jobs are not exactly easy to come by,” Frost said. “And they don’t pay all that well. And that’s the thing I always thought to myself. I didn’t know if it would be possible to make a good living and do the kind of work I wanted to do. That was always a stressful reality. 

“And then, through hard work and some good luck, Roca’s giving me the opportunity I always wanted. It amazes me.”

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications