John Seward Johnson III

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John S. Johnson
Jsj-6A jpg.jpg
John S. Johnson discusses Harmony Labs, 2017
Born (1966-09-02) September 2, 1966 (age 52)
Boston, Massachusetts
OccupationEntrepreneur, filmmaker, philanthropist
Years active1997–present
Known forBuzzFeed, EYEBeam, Screenwriters' Colony
Spouse(s)Susan Short
Parent(s)John Seward Johnson II
Cecilia Joyce Horton

John Seward Johnson III (born September 2, 1966) is an American filmmaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur.[1] He is a great-grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I (co-founder of Johnson & Johnson) and the son of American artist John Seward Johnson II.

He is the co-founder of Buzzfeed and founder and chairman of Harmony Labs, and founder of Eyebeam, Screenwriters Colony and the Filmmakers Collaborative. He is also a member of the Henry Crown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Boston, Massachusetts.[2] His father, John Seward Johnson II, is an artist known for his life-size bronze statues made of castings of living people depicting them in quotidian situations.[3] His mother, Cecilia Joyce Horton, is a theater producer and novelist.[4] He has a younger sister, Clelia Constance Johnson, an actress known publicly by her stage name, India Blake.[5] Johnson is a first cousin of documentary filmmaker Jamie Johnson.

Johnson studied mathematics and philosophy at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.[6] He holds a master's degree from Columbia University in Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods, with which he graduated in 2013.[7]



Johnson founded art and technology center Eyebeam in 1997.[8] In 2003 Johnson hired Jonah Peretti as Director of Research and Development with the purpose of establishing the web as a place for art experiments. The went on to produce the first online series of public experiments in viral media in the “Contagious Media Showdown”.[9] Eyebeam also produced the first geocoding of public campaign finance data, later served up as the site Fundrace and hosted by the Huffington Post.[10]


In 2006, Johnson co-founded the website BuzzFeed[11] with entrepreneur Jonah Peretti.[12] BuzzFeed is an online media company that detects and accelerates traction of trending news and entertainment. It was initially conceived of as a media analytics company to track viral content.[13]

Harmony Labs[edit]

In 2008, Johnson founded Harmony Institute,[14] an applied research lab exploring how media and society interact and to experiment with using media to support an open, inclusive, democratic society. It has produced peer-reviewed publications, white papers, interactive tools, and contributed to many prominent social impact media projects and campaigns, in partnership with private foundations, advocacy organizations and media publishers.[15][16][17]

In 2017, Harmony Institute became Harmony Labs[18] with a renewed focus on understanding how influence operates within media systems and to experiment with media approaches that optimize for positive social effects. Harmony Labs also runs an accelerator that supports early-stage startups that are building media tech and developing data-driven approaches and tools for understanding and leveraging media influence.[19]

During his time at Harmony, Johnson has co-authored a number of research publications, including Audience preferences are predicted by temporal reliability of neural processing published in Nature Communications,[20] Measuring Impact: The Importance of Evaluation for Documentary Film Campaigns published in M/C Journal,[21] Trailer brain: Neural and behavioral analysis of social issue documentary viewing with low-density EEG published in The International Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN’16),[22] and “No Fracking Way!” Documentary Film, Discursive Opportunity, and Local Opposition against Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States, 2010 to 2013 published in the American Sociological Review.[23]

Johnson Research Labs[edit]

In 2012, Johnson co-founded Johnson Research Labs with Columbia University faculty David Park. JRL is a data science consulting company that developed creative, algorithmic intelligent frameworks allowing industry, government, and society at large to obtain deep insights and knowledge from large, complex systems.[24]

Nosara, Costa Rica Hotels[edit]

In 2004, Johnson and his wife Susan Short, purchased and renovated an old hotel in the Pacific surfing village of Nosara, Costa Rica in an effort to save it from being purchased and developed into a major international commercial-chain facility.[25] The Harmony Hotel is a boutique health and wellness-oriented hotel.[26] They are the hotel’s current owners, and have since purchased two other hotels in Nosara, the Sunset Shack and the Harbor Reef Hotel.[27]

La Voz de Guanacaste[edit]

In 2006, Johnson purchased a local weekly paper in Nosara, La Voz de Guanacaste, and in 2015 turned it into Costa Rica’s first non profit investigative newspaper.[28]

Media Investments[edit]

Johnson was a founding investor in the Huffington Post in 2005, and continued to invest in the news site until 2011.[29]

Creative Ventures[edit]

Johnson wrote, produced, and directed two feature films: Without a Trace: June 10, 1979 (1991)[30] and Ratchet (1996)[31]

In 2002, Johnson established the Screenwriters Colony,[32] a residency-inspired incubator for emerging screenwriters based in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Screenwriters Colony works in partnership with the Nantucket Film Festival.[33]


Johnson serves and has served in various capacities at arts and science organizations including the board of the Dreamland Theater,[34] RepresentUs,[35] Screenwriters Colony,[36] Almanack Arts Colony,[37] and Harmony Labs.[38] He was also a founding board member of the Nantucket Film Festival.

Johnson is also a Trustee of the Atlantic Foundation,[39] which provides grants to such organizations as Eyebeam, Brooklyn Waldorf School, Mary McDowell, Grounds for Sculpture,[40] and Amigos of Costa Rica.

Awards and Honors[edit]

In 2003, Johnson was announced as a Henry Crown Fellow for the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization that “promotes the pursuit of common ground and deeper understanding in a nonpartisan and non-ideological setting”. He was a member of the Discover Class of 2003.[41]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson is married to Susan Short, an artist, documentarian and naturalist.[42] They reside in Brooklyn, New York with their three children.


  1. ^ "John S. Johnson | HuffPost". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  2. ^ "John S. Johnson: "We've Never Wanted to Create Something 'Big' in Nosara"". The Voice of Guanacaste. 2014-11-10. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  3. ^ "About the Artist - Seward Johnson Atelier". Seward Johnson Atelier. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  4. ^ Reed, J. D. (2002-06-30). "Seward's Follies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  5. ^ Reed, J. D. (2002-06-30). "Seward's Follies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  6. ^ "John Johnson - Co-Founder @ BuzzFeed | Crunchbase". Crunchbase. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  7. ^ "John S. Johnson - Founder and Executive Director, Harmony Institute". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  8. ^ "About | Eyebeam". Eyebeam. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  9. ^ "The Humble Origins of Buzzfeed". 2014-03-03. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  10. ^ "FundRace shows neighbors' political donations". CNET. 2004-03-23. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  11. ^ "About BuzzFeed". About BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  12. ^ "INSIDE BUZZFEED: The Story Of How Jonah Peretti Built The Web's Most Beloved New Media Brand". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  13. ^ "Does BuzzFeed Know the Secret?". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  14. ^ Cieply, Michael (2010-07-25). "Group Hopes to Add Punch to Influence Public Opinion". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  15. ^ "How 'Waiting for Superman' (almost) changed the world | Education Reform | Evaluation". Scribd. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  16. ^ "How MTV's Original Programming On Digital Abuse Works In The Real World". Fast Company. 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  17. ^ "StoryPilot: Creating Stories with Impact | video4change". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  18. ^ "About". Harmony Labs. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  19. ^ "7th Innovation Fund Open Call: Shift the Story - New Media Ventures". New Media Ventures. 2018-01-08. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  20. ^ Dmochowski, Jacek P.; Bezdek, Matthew A.; Abelson, Brian P.; Johnson, John S.; Schumacher, Eric H.; Parra, Lucas C. (2014-07-29). "Audience preferences are predicted by temporal reliability of neural processing". Nature Communications. 5: 4567. doi:10.1038/ncomms5567. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 4124862. PMID 25072833.
  21. ^ Karlin, Beth; Johnson, John (2011-11-18). "Measuring Impact: The Importance of Evaluation for Documentary Film Campaigns". M/C Journal. 14 (6).
  22. ^ "CMN'16". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  23. ^ ""No Fracking Way!" Documentary Film, Discursive Opportunity, and Local Opposition against Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States, 2010 to 2013". American Sociological Association. 2015-09-01. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  24. ^ "Johnson Research Labs | Crunchbase". Crunchbase. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  25. ^ "John S. Johnson: "We've Never Wanted to Create Something 'Big' in Nosara"". The Voice of Guanacaste. 2014-11-10. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  26. ^ Coleman, David Amsden,Rachel. "How Buzzfeed's Co-Founder Is Protecting a Costa Rican Town". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  27. ^ "Harmony Hotel and Sunset Shack Owners Buy Harbor Reef Hotel". The Voice of Guanacaste. 2016-07-15. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  28. ^ "About Us". The Voice of Guanacaste. 2013-06-02. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  29. ^ "John Johnson - Co-Founder @ BuzzFeed | Crunchbase". Crunchbase. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  30. ^ "John S. Johnson - Founder and Executive Director, Harmony Institute". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  31. ^ Johnson, John (1998-02-06), Ratchet, Tom Gilroy, Margaret Welsh, Mitchell Lichtenstein, retrieved 2018-04-19
  32. ^ "John S. Johnson, Screenwriters Colony - SRQ Daily Apr 20, 2015". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  33. ^ "Screenwriters Colony". Nantucket Film Festival. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  34. ^ "Board of Directors | Nantucket's Nonprofit Film & Cultural Center". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  35. ^ "About | Represent.Us". Represent.Us. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  36. ^ "About | Screenwriters Colony". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  37. ^ Pykosz, Lindsay. "Screenwriters Colony expanding its reach". The Inquirer and Mirror. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  38. ^ "Team". Harmony Labs. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  39. ^ N/A. "The Atlantic Foundation - LInkedIn".
  40. ^ "Our Supporters". Grounds For Sculpture. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  41. ^ "Programs - Henry Crown - Class VII - AGLN - Aspen Global Leadership Network". AGLN - Aspen Global Leadership Network. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  42. ^ Lipton, Eric (2016-03-02). "A BuzzFeed Founder's Costa Rican Hideaway". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-19.