It's a challenging time in the digital media industry. BuzzFeed Inc. and Vice Media Inc., which defined a generation of news startups, dismissed hundreds of employees this year in cost-cutting maneuvers. But a glimmer of hope is coming from a software company in Tokyo.

SmartNews Inc. announced Monday a new investment valuing the business at $1.1 billion (about ¥116.5 billion).

That makes it the first unicorn startup in the news business since BuzzFeed and Vox Media Inc. achieved that status within a week of one another four years ago.