CUNY Meetup Showcases Journalism Startups
If you work in PR, it is good to keep an eye on the world of media innovation. You don’t want to be the last to hear about the up and comers – e.g. the next BuzzFeed or Vice. Some journalism startups aim to breathe fresh life into storytelling, and we might learn a thing or two that has applications for PR and content marketing.
That is why I enjoyed the demo night at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism early this week. There was a good mix of concepts, spanning apps, local news, data-driven journalism and virtual reality.
I saw five demos, and they were all interesting. Most had experienced teams and investors and/or corporate backers. It is hard to know which ones will succeed – but I think they are all worth checking out.
Please see below for my quick thoughts on each.
Lenses, a collaborative effort involving News Corp., NYU, Columbia University and the NYC Media Lab, is a web-based toolkit for the visualization of public data.
Anyone can point it to a data source (e.g. think NYC BigApps) and generate cool graphs that help users spot trends and glean insight. Be sure to check out their upcoming hackathon.
This ambitious undertaking aims to democratize reporting, through a site that lets anyone submit a story and earn from ad revenue. Founder Amanda Gutterman set the stage by discussing her experiences as an unpaid intern at Condé Nast, and work at the Huffington Post. Of course, the latter taps an army of unpaid contributors.
Sadly, the content explosion has led to a cheapening of writing and reporting. With Slant, she wants to give those who are not professionals a way to have their voices heard and make money.
Their editors work their magic on the content, selecting the best stories for inclusion on the front page of the site – and optimizing for SEO and social media.
I loved this one, and any site that pays writers. They have been open since September and have a couple of thousands of writers. It is no get rich quick scheme – the best ones get paid $1-2K month. But hey, it is a start.
I think they have their work cut out. There is the scalability issue – Slant will need an army of editors to do the job right, i.e. truly give more people a voice, and more content a fair shot. There is also the old chicken vs. egg problem – how do you interest advertisers until the site has reached critical mass? Why should writers jump on board for crumbs (if anything) at first, until you have lots of users and good ad revenue?
I hope they figure these things out and succeed.
This is a new mobile app that gives directions and helps you find your way based on landmarks in the area, i.e. what you see. It’s an idea that makes so much sense, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before.
Founder Allison McGuire started by asking the audience to raise their hand if they have ever left a subway station, directions in hand, and still felt lost. Most of the crowd responded affirmatively.
That is the need they address – very cool indeed.
This app offers a breakthrough in local news delivery. It uses fancy things like machine learning to develop a custom news stream based on the user’s location.
Blockfeed now works in the greater New York metro area, and will soon cover other parts of the country. Local news outlets win too, as the app does not poach their content – it just shows a snippet, and directs traffic back to the publisher.
This is another one of those ideas that just makes so much sense – and it seems like they have the tech and team to deliver on the promise.
This won the prize for me in terms of the cool factor.
In dry terms, the company is a VR / AR (virtual and augmented) production studio. The website says “We are a collective of journalists and technologists creating media experiences made to be explored across virtual and augmented reality. We design first-person immersive experiences to put you in the shoes of eyewitnesses – and allow you to explore a story from multiple perspectives.”
Founder Dan Archer positioned their approach against 360 degree video, which offers a more passive experience. He said ‘With Empathetic, the story is the container… you can move through it” by using their app and donning an Oculus Rift VR headset.
Dan shared examples. One showed the scene from the Michael Brown shooting episode, which many of us got to know this well through all the news coverage. With Empathetic’s simulation, you can virtually visit the scene and get multiple perspectives.
There is no question that this kind of technology will continue to grow in importance and be used more in journalism and other kinds of content development and marketing. I am reminded of NY Times recent virtual reality push (they used Google Cardboard, and I don’t believe worked with Empathetic).
But it does seem time, labor and cost intensive right now – clearly a lot of work goes into each scene and story. Hopefully some of the barriers will fall, and Empathetic and others in the space will grow and succeed – and will get more VR-enhanced stories.