The 2017 innovation funding recipients revealed

By Jacqui Park

Journalists have to get in the driver’s seat of change if we want a vibrant media to endure. At the Walkley Foundation, we’re enabling journalists to do that through the Walkley Media Incubator and Innovation Fund.

For the past six months we’ve been working with more than a hundred journalists, entrepreneurs and technologists to develop a media innovation ecosystem. They’ve come to us with their best ideas and we’ve been working these through with them. Now we’re at the stage of announcing five projects for financial support. These are all exciting initiatives. But they’re just part of what’s going on.

The first step was to call for expressions of interest through our applications process.

As the more than 160 applications started streaming in from across Australia and Asia we were astonished by the broad range of problems they were tackling and the innovative solutions people had come up with. We selected 110 teams to take part in an online incubator program, and then from that we chose 28 to participate in intensive shortlist bootcamps in Sydney and Melbourne.

Not surprisingly, building trust in journalism was a big part of it. Fake news has highlighted the challenge we face. It’s exciting to see so many applications coming up with ideas to confront the challenge. My colleague Rose Powell summed up the key trends here and explored the incubator in six charts here.

The projects were often at different stages of development. And, as we’d expect in the innovation space, some of them zigged and zagged through the incubation process. At the end, all were significantly advanced and you could see an important idea starting to take concrete shape. Some of the innovators will continue to mould their ideas and, hopefully, they’ll be back next year with a project closer to fruition.

Kaho Cheung pitching Data Explorer at the 2017 Walkleys Media Incubator and Innovation Fund bootcamps.

Choosing five for funding was hard, but we had to get there. My fellow judges, leading startup investor Niki Scevak, investor Ramin Marzbani and The Australian’s wealth editor James Kirby spent hours going back and forth.

Ultimately, what settled us on these five projects was that the project founder or team had come to a clear understanding of a problem to be solved to make journalism better. They had mapped out their pathway to a solution. Matched with that were the actual people behind the ideas who, it seemed to us, had the passion and guts to get the work done.

Put those together and you’re strapped in, ready for lift-off. Have a look below at how the founders explain what they’re doing:

Burn the Register: $30,000 — Jackson Gothe-Snape

Burn the Register will establish and maintain a crowdsourcing platform for transcribing the thousands of messy, often hand-written, scanned PDF forms that make up the Parliamentary Register of Interests. It will produce searchable, sortable and visualisable data on politicians’ conflicts of interests.

The funding covers the development and hosting costs of the platform and allows a journalist to spend one day each week uploading updated forms, cleaning crowd-sourced submissions, publishing and analysing the data and publicising shortfalls in current transparency measures.

Tapping into an appetite for greater accountability over Australia’s politicians, Burn the Register will cultivate a community engaged in investigative political journalism around the transcribing and analysis of the Register of Interests. The community will ensure data extracted from the Register of Interests remains up to date, and leads, inconsistencies, conflicts and oversights uncovered by the process are shared and investigated. Contributors will be recognised and celebrated through rewards and events.

As a journalism not-for-profit organisation, Burn the Register will spend its first year pursuing funding opportunities to financially support the community on an ongoing basis, including sponsorship, crowdfunding and donations.

Tiny Moguls: $10,000 — Sheree Joseph

Tiny Moguls is a content hub and news site for Generations Y and Z that provides factually accurate news in an emotive and engaging way. Designed to tap into the emotional heft of fake news but for the greater good rather than misinformation, Tiny Moguls is all about empowering its readers.

Core to this is the soon-to-be-launched publications focus on solutions journalism. This means approaching news from a positive perspective about what can be done to solve issues and suffering. The articles are designed to connect young readers to supportive communities that are taking action to improve the world.

The $10,000 will go towards building a prototype with the core functionality, modelled on youth-focused social media platforms such as Snapchat. Some of the funding will also go towards this minimum viable product as it is tested extensively with users.

The first MVP will be a landing page with an interactive map, a signup feature, and some content teasers. To set this up I’ll enlist the help of two developers, a designer, a UX designer and one staff writer. I need to build something people will love if there’s any hope of sustaining the project further. Once the prototype is built, I can then use the funds to engage these audiences and find out how we can build on this phase.

Data Explorer: $10,000 — Kaho Cheung

Innovation in Data award winner with iSentia

Data Explorer is an interactive platform to explore and visualise global public data. Using this tool, journalists and researchers can explore vast datasets from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, UNESCO and the European Union, finding hidden trends that aren’t apparent when looking at the raw numbers.

The funds will mainly be used for UX research and design. Because a prototype has already been built, we can start with an initial round of usability testing. We will select 4–5 participants ranging from journalists to researchers and data analysts. We will then conduct more in-depth user interviews, building detailed user stories and asking them to prioritise features.

The general look and feel will be based on a design style guide. The interface design will build on this and incorporate feedback from UX research.

The remaining funds will go towards web hosting and my own development time. Whilst data is coming live from the ABS/UNESCO/EU API, a database caching strategy will need to be implemented to improve performance. I will also work on the backend/frontend build, towards a fully functioning beta.

A final round of usability and bug testing will occur before the production release.

The City Standard: $5,000 — Farrin Foster and Josh Fanning

The City Standard is a publishing platform that makes the audience part of the process of journalism.

The Standard’s team involves subscribers in pitching yarns, developing them, and funding them, resulting in a space for and sustainable funding model for important, local journalism. Establishing a direct financial and intellectual relationship with the audience means City Standard’s stories can remain uncompromised by the needs of advertisers or by the search for an ever-greater number of clicks.

The City Standard is currently in development, and input from early-adopter subscribers is helping to shape its final form. In its final iteration, it will be a platform where world-class stories in all forms — documentary, illustration, written, podcast, photography, performance, whatever — will be brought to life by outstanding local talent who are informed by an engaged and pro-active audience.

The idea behind the City Standard comes from the lived experience of running an independent media company in a small city. Spearheaded by the team behind Adelaide’s CityMag, the City Standard model has the potential to be rolled out in other small cities to help local media facing similar challenges.

Podbot: $5,000 — Kris Lawson

The podcast recommendation engine or PodBot, uses a curated list of podcasts to help people find and discover great podcast content on whatever platform they’re using.

Users simply start chatting with the bot on Facebook Messenger or using a voice assistant like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple Homepod. Podbot will ask for a few details, such as the type of show they’re looking for or a mood they’re in, and how much time they have available. The bot will then use a curated list of podcasts to recommend a new podcast and allow the user to immediately start listening.

The reason for using a curated list is to make sure that only high-quality podcasts are delivered to audiences. When new podcast listeners look through iTunes or other platforms — they may not have a good indication of what podcasts are engaging or interesting.

There are also podcasts that don’t appear in the iTunes charts but are highly recommended in many podcasting groups online. PodBot will easily help people surface the best content and create a Netflix-like experience for podcasts on whatever device someone is using.

Sign up here to be notified about the 2018 Walkleys innovation program.

This program would not be possible without the support of its key partner Google, as well as program partners iSentia, The Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and BlueChilli.

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