A few things to know about startups in media
How a good idea becomes a valuable startup, and how to infuse journalism values into it.
When you know you have a good idea for a media startup
When talking to all startups taking part in the Startups for News 2017 competition, I got really curious about the moment they realised they had an idea worth pursuing as a separate entity. Eight startups were represented, accounting for almost 20 people, and each of them had different backgrounds.
Yet they all ended up at the GEN Summit in a competition aimed at bridging the gap between the startup world and newsrooms. Blockthrough, Croma, Flourish, Muuze, Politibot, Populate, PushApps and UrbsMedia — went down different paths to become media startups, but gave some clues on how a – sometimes – simple idea can turn into an actual company.
Consulting creates tools
Many of the participants were consultants at some point in the careers and founded software of agency companies. While they were working with different clients and what seemed — various projects — they started to see patterns and build internal tools to help them deal with daily operations. At some point they realised that the toll itself is the value. That happened to Flourish for example, a startup that developed a platform made for producing high-quality interactive content, created by the cofounders of multi-award-winning interactive studio Kiln.digital, based on years of experience working for newsrooms and others.
Your technology tool may not work for the industry you are in but it can be a success in a different one. PushApps started as a “normal” tech startup operating as a software house, before they realised the tool they had in mind is perfect for publishers and editors.
Repurposing the product
Blockthrough was initially invented as a tool made to speed up the process of loading ads to make the experience of browsing websites faster, thus helping both readers and publishers. It dawned on the team that with a few tweaks, they could pivot and help publishers serve ads even if readers have an active adblocker.
Build with editors from day one
Before launching the startup, the founder of Croma, a content distribution analytics platform for news organisations, attended SXSW looking for ideas on his next startup. He got one, drew it on the piece of paper, immediately presented it to seven different publishers, and asked two questions: will it help you? And — will you pay for this? Both answers were — yes. From the beginning the tool was built to match editors’ needs.
Technology finally offered a solution
The founders of UrbsMedia, an editorial agency that combines human-authored data journalism with automation to deliver data-driven stories daily and on a large scale, started as local journalists many years ago. During the years they worked in media, they saw the decline of many local newspapers and initiatives. With open data they saw an opportunity and a niche to fill this gap and help restore the balance. This wouldn’t have been possible just a couple of years ago, but now there is a solution to this problem.
Journalists turned startuppers
Politibot, a platform that allows every company or news outlet to build a chatbot in an easy way, was created by a group of journalists who, at the beginning, only wanted to find a new way to talk about elections. Once they looked into bots they realised that the experience they gathered was unique, and so is the platform they created to further this experience. And thus they became a startup.
Those are only a few “origin” stories, but it’s fascinating to pinpoint the moment when one thinks the idea has a bigger potential than initially thought, and becomes a company worth fighting for.
Integrating journalism values into your startup
Journalism — not only journalists. Not all business decisions made in newsrooms or by publishers in the past few years managed to preserve these values. Sometimes values are contradicting business and optimisation needs. But a new wave of startups seems to have a different approach, with the loftier goal of retaining what’s most important to the public.
The GEN Summit in Vienna, and GEN’s competition Startups for News, was the perfect opportunity to take a look from the other side, the ‘non-business’ one, and ask startup founders how they see their roles in the news ecosystem and integrate values into their product. And boy, do they see a problem with these.
Keeping the internet free and open
“I’m not a journalist but I grew up in the open internet era” sais Martin Kratky-Katz, from Blockthrough. He doesn’t want everything to be paywalled or subscription-based — because “people with less money will not have access to quality information”. This is quite a strong perspective from a startup which helps publishers deliver ads, even through adblockers. What is also important — they not only want to push banners they want to streamline the whole ad experience on the user side.
Helping small and medium newsrooms
Duncan Clark, from Flourish — “When you look at how much money big publishers spend on interactive visualisations, it’s impossible to justify this for small and medium outlets. We believe that with Flourish we will be able to help those medium organisations who feel left behind and give them the tools to make their work even better”.
Making sure you talk to journalists
PushApps CEO Eliran Lazar, when introducing his company, routinely talks to business developers, then editors, and IT guys. As, even though interventions from journalists are not required in the process as the app delivers content automatically and specifically, he wants to make sure his tool is understood by all on how it helps the work of the whole newsroom.
New privacy regulations will become law in Spain in 2018, but Politibot is already one step ahead with an implemented solution. Miguel Eduardo said “We are the only bot that asks you to confirm terms of service before you use it. Moreover, we wrote the rules in simple language not regular legal form so it’s easy for the user to understand.” Politibot is aware that bots are present in a very intimate space — messengers. Between conversations with friends and family — they carry great power and reach. The startup founders want to be fair, transparent, and protect the reader.
“We care about public service” says Juan Melano, CEO of Croma, “helping people understand the world we live in. Journalism is one of the industries which has the potential to change the world for better. The sense of mission is coming back — and we want to be a part of it.”
“We enable citizens and organisations to better understand and interact with the world around them,” says the mission statement of startup Populate. The co-founder, Fernando Blat, puts it simple terms: “We want readers and citizens to see data and objective facts”.
Shout out to UrbsMedia (who became the runner up of the Startup for News 2017 competition) for adding to their pitch a few words about countries becoming more democratic. The open data ecosystem is greatly associated with open government and civic society. The lack of local journalism is clearly undermining beliefs in democracy on lower levels in less urban areas especially. UrbsMedia is aware that besides being a business, they also play a very important role in the development and betterment of society.
About Startups for News
Startups for News is an international competition that rewards early-stage startups working on high-impact and daring solutions for the news industry. Every year, the Global Editors Network, in partnership with Journalism.co.uk selects the best startups that address newsroom challenges through dynamic and innovative products or services. To learn more about the programme, click here