This morning, The Paley Center for Media hosted a forum called “The Next Big Thing in Digital News Innovation,” with six presenters from “news and information startups.” Each speaker was given five minutes to explain their company and five minutes to answer questions.
First up was Melinda Wittstock, the founder and CEO of NewsiT, a mobile “crowd-reporting” platform for people to upload pictures, video, and text, which is then verified using editors and an algorithm before being distributed. In order to encourage users to upload content without being paid, NewsiT relies on the “gamification” model for motivation, with points, badges, and advertising-based awards, an idea that has been implemented by other crowdsourced news platforms. (More on that here.)
Shane Snow is the cofounder of Contently, a platform for connecting freelance journalists and publishers. The business makes money if both parties use Contently to make their transactions, and it promises to make life easier for both editors and freelancers, providing a virtual “marketplace” for both to increase their efficiency.
BiblioCrunch, created by Miral Sattar, is a “one-click” publishing tool for e-books, which gives journalists and other content producers the ability to publish in various eBook formats. For now, BiblioCrunch is invite only.
Engagio, created by William Mougayer, is an “engagement inbox,” whose interface is modeled off of Gmail. Engagio allows a person to manage all their commenting, tweets, Facebooking, and any other interactions they are having online. Putting “all your social identities into one place” creates a “unified engagement dashboard.” It’s what Tweetdeck was to Twitter, but Engagio is meant to be for all online conversations.
Kara Oehler is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of Zeega, an HTML5 platform for multimedia storytelling. The platform is open source, to allow developers to add to the project. “In the end we’re hoping it’s used like YouTube or Wordpress, where you don’t need to know how to code” to build collaborative documentaries, says Oehler.
The final presentation was from Christopher Burrage, the director of business development for MetaLayer, a platform for interpreting data, at this point mainly from Twitter, and analyzing it based on “sentiment analysis, influence detection, and optical character recognition.” Described as a “drag and drop experience,” Burrage says the tool is meant to allow journalists to be “their own data analysts.”
While the ideas being presented were certainly innovative, the following words and phrases were said at least a dozen times each: “engagement,” “interactive,” “democratization,” and “user-generated.” There’s nothing wrong with these notions, but strangely absent was any discussion about quality, the public interest, storytelling, reporting, accountability or research; the parts of journalism that matter; the parts that ultimately make a real impact on people’s lives. Experimentation is essential in the search for new business models in the media industry, but somewhere in the discussion, it would be nice to remember what’s most important here: an empowered citizenry informed by a hard working, responsible press.