Two media startups of note reached important points in their life cycles last Friday.
One – The News Hub – transitioned from private beta to public launch, while the other – Bellingcat – achieved its crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and is safe in the knowledge it can move forward with its plans.
Both startups represent a move to do something different from what mainstream media is offering audiences:
The News Hub
The News Hub, previously in private beta but launched to the wider public today, is an “open journalism platform that’s free to access but pays contributors for good content”.
That content is produced by contributors, which can include professional journalists as well as amateur citizen journalists. Crucially, The News Hub’s algorithm places a greater weighting on content that is voted up, Reddit-style, by the community rather than hits alone. That supposedly favours quality content over clickbait.
It’s a model founder William Stolerman believes could save the industry’s bacon, though he’s not saying exactly how it’ll turn from a good idea into a viable business:
“For the time being we’re not monetising and we’re not discussing how we’re monetising. The person who really solves the business model of news is going to be on to quite a winner, so we’re keen to keep our cards close to our chest.”
Stolerman evidently isn’t short of confidence, which has probably been part of his success in raising the seed funding required to fund a staff of “up to 10” and to pay the nominal $10 fee to each of the authors of the top 10 percent of stories on the site each month.
Whatever the model is (and Stolerman denied philanthropy was involved when I asked if it would involve either advertising or philanthropy), The News Hub has some stiff competition from platforms like Medium and Forbes, which both pay at least some contributors at some level, are free to access for readers, and have amassed large audiences.
Stolerman says The News Hub’s USP in that regard is a focus on news content, but it remains to be seen if audiences are willing to give up the known and trusted brands that currently play the news game far faster and at a much higher level than a media startup is likely to reach any time soon.
Eliot Higgins – better known as Brown Moses on Twitter – is a self-taught expert in crowdsourced verification of news and user generated content surrounding the war in Syria.
Bellingcat.com will “unite citizen investigative journalists to use open source information to report on issues that are being ignored” and will focus on two main objectives:
- Bringing together a group of citizen journalists who use open source information and have “solidified themselves as experts in their fields”
- Be an information portal for those looking to learn how to become citizen journalists
The site recognises the fact that experts live in many places outside the confines of a national newspaper’s comment section or the contact books of journalists, and the free technology available to those experts allows them to break and verify news faster than some well-staffed and impressively-resourced newsrooms.
Funding-wise, Bellingcat has gone down the crowdfunding route, with the £47,000 planned for finishing the website development, running it for six months and covering administrative fees.
As Higgins mentions on the Kickstarter page: “Crowdfunding allows us to move forward quickly and without financial blessing or permission from any higher institutions.”
That editorial independency will be essential to Bellingcat to avoid accusations of bias that have been levelled at media startups in a similar vein in the past, like (eBay founder) Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media.
Both sites represent a move away from what traditional publishers can offer and the implicit recognition that they can go it alone without the need for a traditional publisher’s help or backing.
While they’re both likely to be too small and niche to present an immediate competitve threat to newspapers or other news-focussed publishers, they represent a more fundamental shift. Both sites are designed to combine a method for quality control with the powerful aggregational capabilities of the web. In the long term, both point to alternatives to the top down approach to providing comprehensive, quality news coverage.
Image via Heisenberg Media used under a Creative Commons license.