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Journalists' startups bridge gap between storytelling and technology

Journalists' startups bridge gap between storytelling and technology

Jenny Manrique | May 25, 2016

With the many challenges that digital media has brought to the journalism industry, more journalists are transitioning to a more entrepreneurial career path. In order to make their ideas sustainable, reporters are learning about business models, elevator pitches, marketing, how to self-brand and other concepts that traditionally belong to the startup: risk, uncertainty and occasional failure.

Journalism schools’ programs are increasingly oriented to develop innovative projects and boost the creation of new media companies as a result. One of these programs is the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, part of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Last week, 18 fellows who spent four months in the program presented their own startup ventures during a demo night in New York. The showcase included journalists from 12 countries creating content for local communities, platforms for publishers and reporters to share their work, data-driven news agencies and new approaches of the intersection between technology and storytelling.

Here are some of the startups featured during the event:

Haptical was created to inform and inspire curiosity about immersive technologies. The website so far compiles the best stories and ideas about virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree video, tele-immersion and haptics technology. Founder Deniz Ergürel, a technology journalist from Istanbul, said he wants “to build a guide on virtual reality journalism” to provide insights about the next generation of computing platforms in an “easy and understandable way.” Ergürel is currently working on a prototype to build a newsletter in a virtual reality format, imagining how people will browse the internet with this technology.

Her Africa is an online startup gathering news, critique and analysis from African women. It is expanding from its original web-based platform Her Zimbabwe, which promotes feminist thought leadership in the African country. Founder Fungai Machirori was inspired by her mother, who became the first woman editor of a newspaper in Zimbabwe during the 80s. “We do training in digital security, digital media and digital literacy, and since we went to nonprofit two years ago we have raised US$300,000 and got contributions from journalists located in more than 10 countries throughout Africa,” said Machirori. She now wants to go “more continental” and feature voices like those ones of the African diaspora. “If we get more women in places of privilege to help other women, the possibilities are infinite.”

Newsrooms aiming to stimulate and collect user-generated videos from their communities based on geographic location can use Vox Pop. As its name suggests, it collects the voices of people on the street who want to provide video answers to questions raised in the context of current events. “Vox Pop provides a way to engage more with the public opinion, avoiding the trolling of comments on the internet, as the user has to sign a disclaimer before sending the video knowing that the material will be used in a story,” explained its founder, Italian journalist Davide Mancini. Journalists receive the geotargeted videos in a dashboard, from where they can review and curate the answers. Mancini’s project has recently been funded by the Google Digital News Initiative.

Volt Data, the first data-driven news agency in Brazil, covers human rights, social development, economic issues and technology in order to provide data-driven stories to small and mid-sized newsrooms, as well as to NGOs. Its founder, the Brazilian journalist Sergio Spagnuolo, is convinced that “data is the new black,” and has spent the last four months working to “research, analyze and transform data into something that people can actually understand.” In partnership with fact-checking websites like Aos Fatos and Gastos Abertos, he and his team have analyzed federal government loans in Brazil, and created a database about journalists’ layoffs in the country.

Mobile app GoClevr scours the world to deliver fresh insights and analysis from journalists “with the brightest minds and sharpest wits.” According to its founder, Australian editor and professor Peter Fray, GoClevr is for readers who don’t have the time to find their favorite authors or seek out new ones.

“As the content is more tailored and personal, it will help to increase engagement with the bylines,” Fray said. Publishers can recommend authors to readers, listeners and viewers, on the basis of their reading habits.” In his research, Fray found that people want to know more about the authors, their analysis and opinions, something he calls “the YouTube effect.”

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Steven Zwerink. Secondary image taken by Jenny Manrique.

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