Alert the Press! 4 Startups that are Changing Digital Journalism

Alert the Press! 4 Startups that are Changing Digital Journalism


New York’s digitally savvy scribes gathered to check out the latest innovations that might change the media landscape.


The Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism DemoNight showcased five media ventures that are trying to break new journalistic ground. The presenters of the evening included:

Informerly – Co-founder Ranjan Roy shared his idea to help everyone interested and associated with the e-commerce field to “stay informed.” Using a model that resembles Reddit, Informerly allows users, primarily e-commerce professionals, to post links and vote for stories they like, bringing the favorites to the top of the news stream. The site also sends out two weekly emails covering all there is to know about the e-commerce world. Roy hopes to capitalize on the “democratization of distribution,” implying that whether users are newbie bloggers or Bloomberg reporters, if the story is good, it will be popular. The site’s algorithm also adjusts stories based on the user’s clicks/interests, giving him/her more of a certain topic he/she more often reads.

OpBandit – OpBandit’s founders Brian Muller and Blaine Sheldon wanted to help media houses answer two questions when dealing with content – which pitches would capture the most readers and which stories to feature online, where there is no space constraints. OpBandit uses responsive content to help publishers see how readers engage with their stories by entering multiple options for stories, headlines, pictures and the like. The SaaS subscription model provides real-time feedback to the publishers, allowing them to iterate their content to generate the most views. The user engagement information is stored for 30 minutes before being updated. Partnerships with the likes of Getty Images mean that OpBandit can suggest pictures to go with stories by searching for key phrases. Other partners include Slate and PBS Newshour. The site is now targeting brands like Pepsi and Red Bull, both of whom create a large amount of original content.

SpokenLayer – Producing audio versions of news stories, SpokenLayer can be called an Audible for the news junkie. Stating how publishers ignore the one accessory almost everyone has – earphones – founder Will Mayo said he decided to create audio news stories after dealing with learning issues in school. The platform has an average turnaround time of 26 minutes per story, with voice-over artists across the world working from their own professional studios. SpokenLayer launched its partnership with the New Republic earlier this year and noticed that 62% of the users were listening to the entire recording. With Fast Company, the use of audio decreased the number of bounces and increased the time spent on a page. These companies pay SpokenLayer to produce the audio versions of their content. The model works for advertisers, since people are used to having sponsor messages interrupt their listening experience on the radio or Spotify. Future collaborations include Medium, Narratively, TIME and Time Out, with the mobile application coming out later this year.

The Lo-Down – The Lo-Down is a hyper local news site dedicated to the Lower East Side. Started by Ed Litvak and Traven Rice, the 4-year-old site is updated 5-10 times a day and has a print supplement that was launched in 2012. The magazine is published every month and distributed to about 10,500 readers, reaching close to 1/3rd of the local  community. Print made sense for the team because they wanted to cut the digital clutter and build brand awareness. A vibrant news site coupled with the print magazine helped make the neighborhood coverage more thorough. Surprisingly, ad sales haven’t been a problem, with many local establishments purchasing space in the magazine.

Before wrapping up the evening, the presenters were asked what lessons they’d learned from running their own businesses. The replies varied from taking risks to doing what feels right to addressing customer feedback early on in the process to pushing forward and trying to stay out of the comfort zone.

If these ventures are any indication of the future, then journalism is in for exciting times.

For full coverage of tech events in New York, visit The Watch.

About the author: Kamakshi Ayyar

Kamakshi Ayyar is a freelance journalist based in New York. She studied law at Mumbai University, India and received her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. She has written for Business India, Roosevelt Island’s Main Street Wire and The Villager.

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