An unfinished list of ventures in journalism you should be watching (and why)
October 20, 2013 (updated on June 20, 2015)
One thing that makes current times so interesting for journalism is that everybody is still looking for a model that will work for journalism in the 21st century. Given the speed of technological change and the complexity of what is now the media landscape, it’s unlikely we’ll ever find a model that will work for more than a few years for more than a few publishers. The hype around native advertising or metered paywalls is primarily a manifestation of the hope for silver bullets.
There will have to be lots of experiments.
So here’s a list of journalism ventures worth watching closely, each for a different set of reasons.
I’m fully aware that this list falls short of highlighting all the movers and shakers in the field of journalism. That’s why I invite everyone to suggest additions (either in the comments section or via Twitter). My view is inevitably biased towards European and English language ventures, so I’m especially glad if you point me to ventures from Africa, South America and Asia.
For now, I’ve left out all the ventures that are entering the media sphere from a tech background, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Flipboard, Zite and many more. Neither have I included the likes of The New York Times or The Guardian, assuming that everyone is watching them already.
What? London-based online magazine about «nature, culture and ideas».
Why? Simple concept, great content: one essay each weekday. The kind of venture to answer one of the key questions of the industry: How to fund quality content when you’re not subsidizing it?
Where? Aeon Magazine
What? Al Jazeera’s attempt to produce news for a generation that doesn’t watch news networks on TV anymore.
Why? How will disruption from within the TV industry fare against new players like NowThis?
What? Publisher of multimedia stories via its own iOS app.
Why? For exploring the possibilities of multimedia storytelling (including sound!) and for being an antithesis to snowfallesque projects on the open web.
What? A site for investigative citizen journalism, founded by Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses.
Why? Cutting-edge, web-based reporting by an «outsider» who manages to produce worldwide scoops. A perfect example of how journalism is no longer something only pros in large newsrooms do, but anyone with skills and passion to «commit acts of journalism».
What? Startup incubator, investor, builder based in New York City.
Why? With Digg, Instapaper, Tapestry and Bloglovin in their portfolio, they’ve only started connecting the dots (pun intended).
What? An «iTunes for news», one app to access all news published in the Netherlands. Funded by NYT and Axel Springer to expand internationally.
Why? The idea of an «iTunes for news» has been around for years. This is the first all-in implementation of it and the news industry will be able to learn a lot from either its success or failure. Most interesting – because bold – feature: If a user didn’t like an article s/he just paid for, getting a refund is only a click away.
What? News app that curates individual story elements into mobile-friendly narratives.
Why? They are completely rethinking news narratives for the mobile age with what they call «atomisation of articles». Will be also interesting to watch how their use of notifications – based on what news a user is following – will evolve.
What? Guardian-backed platform for writers to get funding and find collaborators for stories.
Why? Unlike other Kickstarter-esque platforms, Contributoria aims at covering the full cycle of a story, from proposal to publication. Will be interesting to watch if the community will grow strong enough and how it can eventually integrate with the Guardian.
What? Non-profit investigative newsroom. A «German Pro Publica».
Why? Strong team, strong mission, strong initial funding. Can they become the «German Pro Publica», not just in terms of how they are organised, but in terms of impact?
What? Amsterdam-based site for in depth-reporting.
Why? Engaged subscribers and no advertisers – a model for the future?
Where? De Correspondent
What? Publisher of longform stories that have the potential to become movie scripts.
Why? How to plan lifecycle monetisation of big narratives.
Where? Epic Magazine
First Look Media
What? Digital news organisation, funded by billionaire Pierre Omidyar.
Why? How will First Look’s division into a for-profit technology company and a non-profit journalism side play out?
What? General interest data journalism site, headed by Nate Silver, owned by ESPN.
Why? Can a site defined by a journalistic method find its audience?
What? TV Channel aimed at millennials.
Why? They are assembling an all-star-team of young journalists (like Mariana Santos, Tim Pool, Felix Salmon, Alexis Madrigal). Their approach to let those journalists go to where their audience is rather than pulling the audience to them is something to watch and something more news organisations should be thinking about.
What? The publisher behind blogs like Gawker, Lifehacker or Gizmodo.
Why? For constantly experimenting and innovating in reader involvement beyond comments, most notably with Kinja. Plus: Gawker licenses all its content under creative commons.
Where? Gawker Media
NEW Gimlet Media
What? A network of podcasts, so far «Startup» and «Reply All» have launched.
Why? Can podcasts scale enough to support a business of their own. What makes Gimlet so interesting to watch (ok, well: listen to) is that they document their own progress in their «Startup» podcast.
Where? Gimlet Media
What? Platform for storytelling around images and places.
Why? A novel, yet very intuitive approach to storytelling: You start short – when people ask you to «Tell more», you expand.
What? Multinational, independent network of data journalists.
Why? As data journalism is still growing slowly within newsrooms, they are paving the way by producing exemplary work and educating others.
What? Paris-based news site with ironclad paywall.
Why? How to be profitable with no advertising at all.
What? A publishing platform by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
Why? Medium seems to evolve into a 21st century magazine publisher. The beauty of the site and the writing environment attract a lot of great content Medium doesn’t have to pay for.
What? Independent bimonthly magazine and news site based in San Francisco.
Why? A striking example of the strength of non-profit, reader and donation supported journalism.
Where? Mother Jones
What? New York City based digital magazine, dedicated on «sharing in-depth local stories with a universal appeal»
Why? This is what doubling down on local, human-interest narratives looks like. One topic each week, one piece per day, they use the full spectrum of storytelling means to make untold stories big.
What? The publisher behind Syria Deeply and Ebola Deeply.
Why? Take one big issue of our time, double down on it and become the go-to-source for anyone interested in it (while making more people interested in it in the first place). Next chapter about to be lauched: Arctic Deeply.
What? One man curation newsletter by Dave Pell.
Why? Curation is 50% finding the right content and 50% finding a distinct style to present it. Dave Pell is a model for both.
Where? Next Draft
What? News site that produces content specifically for social platforms like Instagram or Vine.
Why? How to produce content that not only spreads over social media, but actually works right there?
What? Paid, digital-only news venture, inspired by Quartz, launched by Switzerland’s most renowned newspaper.
Why? Will enough people pay? The bet is on reducing noise, by focusing on briefs and context/opinion.
What? Collaborative platform from Chile (translates as Powerpedia) to uncover relationships between people, companies and organizations in power.
Why? Rather than pinning the news cycle, they are visualising the fabric that explains a lot about why in in what context some things are happening.
NEW Politico Europe
What? Joint-venture by Politico and Axel Springer to bring Politico to Europe.
Why? Can Politico establish itself as the first strong pan-European news site?
Where? yet to be launched
What? Business news site, founded by The Atlantic in 2012.
Why? Very resource-effective with their browser-only approach and highly standardised article formats and charts. The biggest takeaway is from their editorial approach, though: They make people read business news who didn’t know they were interested in business.
What? A «global news community» by First Look Media, headed by Andy Carvin
Why? What’s possible if a news organisation is freed from the need to pull people to their site and can report and publish wherever there is an audience?
NEW Serial Podcast
What? Blockbuster podcast success of 2014, one large investigation, told in episodes. Next season due in 2015.
Why? Put the success formula of tv dramas to work for journalism, introducing podcasts to the mainstream along the way. Where can they take it from there?
Where? Serial Podcast
What? A «news agency of the social media age» from Dublin, Ireland. Acquired by News Corp. in December 2013.
Why? The news agency the 21st century calls for, using technology and crowdsourcing to discover and verify content before anyone else.
What? Not-for-profit journalism project from Melbourne, Australia, «featuring content from the sharpest academic minds»
Why? A journalistic interface between academic discourse and the public, implicitly raising the question: Is science best covered by scientists?
Where? The Conversation
NEW The Skimm
What? A morning briefing, aimed at millennial women.
Why? $6m investment. In a newsletter.
Where? The Skimm
What? Curation site, dedicated to spreading «things that matter».
Why? They’ve proved that you can make serious matters go viral. Should be a lesson to everyone who, when writing headlines, still mistakes boring for serious. Also: How will hiring Amy O’Leary from the NYT change their editorial focus?
What? Vice Magazine’s global news network, launched in February 2014.
Why? Can Vice grow to be the «CNN for Generation Y» it wants to be? And what exactly does that mean?
Where? Vice News
What? New York City based investigative news site, backed by security tech magnate Mati Kochavi.
Why? Dedicated to «mining the unindexed, un-Google-able Web», they are heavily relying on technology to «identify clusters of disparate signals» on the web that will lead to stories.
What? Ezra Klein’s new venture within Vox Media, focused on «explaining the news».
Why? Can a journalist-made Wikipedia with a more narrow focus on news topics work?
What? The publisher behind The Verge, SB Nation and Polygon.
Why? One of the very few media ventures where the CMS drives, not hinders creativity.
Where? Vox Media
What? Zurich-based news site, launched in January 2014.
Why? The first digital only, technology-driven news venture in Switzerland.
What? Copenhagen based publisher of journalistic singles, texts that are longer than articles but shorter than books.
Why? Is extralongform the kind of journalism that can be sold in the digital age, by breaking into the non-fiction book market? «Zetland live» is a experiement to create a «live magazine» that only exists on stage.
Now, add yours.
I have first published this list in October 2013 and continuously updated it. Here are the ventures that used to be on this list, but have been removed since (for very different reasons).
- Buzzfeed, listicle powerhouse turning itself into a force in journalism. – If you’re not watching them already, I guess I can’t help you.
- Matter, a publication for longform storytelling. – Acquired by Medium, now exemplary for their publications approach.
- OnOn.at, an Austrian platform, «re-imagining» the article. – Ceased to be.
- Byliner, an author-centered platform for discovering longform journalism. – Pivoted.
- Evening Edition, an evening briefing on the most important stories of the day. – Ceased to be.
- Krautreporter, a crowdfunded platform for independent journalism. – A disappointment so far. Put back on watchlist.
- Forbes, a business news magazine that pioneered a contributer model for bloggers and advertisers. – Not much news lately, back to watchlist.
- Numbeez, a personalised news app from Tel Aviv for «the numbers you care about». – Didn’t live up to its potential.
- Usvsth3m, started out as a Tumblr and a perfect example of how to pull off innovation from within a large news organisation. Popularised newsgames like no other outlet. – Axed by Trinity Mirror
- Ampp3d, a site for «socially shareable data journalism» that mainly showed how to do data journalism is to be done in a mobile context. – Axed by Trinity Mirror
This list has received way more attention than I had anticipated and I’ve received tons of suggestions for ventures to be added. Here are those I’m currently considering, but haven’t made up my mind about.
3nz, 4newswall, Africa Check, Al Jazeera America, Animalpolitico, Apache.be, BIRN, Delayed Gratification, Der Sender, Dossier.at, Forbes, Grasswire, Internews, Krautreporter, Latterly Magazine, Mindmarket, Niu.ws, OhmyNews, Ozy, Päng!, Politifact, Prozess.report, Quien Manda, Reportagen, Safecast, Texas Tribune, The Detail, The Marshall Project, Transterramedia, ushahidi, Wait But Why, Vio, Webedia.
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in this:
- The end of journalism in the digital age. My optimistic Tumblr.
- To compete with the web’s giants, news organisations need to become better at sending people away
- Weekly Filet. My curation newsletter.
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