Y Combinator Challenge #3 – New News

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first  

3. New news. As Marc Andreessen points out, newspapers are in trouble. The problem is not merely that they’ve been slow to adapt to the web. It’s more serious than that: their problems are due to deep structural flaws that are exposed now that they have competitors. When the only sources of news were the wire services and a few big papers, it was enough to keep writing stories about how the president met with someone and they each said conventional things written in advance by their staffs. Readers were never that interested, but they were willing to consider this news when there were no alternatives.

News will morph significantly in the more competitive environment of the web. So called “blogs” (because the old media call everything published online a “blog”) like PerezHilton and TechCrunch are one sign of the future. News sites like Reddit and Digg are another. But these are just the beginning.

My Idea – The Newsroom

I get lost easily.  The other day I was a good ten minutes late to a meeting and was roaming the halls of a strange building when I turned a corner and stumbled upon what appeared to be the msnbc central command room.  There were glass windows on the outside and you could see all the editors, writers, and talent running around like crazy trying to discover the latest scoop and push it out to the millions of readers/viewers out there.  The energy in the room was amazing, it definitely looked like a fun place to hang out.  So for today’s idea, instead of trying to go all crazy reinventing the entire news space, I instead came up with a fun way to bring together the power and excitement of the traditional newsroom into a distributed online community.

In a nutshell, this idea is the “AP wire for the web”.  Picture a scenario where users visit a site and choose the role they want to play: copy writer, copy editor, fact checker, reporters, and editor-in-chief.  As news stories break in real time, users on the site would collaborate with each other online to publish formatted, high-quality stories via a web service and/or rss feed.  Here’s how this could work, following the workflow of a story as it progresses from the initial discovery through the final publishing.

Reporters – Reporters would be responsible for discovering the most interesting news items of the hour.  Reporters can submit their own stories that they find from a variety of sources (either fresh stories from standard news aggregation services or breaking news from their own sources).  The posted stories are displayed on the page, and the other reporters on the site can discuss which stories should be published (via chat, voice, or streaming video).  The reporters then cast votes for the stories they want to see published, and the ones with the most votes get pushed to the copy writers.

Copy Writer – The Writers review the stories that are pushed out from the Reporters and choose one to write up.  Writers have several different options of stories to write, such as 50/250/1000 word summaries or opinion pieces.  Writers work quickly to complete their stories and post them back to the site where they are fed along to the copy editors.

Copy Editor – The copy editor role is pretty basic – they take the initial stories from the Writers and fix issues such as spelling/grammar mistakes, style problems, etc..  Once the stories are edited, they are sent along to the Fact Checkers.

Fact Checker – Again, pretty basic.  Fact Checkers go through the stories and do some basic due diligence to verify any specific facts stated in the articles.  They are also responsible for making sure that the sources are properly attributed and to ensure that the posts aren’t simply copy/paste jobs from existing news sources.

Editor-in-Chief – The editor-in-chief is the only role that cannot be self-selected.  These are the top contributors on the site and are elected from within the community. These guys have the final say on whether a story is fit to be published to the live stream.  Editor-in-Chiefs also can make last-minute updates to the copy or send a story back to a specific team for further review.

So, what makes this idea work?  For one, it would be really fun!  This site would bring together people who are passionate about the discovery and creation of news into a fun, fast-paced environment that functions almost like a social game for writers and news junkies.  Also, instead of hundreds of individuals posting similar blog posts on each story that comes out (and likely not getting much attention on their own), these users instead have the option to come together and contribute to a story that would potentially reach a massive audience.

From a business perspective, this approach harnesses the wisdom of the crowds to produce a 24/7 high-quality web service that any site on the Internet can take advantage of.  Unlike traditional news aggregators that push out links or copy from hundreds of different sites with different voices and different agendas, this service would push out news with a uniform voice and standardized format (i.e. 50/250/1000 word stories).  The site would start off with standard news verticals (such as sports, entertainment, politics, current events, etc..) but could expand into almost infinite niches (think local/hyperlocal editions) using the same platform.

Thanks to everyone for the great comments on the ideas I’ve posted so far and welcome to all the new visitors to the site.  So far this series has been getting some fantastic attention – in fact, ASAD was at the top of the WordPress fastest growing blogs for 8/23!  As always, let me know what you think about this one in the comments below.

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8 responses to “Y Combinator Challenge #3 – New News

  1. If this service was already up and running I’d definitely take a look at it, just to have a go at writing. Interesting idea.

  2. The fact that we would have any role other than “write a rough draft and publish it immediately so I get it before anyone else” would make this a gem and truly stand out from some of the problems with internet news.

    Actually, that might make it stand out from traditional news, too…

  3. Thanks guys, appreciate the input

  4. I really like this idea and I know it would work well in a niche market such as personal finance.

    However, where is the revenue model beside traditional ads. One option – a subscription service for a personalized version of the service.

    I could build the site using Ruby on Rails – if your or someone else is interested.

  5. Thanks Sam! I like the idea around revenue generation. Another option might be the ability for other news services to submit stories to the crowd (i.e. A tech magazine that pays to have an article fact-checked). In general, though, there’s always value to a big media property. The focus here should be on building out a world-class service first and letting the revenue follow.

    If you’re interested in building this out, definitely go for it! I should probably re-post some of my ground rules around reuse of the ideas posted here, but in general I absolutely encourage anyone and everyone to steal these ideas and implement them ASAP. Most of this stuff I would never get around to doing anyway, and it would be very cool to see some of these ideas come to life.

  6. Sounds like Wikinews to me.

  7. Pingback: Y Combinator Challenge: Mission Accomplished! « A Startup A Day

  8. Pingback: lucasjosh.com » Blog Archive » Clearing the Tabs on a Saturday Night

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