YC RFS #1 – Future of Journalism


If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’ve at least heard of Y Combinator and the community over at Hacker News.  If not, stop reading immediately and go check those those sites out.  There’s a lot of good content on the web, but these sites are consistently churning out some of the most thoughtful and interesting stuff around. 

Last year I did a series of 30 posts centered around a list of 30 startup ideas that Y Combinator published as a creative starting point for applicants to the YC program.  This year, they took a bit of a different approach by posting only a handful of ideas, but with much more detail.  Today I’m going to take on the first one, which is called “Future of Journalism”:

Newspapers and magazines are in trouble. We think they will mostly die, because we think we know what will replace them, and it is too far from their current model for them to reach it in time.

And yet people still need at least some of what they do. You can’t have aggregators without content. So what will the content site of the future look like? And how will you make money from it? These questions turn out to be very closely related. Just as they were for print media, initially. The reason newspapers and magazines are dying is that what they do is no longer related to how they make money from it. In fact, most journalists probably don’t even realize that the definition of journalism they take for granted was not something that sprang fully-formed from the head of Zeus, but is rather a direct though somewhat atrophied consequence of a very successful 20th century business model.

What would a content site look like if you started from how to make money—as print media once did—instead of taking a particular form of journalism as a given and treating how to make money from it as an afterthought?

(The good news is, we think the writing will actually end up being better.)

Groups applying to work on this idea should include at least one person who can write well and rapidly about any topic, one or more programmers who are good at statistics, data mining, and making sites scale, and someone who’s reasonably competent at graphic design. These functions can of course be combined, and in fact it’s even better if they are. Ex-Googlers would be particularly well suited to this project.

For those of you who didn’t read my ideas from yesterday and Friday, I posted some thoughts around a site that generates real-time, user-curated content, and an ad model that is optimized for ads that appear on real-time content.

Those two ideas actually started out from this post about the “Future of Journalism”, but it ran so freakin’ long that I decided to break it out into two separate posts so I’d have more room to explain them both.  So, looking at the RFS, I started with this line:

What would a content site look like if you started from how to make money—as print media once did—instead of taking a particular form of journalism as a given and treating how to make money from it as an afterthought?

The revenue model I came up with is the Real-Time Ads model, where users could instantly bid to have their message (commercial or not) appear on the page.  Now, in order for this to work, you need to have a whole heck of a lot of real-time content.  That’s where the Real-Time Content (or Qwiki) idea comes in.  This would be a content site that scans for the latest Twitter trends and automatically creates a basic page about the topic, which users can add to over time. 

Bring these two ideas together, and you’ve got my answer for how to take on RFS #1: Future of Journalism.

What do you guys think about this one?  As always, if you want to stay updated on my latest ideas, you should follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.


2 responses to “YC RFS #1 – Future of Journalism

  1. I think the newspapers salvation will be in the form of a tablet – nomatter who makes it. To have the portablility of a magazine or paper, and as close to the page turning reading experience as possible will be the return of the print industry. Their overheads will be lower, and they will still be able to charge for each issue.

    • Good point, and for the record, I’m a *huge* proponent of traditional journalism. I would love for something (whether it’s the tablet or something else) to bring down the costs for the newspapers, and create a simple, affordable way for consumers to pay for premium news coverage.

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