Articles by

Benoit Wirz

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    On Friday, CrowdTangle, a social analytics company that Knight Foundation invested in via the Knight Enterprise Fund, announced its acquisition by Facebook. This is a momentous occasion for the CrowdTangle team (Congrats!), for investors such as Knight, and for Facebook. It’s also a chance to reflect on a company that created impact for journalists and audiences, underscoring why Knight made the investment in the first place.
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    Above: The six startups making up Matter's inaugural class. Tomorrow, Matter, the new startup accelerator for media ventures, is hosting its first-ever demo day in San Francisco. Six startups made up of the accelerator's inaugural class will prime to demonstrate and promote the projects they have been developing over the last four months to a group of investors, mentors and entrepreneurs.  There’s a lot to be excited about – these are our top five: 1. Matter.VC is a unique for-profit accelerator with an informed public mission at its heart. Created by Public Radio Exchange and funded by Knight Foundation and KQED, public media for Northern California, Matter is looking to accelerate companies that can help build a more informed, connected and empowered society. It’s exciting to see accelerator techniques that have helped startups in other sectors being applied to amplify a cohort of companies innovating in ways that can impact media in general— and public media in particular. 2. This is the first class to graduate from Matter, which launched this year. It will be particularly exciting to see how the startups, which entered the program four months ago, have benefitted from interacting with companies facing similar challenges, and how their products and pitches have come along over the course of the program. 3. The companies demoing are solving interesting problems. From Zeega, which is reinventing the way stories can be told online, to ChannelMeter, which provides better Youtube analytics, to SpokenLayer, which transforms the web into narrated audio, the companies being demoed (full list here) have the capacity to address some real unmet needs for journalists and media companies. 4. Attendees will include a combination of investors and media partners. In order for these companies to grow, they will require both capital and customers. The presence of a large number of venture capitalists and media companies at demo day will give them a chance to acquire both and hopefully set them on their way as they move on to post-Matter life.
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    If you read David Boeri’s web series on Whitey Bulger published by WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, (which, really, you should), two things stand out: the truth is often stranger than fiction and seamless use of images, audio and text really help tell one of the most interesting and macabre gangster stories of our time.   In addition to being drawn to the compelling journalism, what’s exciting to me about the story is the roll of Creatavist, the content management system that’s being used, in delivering the seamless experience of the WBUR series. Knight invested in Atavist, the company who built Creatavist, last year through the Knight Enterprise Fund, with the hope that the company would be able to dramatically lower the cost of multimedia storytelling for journalists, particularly smaller newsrooms. Founded in 2009 by a group of seasoned writers, including Evan Ratliff, Jefferson Rabb and Nicholas Thompson, Atavist was initially a stand-alone magazine made for tablets. The company’s business quickly evolved— to give others the chance to license the software used to publish the Atavist magazine. Takers included TED Books, the Paris Review and The Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
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    Above: A scene from NewsFoo. Photo credit: Elise Hu. It was a real pleasure to attend my first NewsFoo conference this past weekend. Sponsored by O’Reilly Media, Knight Foundation and Google, NewsFoo gathered a cross section of folks (read: rock stars) in the digital news space to talk about an agenda created on the spot. One of the most interesting observations shared by many news-fooers is that people by and large did not choose to discuss the ongoing revenue problems of news-gathering companies, which is the focus of many other news conferences. Perhaps because there was a strong presence from some of the organizations that have best adapted to the new realities of news (Wikipedia, NPR, Digital First, Bleacher Report) and startups that are being built on the opportunities of news in the digital age (Branch, Cir.ca, Poetica, Submittable, Syria Deeply, Watchup), people instead were focused on problems and potential solutions being faced by news organizations that have already made the transition to digital. It was enlightening for me to better understand some of these: 1) Building credibility (and engagement) in digital news Most news publications are not as transparent about their own reporters and their sources as they could be, and many don’t report retroactively on whether pundits/sources got things right or wrong. Notable exceptions, like Wikipedia which footnotes all entries, have become very trusted (and popular) sources of information. How can news orgs move towards embedding more credibility into news? Also, can news animations be credible? 2) Improving content recommendations
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    Photo Credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk Tomorrow night at the Lightbox in Wynwood, 60+ Miami entrepreneurs will be pitching their startups to a panel of Silicon Valley investors capable of helping kickstart their ideas.  These companies have been part of the NewMe Pop-Up accelerator, which has provided local Miami startups with advice and coaching over the past two days from experienced investors like Scott Kupor of Andreesen Horowitz and Erik Moore of BaseVC.   NewMe, a California accelerator dedicated to promoting a diverse base of tech entrepreneurs, partnered with Lab Miami, a Wynwood based co-working space and startup network, to help identify Miamians who could benefit from the workshop. Knight has sponsored NewMe’s presence here as part of our effort to connect, educate and inspire Miami innovators and help ignite our local start-up culture.  NewMe’s focus on diversifying the base of tech entrepreneurs is particularly exciting as it can help accentuate the uniquely diverse mix of local Miami startups amid a national tech scene where minority and women entrepreneurs each make up less than 8% of tech company founders.
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    Photo Credit: Flickr user Dean Terry  Imagine it’s Saturday afternoon in the summer and you’ve just found a lawn chair, a good book and a spot on the front porch to get situated. But the one thing you don’t want to do once you sit down is get up again, so you’ll need a ready supply of cold drinks. For that you need a cooler, which, unfortunately, you don’t have. As luck would have it, last week you noticed your neighbors wheeling a cooler into their place. You decide to knock on their door and ask if you can borrow it.  Ten minutes later, you’re back in your lawn chair, not only with your cooler stocked, but feeling a bit better about your neighborhood and your community. To understand the promise of the new startup Favortree, a mobile sharing service funded by Knight that is now open for registration, think about all of the things that had to go right for you to borrow your neighbors’ cooler. Your neighbors had to have a cooler. They had to know that you needed one. You had to know that they had a cooler. They had to be home for you to borrow it and they had to think you were reputable enough to agree to lend it to you. Favortree is looking to facilitate more of this type of sharing by making all of that information readily available and by enabling users to build reputations as responsible borrowers and lenders in a game-like format. In the process, it hopes to build stronger communities.
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    Photo Credit: Flickr user slidingsideways Here’s a news flash: Hockey fans like donuts. Dunkin Donuts, to be more precise. And to be even more specific, a significant portion of the 2.5 million fans who visit the Boston Bruins web site every month also like Dunkin Donuts. Earth shattering, I know. Here’s the thing: What if I were the Boston Bruins, and you were Dunkin Donuts and I could actually prove this to you? I could show you precisely how many of my monthly visitors were fans of your product, and give you a really clear picture of who those fans were, and how they matched up with the types of fans you were trying to reach with your advertising: wouldn’t you be more likely to buy advertising directly from me and pay me a decent price for it? Most online publishers are unable to easily gather granular data about their audience. According to Pew, less than 4% of newspapers’ digital ad revenue today comes from targeted ads. It is difficult and expensive to get the granular market research that advertisers require to make buying decisions. Data-driven ad networks that can provide some of this information buy ad inventory in bulk, driving down ad revenue for original publishers by 5-10x.
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    Yesterday, Knight Foundation released a new report, offering a detailed look at some of the country’s leading online local nonprofit news ventures. Today, the foundation shares what the nationally focused news nonprofit, ProPublica, is learning on its path to sustainability. Ben Wirz, director/business consulting at Knight Foundation: Foundation funding will never be able to plug the hole in editorial budgets being cut at for-profit daily newspapers – a total of $6.4 billion between 2006 and 2009, according to the FCC report "Information Needs of Communities". Nor should it. The most successful nonprofit news organizations have diversified revenue sources. To help nonprofit media outlets better supplement coverage – and get on the path to sustainability – we’re sharing a new report with some lessons learned from one of the country’s premier organizations, ProPublica.
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    Benoit Wirz, Director of Business Consulting at Knight Foundation Recently, a colleague circulated a request for good fact-and-research-based sources examining the business model of traditional newspapers in comparison to 21st century digital alternatives. With the pace of change in media being as formidable as it is, there is no single source for this kind of information.  But as people increasingly look online for information and newspaper print revenues continue to decline (-8% in 2010), the question remains open and vital. What follows are some of the sources which Knight staff and University of North Carolina Knight Journalism Chair Penelope Abernathy look to in thinking about this topic. Professor Abernathy’s 2009 paper on the rise and fall of mass media is appended here and an update is expected shortly. Media Focused Books: Media Ownership and Concentration in America (2009, Eli M. Noam) is a classic economist's look at 10 industry segments.  Chapter 1, 8 and 20 all deal with historic and changing newspaper economics. Managing Media Companies 2nd Ed. (2009, Annet Aris & Jacques Bughin) has great global case studies of media companies making the transition to digital. The Welt Group and Schibsted cases are most relevant. All the News That's Fit to Sell (2006, James Hamilton) is one of the few books to look at supply and demand for news that has historically been covered by newspapers.  Chapters 5 and 7 are most relevant. Penelope Abernathy, University of North Carolina Knight Journalism Chair The Curse of the Media Mogul (2009, Jonathan Knee) gives a Wall Street view of newspapers (tucked inside a long missive on the perils of media conglomerates).  Chapters 4, 5 and 10 are worth reading. Media Economics: Applying Economics to New and Traditional Media (2004, Colin Hoskins, Stuart M. McFadyen, Adam Finn) is somewhat outdated and dense.  But Chapter 10, on pricing and market segmentation, is still relevant -- especially as newspapers look to new pricing models.     C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today (2010, Larry Kramer) is written by a journalist turned entrepreneur about how to deal with change in the media landscape and beyond. The Elements of Journalism (2001, Bill Kovach) offers a look at the fundamentals of  journalism. Business Books: Seven Strategy Questions, (2010, Robert Simons) poses...