Notes Information Apocalypse

Startups and the Future of Journalism

Y-Combinator has published a list of ideas they'd like to see new startups tackle. Aside from obvious criticisms (we're already well familar with Paul Graham's penchant for proselytizing certain forms of web-startups), there is nothing new on this list, but it is actually a reasonably good starting point for provoking further discussion.

What I find most interesting is #3 on the list - 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.

What hasn't quite clicked in to place here is admission of an area has the potential to become the New Journalism of our time. The emerging form of 'unconventional' news could well be a move away from literary devices, taking advantage of graphics, mapping, and other forms of visualization to present news in a wider interactive context. Adrian Holovaty, best known for his work with Django and EveryBlock, has been promoting the idea of programmers as journalists for some time. The major problem for most news agencies is that people who think like Adrian aren't exactly easy to find.

It would be easy to assume that the data driven future of journalism is limited to opportunities for individuals working with existing news agencies, rather than startups. But what about combining this insight with another area mentioned by Y-Combinator, relating to Online Learning:

US schools are often bad. A lot of parents realize it, and would be interested in ways for their kids to learn more. Till recently, schools, like newspapers, had geographical monopolies. But the web changes that. How can you teach kids now that you can reach them through the web? The possible answers are a lot more interesting than just putting books online.

How do you create a learning environment that enables kids to become great journalists and great programmers? This is an area ripe with huge opportunities.