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The Hottest Start-Ups in Journalism

Start-ups aim to create something where nothing existed before. Perhaps no idea is truly original and all mind-blowing technologies are just mashups, but the especially risky products tend to stick out (and stick around).

In journalism, much of the innovation is focused on expanding the news experience online and putting it on various devices.

A few journalism start-ups are thinking about the how to distribute information in new ways, not just in terms of news reporting, a distinction best expressed in a recent essay by Stijn Debrouwere. This type of innovation rises above the dime-a-dozen news application.

Storify

So much media is created, but how do we experience it in a meaningful way? This is the problem Storify aims to meet, explains co-founder Burt Herman. The tool allows users to create a story out of individual social media posts — pictures, tweets, videos and more.

The startup is located in San Francisco and the two founders both have a background in content — Herman was a reporter for The Associated Press and Xavier Damman founded a publication for high school students in Belgium.

The first users were journalists, who proved to be an effective sample group because Storify met an immediate need — an easier way to embed social media posts that attributes the original creator in a single step. An early feature allowed a Storify to be embedded into any CMS that was compatible with HTML — it was an important step for the product because even newsrooms with the most archaic web technology could use Storify.

“Newsrooms have a very established workflow, so we must create something that adds value to that flow,” Herman said. Storify did not create more work for journalists who used social media in reporting, but made integrating social posts easier — and it continues to be a favorite brand among journalists.

In the future, Storify plans to expand its service to be a platform as well as a tool. The stories its users create are hosted on Storify’s site, and users can now comment on individual social posts inside a story, effectively making the story itself a new type of discussion board.

One weakness of comment sections on news websites is that there is no way to sort the comments that refer to the opening of the story, versus other later claims by the writer or quotes from sources — perhaps Storify can provide a more pinpointed avenue for conversation.

Narrative Science

To put it mildly, when journalists first hear the framework behind Narrative Science, they tend to worry more about job security. Essentially, the company has taught a computer program to write stories, but Narrative Science only hopes to replace the tedious and repetitive aspects of reporting, namely, turning data into words.

One example of the formulaic type of stories Narrative Science produces is this earnings report from Forbes, one of the company’s 30 clients. And yes, the technology gets a byline. Forbes is able to publish more stories more cheaply by using Narrative Science’s technology, which ideally allows the publisher to pay writers to do more enterprising work.

“Data is tremendously valuable,” Kris Hammond, Narrative Science co-founder and CTO, told The Atlantic. “It’s unbelievably valuable. But it’s not valuable as a spreadsheet of numbers. It’s valuable based on the insights that you can glean from it.”

Notably, Narrative Science employs a new kind of journalist to create its technology. Based on a job listing on the website, the ideal candidate is “an excellent writer who is comfortable working with data and coordinating with our engineering team. Grammar is important, but logic and basic mathematical skills are also essential.

Circa

People may jump at an opportunity to party like it’s 1999, but according to Circa’s Ben Huh, they consume news like it’s 1899 every day — and that’s what Circa purports to change.

Since Circa is still in stealth, Huh declined to comment for this article, but a blog post suggests his focus is “big breaking news.”

Huh is specifically frustrated with the fact that news stories often begin with a brief summary of past events, something that was necessary when a new story had to be printed in the newspaper each day. Essentially, he hopes to better target readers so their time isn’t wasted with information they already know — the article would be unique to each person and recognize if they had already read up on the topic.

Like both Storify and Narrative Science, Circa seeks to combat information overload.

“We’re solving a different kind of problem. There is more information created today than ever before. But as a society we’re less informed,” Circa co-founder Matt Galligan told TechCrunch.

So far Circa is mum on details, but based on past press, the product will be mobile. Circa hopes to launch this summer.

Top image courtesy of qvist/shutterstock

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