If you're one of those news junkies, constantly lamenting the biased news media while perusing the smorgasbord of information options, there may be a solution for you. Newsy.com-which officially debuted on April 8-aims to sort through the information overload, digest stories from across the spectrum, and then feed it all back to you in short, easy-to-swallow videos.
"Global access to multiple perspectives helps you tell what the real story is," says Newsy president and co-founder, Jim Spencer, of the basic premise behind his brainchild. He says the idea for the website came to him after observing the way people watch television and use the internet. When people are looking for coverage of big news stories, they channel surf from CNN to MSNBC to FOX, and maybe even to the BBC. They do the same thing on the internet; only on the web, there are thousands-if not millions-of sites to choose from rather than a handful of television networks.
A team of editors monitors news from online, print, and televised sources from around the globe. They then put together 2-3-minute video clips summing up the different kinds of coverage a particular topic is getting in the media. A recent video about the handshake heard around the world between President Obama and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez incorporated video of a debate on FOX News, as well as stories from South American newspapers and websites. The newscasters, of sorts, in the Newsy videos keep commentary to a minimum. "We simply try to point out the differences in the reporting," says Spencer.
The online news space is already crowded. From the big dogs like CNN.com to one-man blogs to aggregators who bring it all together, it is hard to imagine where-especially in this economic climate-yet another news site could fit in. Spencer admits, "I spent quite a bit of time working in the breaking news business online. ... I don't know that anybody could break into that space and really compete." Newsy isn't reporting the news, though; the team leaves that to other journalists. That's why Spencer hopes Newsy will stand out not as a breaking news service but as a place where people go to get "smarter, quicker."
"Right now it doesn't really appear that there are too many people doing what we're doing," Spencer says. You don't search Newsy's archives for the latest news on a topic and get 1,000 results. Instead, you get one video that sums up those 1,000 results (or at least the important ones) and gives you an overview of the range of coverage in a few short minutes. Each video ends with a call for viewers to leave comments and let other viewers know what they think about the coverage.
In a tough economy, though, efficiency and a good business model are more important than ever. So Spencer passed up the usual hubs of innovation, such as New York and Silicon Valley, to set up shop across the street from the University of Missouri Journalism School in Columbia, Mo., which is also not far from the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Spencer and his team were able to raise $1.1 million in first-round funding to get Newsy off the ground. He says he expects another $2 million in the next round and that about 80%-90% of that money comes from local sources.
Newsy works with the school, teaching two classes for students and enlisting the students' talent to help research, write, and produce the video segments. There are other benefits, says Spencer, to locating the Newsy offices in Missouri. The state extends tax credits to some new businesses, and, in Spencer's case, he was able to get a 40% tax break. Combine that with the relatively low cost of living and Spencer says Missouri was clearly the "smartest, most economically viable option." He says Newsy is able to do business in Columbia for 20% of what it would cost in the Bay Area.
Still, Newsy faces the same criticisms all aggregators do, a point that was raised by Miller-McCune's Michael Todd: "They're not reporting on anything other than the reporting of others. That's fine while there are still others doing the groundwork, but we're seeing retreat on that almost daily" (www.miller-mccune.com/mediator/meta-source-mash-up-1137). Of course, Newsy has situated itself across the road from a hive of busy journalist bees. Perhaps the rapidly retreating traditional media could learn a thing or two from Newsy's example-lowering overhead and taking advantage of cheap local talent, who will have to innovate the future of journalism if they want to have jobs when they graduate.
Even with the relatively low cost of doing business in Columbia, reality demands more than just fundraising to keep the doors to an office open. Spencer says Newsy has two forms of revenue to support its business model. Like other online news sources, Newsy relies partly on advertising revenue to keep the bills paid. Spencer says there are a few reasons his site is attractive to advertisers. On the one hand, this is professionally produced content, but Spencer suspects that advertisers like the "unbiased" nature of the coverage. In other words, advertisers don't have to worry about indirectly endorsing one point of view or another by running an ad.
Content licensing fees are the other half of the Newsy equation. Spencer says the company is working with partners in the telecommunications industry to become the "high quality, low-cost leader in online and mobile video news" by hashing out licensing and syndication deals.
Newsy is putting out about 40 videos a week, but it hopes to up that number with the money from the next round of funding. The site started posting videos in September 2008, but Spencer says he wanted to wait to "launch" until there was a significant archive of videos for viewers to choose from. Also different from its initial site is Newsy's web design, which Spencer says, "is now more clean and crisp."