How do we save Digital Journalism? We turn Journalists into Super Heroes

Mar 31, 2015
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tl;dr version: Journalists need tools that are built for the part of their job that is still done over the phone, on pen & paper, and in a non-scalable way. That’s why we’re building Omniscient.

I find myself in the back of a room full of France’s top media companies – everything from Dailies (LeFigaro, LaTribune, LeParisien), to Lifestyle ‘Magazines’ (AuFeminin Group, Webedia, Melty, Cerise Group) & everything in between (Kwarter, Selectionnist, Presstalis). I was attending FrenchWeb’s Media Day, and I was hoping to get an idea of where the top media, young & old, were investing, what they were seeing coming, and how they hoped to stabilize the tailspin that is digital media.

It was refreshing to hear from fast-growing digital media companies like Melty Group & Cerise Group, who are building technology at the heart of what they do, and building an editorial & business line around the existing click-economy. In addition, I was excited to hear about how eCommerce & media groups are slowly drifting together, especially media that traditionally informed users on curated selections of product, from fashion to recipe sites to DIY & beyond. Yet I would put these two forms of Media – Click-driven and eCommerce-driven – in a different category than Journalism-driven Media, as they are models that influence Journalism’s editorial line. I would venture to say that an eCommerce-driven model would not save New York Times from itself, nor would it boost Buzzfeed’s revenue, as readers have a particular relationship with these three types of Media.

For Journalists, Knowledge is Sacrosanct

The problem that Digital Journalism has is that publishers have been dictating the terms of the value of a journalist’s work for so long that they’ve forgotten why people wanted to be journalists in the first place, and why everyone else wanted journalists in their network. Yes, the write-up on a nationally distributed paper is nice, but it’s only nice because the readers of the New York Times think that the journalists are smarter than them – their opinion counts more than someone else’s, because they have knowledge that others don’t. For Journalists, this knowledge is sacrosanct. They live & die by their sources, their ability to make facts from those sources public, and their informed opinion that comes with the curation of facts. Speaking with journalists from New York Times, Techcrunch, LeFigaro, and even video & print journalists, I was sorely disappointed with the lack of tech that has been build for them to do journalism.

The Bloomberg case

There is perhaps one media today that can ‘afford’ to do Digital Journalism, and that’s Bloomberg. Bloomberg Media is built upon Bloomberg’s $9 Billion/year in annual revenue which comes almost entirely from Bloomberg Terminal, a product that gives investors and analysts real-time access to Wall Street. Bloomberg leverages its Terminal by giving it to its journalists to use, literally embedding its knowledge into every article, with every article becoming passive marketing for its collective intelligence, yet uncompromising with respect to Bloomberg.com’s editorial line. Where I think Bloomberg goes wrong is that the relationship between the Terminal and its journalists is unidirectional. Writers covering the private sector, like Netflix or Eventbrite, don’t get the same beautiful knowledge embed at the top of their articles like Google & Apple do. Bloomberg Terminal is good at sourcing together data that corresponds to a curated list of companies (and their top staff); however, where it falls apart is in structuring together news that doesn’t correspond to the stock ticker feed – try getting a feed of every product launch of your favorite startups, for example, if you wanted to make predictions about how Airbnb’s valuation will move following the launch of their print magazine.

Turning Journalists into Superheroes

And yet, every great Publisher has a staff of Journalists taking notes in notepads, doing interviews over the phone, receiving news announcements – hundreds per day, if not thousands. Most are worthless on their own, but they are all valuable down the road – no journalist knows when they are receiving the next Apple’s first press release, and that’s why we are always working to learn more, to know everything.

Omnem Scire – “Know Everything”

In fact, this boils down to the fundamental job of a Journalist: to know everything. This is why journalists are so worried by Twitter, Google News, by Facebook & by ‘crowdsourced journalism’ – they see their words, their knowledge, being used, repeated, copied, pasted elsewhere.

Giving Journalists the Tools they need

And yet, on the other side, leaks from respected establishments like AFP about the falsely reported death of telecom billionaire Martin Bouygues tell us that, in the age of instant communication across the Internet, there is no reason for this to happen, and even less of a reason for us not to know the source of this goof-up.

After writing Rude Baguette for 9 months, Trista & I were about to close the doors, because we realized we either needed to go head first into building a Media company, or that we needed to go build something else. We didn’t want to be a tiny media, and we didn’t want to build an unscalable business on top of a crumbling digital infrastructure.

The problem was that we knew Rude Baguette was valuable. Even if the audience was small, people were coming to us to know what we know. And yet, we couldn’t sell that. Not ethically, not without distracting from our cores business of Journalism, and not in a scalable way.

We started Rude Media because there was no business model

For the past 15 months we’ve been toying around with ideas – we launched Rude List last year in order to take everything we knew and put it online. It was a different way for us to answer the question “Are there startups in Paris?” The product worked well, but we knew that if we were going to make a dent, we needed to build something that any journalist could use, that any source could use, something that could become the global dashboard for any journalist.

That’s why we built Omniscient: to turn every Clark Kent into a Superman.

There will be plenty of time for us to tell you what Omniscient is, how it makes a Journalist’s life better, and how we can build an entirely new way to monetize Digital Journalism on top of Omniscient; however, for now what you need to know is that Rude Media is among the only companies building Tech for Journalists, and we’re going to keep doing that until Journalists feel like they are on equal footing with every other digital profession, until the New York Times can write an in-depth analysis of a proposed bill, its supporters, and the effects on the United States, all as quickly as a Buzzfeed journalist can spit out “10 reasons West Virginia is the Best Virginia.”

So whether you’re a Journalist, or a Source – someone who makes the news and tells it to Journalists – or whether you work as a PR representative for multiple people/companies, sign up today to get the first look at Omniscient.