10 Startups that could change the face of news forever

news startups

There are an estimated 7-billion of us. Between us, its other inhabitants, the big black bit around it and Mother Earth herself, there’s never a dull moment, news happens organically, all the time.

The news machine is an efficient one, the cogs — reporters, news agencies and so on — have become invisible. It seems seamless, news follows us everywhere, the machine works, but that doesn’t stop brilliant minds — internet entrepreneurs, emerging media innovators and legacy newsrooms — from attempting to push it forward, especially in the digital age.

The Knight News Challenge is part of Knight Foundation’s US$100-million plus Media Innovation Initiative. The initiative seeks new ways to meet community information needs in the information age. In the five years of its existence, Knight Foundation reviewed more than 12 000 applications and funded 76 projects for a total of US$27-million.

It’s a lengthy contest and spans a large part of the year. The first of three rounds for 2012 has recently closed and while judges deliberate the winners of the first category called, “Networks”, we sifted through the many entries to find examples of how people are pushing the news industry forward. They make us think differently about the news.

Past projects such as DocumentCloud, hNews and Ushahidi have been adopted by large media organizations. DocumentCloud helps journalists analyse, annotate and publish original source documents — it’s apparently being used by more than 200 newsrooms nationwide. Ushahidi has helped map information in crises from Haiti to Japan and hNews, a project with involvement from Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, allows readers to see the source of information in online articles. hNews is also believed to be in use in 200 newsrooms including the Associated Press.

Here are some notable entries from this year’s first round challenge. Most of them are proof of concepts, but they have a sheen of brilliance, that if nurtured, could have a big impact on the news industry. We’ve also picked a few initiatives that were referenced by this year’s entrants. These initiatives are further along in their respective development life cycles.

Media Reputations

You can think of MediaReputations.com as a LinkedIn tailored for the media. It bills itself as a “reputation network” and provides users with an online profile which shows things like work history, audio and video portfolios, skills and education and most compellingly, allows a member to establish their credibility through a verification process — which costs a once-off US$35 fee. If the details check out, the member receives a physical media ID, Verified Badge and advanced features.

The network also enables media companies and freelancers to find and connect to trusted partners in real-time all over the world. Media companies can locate a trusted reporter in a certain region, to get the scoop, for example.


Developed by the same company behind Media Reputations, Cont3nt will allow media companies to connect with photo & video journalists. Cont3nt envisions members buying and selling breaking news through Twitter, while making sure to preserve content rights of creators.


When you first see Cowbird, it’s easy to sense its tremendous potential. Its stand out feature is a timeline that shows journal entries by Cowbird members for a certain point in time. Cowbird allows members to keep a beautiful audio-visual diary of their lives, and to collaborate with others in documenting the overarching “sagas” that shape our world today. Imagine if people directly affected by 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami used Cowbird to tell their stories.


Rbutr was born out of discourse. Often online flame wars can rage on for days by posting arguments and follow-up rebuttals — conflicting points of view substantiated by Web articles with contrasting literature. As it turns out, this method of debating has its merits. Rebutr is a Chrome browser plug-in that tells you when there’s a rebuttal available to an article you’re reading.

This is brilliant for reading about a situation from another perspective. If you read an article, but you disagree, you can link to another article, arguing your counterpoint. You can also leave a comment. Someone else that visits either article after you, will see both source and rebuttal articles.


When disaster strikes, reporting the aftermath takes center stage, but where do recovering communities get information on volunteering, donations and ongoing relief efforts, long after the Red Cross and cameras move on? That’s where Recovers comes in. Fully functional websites can be instantly deployed, for example https://forney.recovers.org/, turning the initial wave of international interest into money, volunteers and donation items for the affected area. When a town is ready, it takes over administration, and 100% of all resources collected go to the community.


We’ve written about ThinkUp in 2010. Since then it’s undergone major changes, but its underlying core functionality remains the same. It helps you harvest insights from the conversations you have on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ messages. It’s an extremely useful tool for news agencies. Pose a question to your social networks and ThinkUp will help you visualise it — by putting responses on a map — analyse it — graphs and charts will help you see patterns — and browse through links and photos in one place.


How do you know what to believe online? It’s a hard question to answer and it’s easy to perpetuate false information. The team behind Hypothesis wants to fact check the web through annotation technology with a reputation system and peer moderation. The solution will come in the form of a web browser plug-in that will add an overlay to Web pages with a heatmap along the side showing where people left comments. Much like Quora, Hypothesis will allow users with good reputations to up- and down-vote comments, allowing the best information to bubble to the top. Hypothesis launched with a Kickstarter project late last year, and successfully reached its goal of US$100 000.

A number of sites including Fact Check, News Trust and Politifact attempt to separate truth from fiction in American politics, while sites like Snopes does its best to put an end to online hoaxes.


UNICEF GIS is an Android and web application which allows people to report community risks and hazards to local duty bearers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The phone application allows users to “produce a realtime portrait of their community through geo-located photos and videos, organized in thematic maps.”

Global Censorship Monitoring System

The team behind this initiative is attempting to build a global censorship and surveillance monitoring system. The system maps censorship violations on a map and aims to combine network measurements with legal, commercial and journalistic data to increase contextual relevancy. Such a system could be useful to human rights advocacy groups like Freedom House that report on human rights violations.


Rounding off our list, is an initiative that epitomises the spirit of the Knight News Challenge. Through Meetup events over four continents that host a growing network of more than 9 000 people, Hacks/Hackers brings together journalists (“hacks”) and technologists (“hackers”) to rethink the future of news and information.

Feature image: Markus Winkler on Unsplash



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.