Memphis Media: Got 99 Problems? We’ve Got Startups

Updated with examples, below

Each semester, my entrepreneurial journalism students work in partnership with local accelerator and our campus Crews Center for Entrepreneurship to come up with media-related  startup ideas. Throughout the semester, we use human-centered design processes and work in teams to research and prototype these startups, including interviews with prospective users. By the end of the semester, the teams have business plans, pitches, and some valuable insights into today’s media landscape. This is part of our overall initiative to bring innovation to journalism, including our graduate certificate program.

We are at the stage of the semester where I give the students some broad “problems to be solved” to chew on in thinking about and honing their ideas for new businesses. These can be problems faced by news consumers, by advertisers, or by existing news organizations.

While we aren’t quite Stanford with all of its close Silicon Valley ties, our efforts in many ways mirror the Digital Media Entrepreneurship course they teach there, according to Ann Grimes, associate director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, who I met recently at the American Press Institute’s Research Advisory Group meeting in Miami. Grimes said they went to area media organizations, such as the Sacramento Bee, to come up with problems for the students to tackle. When the Bee reported they were struggling with building user engagement, students came up with a metadata tagging system designed to boost user customization. In Memphis, we don’t (YET) have the programming resources to fully build out all of our startup ideas, but we do meet with local programmers to discuss technical feasibility, and for students that want to take their idea further, we have a number of community resources we can tap to help them.

I have a number of ideas on “problems to be solved” after listening to executives of top United States newspapers from The Washington Post to the Dallas Morning News discuss in detail their needs in Miami last week, many of them surrounding the need to figure out how to monetize their mobile news audience, develop mobile products that best meet user needs, enhance stickiness on their sites, and more. But I welcome specific local problems we could incorporate – if not this semester, then soon. Our students also share what they learn with anyone who is interested in coming to our final pitch night, and in the past we’ve occasionally gone to local media orgs to give them a customized presentation.

Leave a comment here with ideas or email me at cbrown14 AT

Update Here are some examples:

Problem One Small business owners and nonprofit organizations struggle to find the best ways to get information/advertising in front of customers/donors in today’s information-saturated society and to ensure the right message gets to the right people. From Facebook to Twitter to traditional print advertisements and beyond, the number of options to reach people has exploded, but so has the amount of noise and clutter. How can they get through to people with the right message and improve the return on investment of their advertising and marketing efforts?

Problem Two News consumption on mobile devices is skyrocketing. At the Boston Globe, their traffic exceeds 50% from mobile devices for some hours of the day. At the New York Times, it is about one-third; during a breaking news situation, it is the majority of their traffic. This raises a number of important issues for news organizations:

2A) How can news organizations best meet the needs of their mobile users and deliver the kinds of content they want, when they want it on a mobile device?

2B)How can news organizations help their advertisers figure out the best ways to utilize the mobile platform to build their brand and get consumers to make purchases? And how can news organizations help advertisers realize the value of a trusted community news brand, beyond just click-through-rates, in determining what they are willing to pay?

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