Re-engineering journalism

That is the response of many when I say I’m pursuing a graduate degree and career in journalism. With local newspapers closing every day, more and more people absorbing news through Twitter and Facebook and a drought in the hiring of journalists of color, they may be right—or so they think.

Yes, journalism is not what it used to be. But who said it had to? According to the 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellows, journalism can be whatever you want it to be.

On Monday night at Stanford, this was the underlying mission of the 20 fellows who presented their visions for what journalism is and will look like moving forward. They have spent the past year, while taking breaks from their professional jobs, developing concepts and prototypes that will push journalism forward.

Here is a list of the most interesting and promising presentations:

The Top Seven (in reverse order)

7. Sahar Speaks! – All too often, news is told about a particular group of people or issue, not by those experiencing it, but by onlookers. Amie Ferris-Rotman wants to change this, specifically for females in Afghanistan. Her hope is to empower them with training, mentoring and an international publishing platform so that their stories, from their unique perspective, are told.

6. OpenFilter – Social media and misinformation go hand-in-hand in this age, unfortunately. In an effort to filter through the foolishness, Martin Quiroga and his team have developed a solution inVenezuela Decoded, a website that helps people “decode” the uprisings in Venezuela by synthesizing content from credible sources on Twitter. Having received international praise for this venture, OpenFilter is Quiroga’s way of open-sourcing the filtering platform his team has created.

5. Briefly.tv – According to Umbreen Bhatti, many journalists say they don’t cover legal stories because they’re too complicated and, except for at a courthouse, few can be found who want to cover such stories. In response, she has created a tool for television journalists that “does some of the work for them,” interviewing potential sources for a database-like platform that helps journalists cut through the barriers and tell stories regarding the legal system.

4. Code{actually} – Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to President Barack Obama are on the coding and computer science train, and journalists are right behind them. The problem is, no one wants to meet us where we are—often a story-driven place, not a data-driven one. Cindy Royal knows our pain and has created a Code Academy for journalists, from a journalistic perspective.

3. The Dazzles – Every journalist wants a Pulitzer Prize. The problem, though, is that many people who get into journalism want to change the world and have an influence on people through their writing—and a Pulitzer is far from their mind. But each year, as the nominees and winners are announced, whichever pieces the proverbial “industry” deems the best receive the recognition—making a difference rarely plays a role in the criteria. The Dazzles are Shazna Nessa’s way of allowing readers to help decide what is good journalism. The goal is to allow journalists to know what resonates with our audiences so that we may better serve them.

2. The Earth Academy – “Not a leap, just a few steps away.” This is how Camille Seaman describes how we can curb climate change. Her project aims to become a hub for useful and empowering ideas for those who wish to make changes in their lives that are not difficult to adopt. An effort that also plans to create “hyperlocal villages of the future,” the plan is to “save ourselves and future generations yet unborn.”

1. hrdcvr – What can be more innovative than reimagining what print can look like—in print? “A new new, for the new everyone,” is how Danyel Smith describes her venture to create a concept magazine in the form of a book, “an extreme print experience.” A crowd-funded, one-time published product, she wants to “reject the niche” and “reject mainstream” because “it’s about the multi-stream.” Passion dripped from her eyes as she teared up at the notion that “everyone is equally interesting.” In my opinion, hrdcvr is poised to revolutionize what we have come to know as journalism and what we call print.

Honorable Mentions – These ideas didn’t make my top seven, but demonstrate the innovation needed to shake things up journalistically.

Voyz.es – Pitched by Ana Maria Carrano, this is a platform that aims to allow journalists and citizens to record and share audio—“think document cloud for voices,” she said. After speaking with more than 50 journalists who said they transcribed up to 10 interviews a week (each one taking up to two hours), she wanted to capitalize on the pieces of the interviews that don’t make it to print. Voyz.es is set to be a solution for journalists looking for stories to tell. In Carrano’s words, “Your conversations deserve a place to be found.”

Emergency Publishing Toolkit – After his experience in Manhattan in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Andrew Losowsky wanted to know why little information was being passed around about what was going on or when the power would return. He set out to create a low-tech solution that would allow people to distribute news and information after city-rocking events such as natural disasters. The Emergency Publishing Toolkit was then born, a plastic bin filled with situation-specific approaches for spread information.

For information on the other presentations, visit the Knight Fellowship website.

This post was originally published on thedishdaily.com before it was acquired by The Stanford Daily in summer 2014.

 

Letter of Contempt

Mail in your door

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) addressed an open letter to the founders of news media startups today calling for diversity. The letter, also sent to NABJ members through email, reads in part:

“Many of us wondered aloud if this entrepreneurship might also include new and more effective approaches to achieving diversity and inclusion in newsroom staffing and news coverage. After all, these startups will exist primarily on digital platforms, where African Americans and Latinos are proportionately larger consumers of news than whites. But our excitement has turned to concern as the parade of recent hires hardly reflects a commitment to ensuring that these new newsrooms reflect all the communities they will cover.”

Media startups named in the letter include Vox Media, First Look Media, The Marshall Project and FiveThirtyEight, all of which have hired industry vets—a move the NABJ believes demonstrates that diversity may not be much of a priority. The letter continues:

“Old relationship networks have become a 21st century club that is predominantly male and almost exclusively white. This club is familiar with, and hires, its own. This has been the trend in legacy media. The same will happen in these new outlets if new relationships are not forged.”

Pulling in rapper Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” the NABJ wrote, “Allow us to reintroduce ourselves,” in an effort to forge an ongoing partnership by inviting such companies to the organization’s annual sumer NABJ Convention & Career Fair.

Read the full letter here.

Image courtesy of Bogdan Suditu. 

Ubiquitous Stanford Startups

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While recent tech conversations have centered on social media startups like Snapchat and Whatsapp, some Stanford entrepreneurs are going in a different direction.

Hans Andersson recently wrote in The Dish Daily about how the Internet of things (IoT) space will achieve mass adoption by becoming inconspicuous, fashionable, and ubiquitous. I totally agree.

I’ve also written about how the IoT is just an intermediate step before it becomes internet of people, as even  Mark Zuckerberg noted at recent Stanford talk, saying that one day we could have internet-enabled devices implanted in people.

The IoT is in many ways the gradual evolution of the miniaturization of technology. Part of the reason for the uptick of interest in the IoT is that smartphones and tablets have unleashed the creative energies of technologists who think they can now create a smart anything: locks, lights, cameras, cars, you name it. Another reason smartphones and tablets have helped propel the IoT space is because smartphones now enable anyone to connect to their smart devices through simple apps.

The IoT craze is impacting student entrepreneurs and startups at Stanford. For example, Switchmate is a startup at the Stanford venture studio that “manages your light switches from anywhere in the world. No technicians, no re-wiring, no screwdrivers.” The Switchmate team is composed of Robert Romano, Daniel Peng and Asish Dua.

Another venture studio startup is Echo Wearables, which founders Pierre-Jean Cobut and Elad Ferber describe as the “ultimate fitness tracker for the ultimate performance athlete.” The Echo Runner 510 will tell athletes inform athletes of their energy level to prevent from hitting the dreaded “wall,” how much rest and recovery they should take between workouts and  update their hydration level.

The IoT is not just a futurist vision held by hobbyists tinkering in their basements. Major companies have incorporated the IoT into their strategic vision: from GE’s Industrial Internet initiative, to IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative. Microsoft is the latest major tech company staking a claim on the future of the IoT, as it works on a HomeOS and Windows Embedded.

As one might expect, many of these companies have corporate venture wings that are investing heavily in this area. In fact, according to a recent SVB report, a third of investment in the IoT space has been from strategic investors like Intel, Qualcomm, Siemens, Cisco, and GE. These big players are heavily investing in the IoT space because it will enable them to establish a stronger relationship with their customers and better understand their needs, boost their brand awareness, increase energy efficiency, customize services and equipment, as well as upsell additional services.

Although the big players have signaled their interest in the IoT, the biggest explosion of the IoT activity has been through crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Some of the best-funded projects on these sites have been the IoT devices and they aren’t just limited to the pebble watch. You only have to look at projects like thermodo, tile app, Lockitron, plant link and the Scanadu Scout. Many of these crowdsourced projects have gone on to raise venture funding.

At Stanford, the IoT has made hardware sexier. And with the Product Realization Lab, Stanford students have the wherewithal to create the next generation of ubiquitous technology.

Featured image courtesy of Keoni Cabral via Flickr. 

Not If, But When (And Wear)

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Have you ever worn Google Glass? A FitBit tracker? Some other wearable device?

If so, what impressions did you take away from the experience? If not, can you visualize yourself sporting glasses that make you look like you just stepped off an episode of Star Trek?

I’m somewhat of a technologist and technophile, yet I can’t imagine wanting to wear Google Glass or a similarly unusual and conspicuous device in everyday life.

Still, the flow of technology seems to inevitably move us in that direction. So, how will the industry unfold? I predict three stages:

  1. Inconspicuousness: We’ll begin by wearing devices that others can’t see, such as in-shoe trackers. These devices promise a range of easily imaginable benefits at no cost to our image. Provided they’re usable and affordable, I can’t imagine we’ll much hesitate to don them. In fact, many already do.
  2. Fashionability: Some innovative company, likely Apple, will release a device that’s noticeable but unobtrusive, something like an iWatch. Early adopters will jump on such devices, and because of the devices’ intrinsic attractiveness, mainstream users (Geoffrey Moore’s “early majority”) won’t hesitate to follow suit.
  3. Ubiquity: Having tasted wearable technology under the guise of fashion, users will gradually lose their aversion to the idea. In this stage, wearable devices will become increasingly common from head to toe. One writer recently called this stage “borgification.” I prefer to label such a phenomenon with a less obnoxious term: “ubiquity.”

These three stages imply three concurrent sine qua non conditions that makers of wearable devices will need to meet: (1) affordability, (2) inoffensiveness, and (3) usability. Google Glass has, so I read, largely failed on all three counts—the device appeals only to the subset of early adopters who have both wealth to burn and no concern for their image.

But if the rumors about Apple announcing an affordable, fashionable and usable iWatch later this year prove correct, then mainstream users, such as myself, might—sooner than we imagine—move one step closer to ubiquity of wearable devices. Let’s just hope that doesn’t mean “borgification.”

Featured image courtesy of UpRating.com via Flickr. 

Heavyweight of the Lean Startup Movement

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Eric Ries is best recognized for pioneering the Lean Startup movement, a new-business strategy that maximizes a company’s potential by efficiently allocating and improvising its resources.

When Crown Business published Ries’ first book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business, it became a bestseller and a blueprint for entrepreneurs around the world. Ries is also a leading Silicon Valley and business blogger. He hosts sold-out conferences and advises the Lean Startup Machine workshop series, which is now in more than 20 cities.

As the keynote speaker for the IBM SmartCamp Finals recently, Ries imparted many truths to entrepreneurs.

Ries opened with the idea that our environment has allowed for the democratization of entrepreneurship, and the next big company can begin in anyone’s garage. Such a landscape has allowed the startup movement to explode with millions in funding, hundreds of accelerators and incubators and a general excitement among those who feel ill-suited for a typical 9-to-5 job.

Perhaps Ries’ most important message was that the same democratization of entrepreneurship has been tied to a glorification of the profession. His description of the films “The Social Network” (as a modern image) and “Ghostbusters” (as an “old school” image) illustrated entrepreneurs building from the ground up.

He described the Hollywood recipe. Act 1: a protagonist with a bold idea and excellent timing for the idea. Act 2: a brief montage focusing on the struggles on writing code or battling some ghosts. Act 3: a tidy conclusion featuring earning tons of money or saving lots of people.

But Ries, an expert on startups, revealed the uncut version—the vast majority of a startup experience lies in Act 2. He then asked why it doesn’t make it into the movie. His answer? It’s too boring. He admitted no one would want to watch a seven-hour fight with his cofounders.

For every successful Netflix, Google or Uber, there are hundreds of failed startups that don’t make it past Act 2. True successes lie in overcoming problems, learning quickly from those problems and implementing solutions—all before your competitors do.

While many dream of the quick five-year turnaround of successful business plans, Ries said it rarely works out as smoothly and easily as we hope. His message was not meant to dissuade young innovators and entrepreneurs but to better prepare them and ultimately make their struggles more surmountable.

For more information, see eric@theleanstartup.com and startuplessonslearned.com. Stay tuned to IBM for more exciting events and information.

Featured image courtesy of betsyweber via Flickr. 

15 Stanford Classmates Who Could Be Your Biggest Startup Investor

A list of students who intern or work for venture funds

In November, The Dish Daily provided a breakdown of 21 Stanford professors who are venture capitalists.

Now, we are back with a list of students who intern or work for venture funds.

Anjney Midha (Economics and MCS), is an investment team member of First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund and according to his Linkedin, is also a partner at Kleiner Perkins.

Ernestine Fu (PhD and MBA), works at Alsop Louie, has graced the front cover of Forbes and has featured in Business Insider and multiple other publications. She also coleads a class in the spring called Lens of Venture Capital.

Other First Round Capital Dorm ROom Fund team members; Adam Goldberg (Stanford CS), Amanda Bradford (MBA), Neal Khosla (Stanford CS). Neal Khosla’s father is Vinod Khosla, after whom Khosla Ventures is eponymously named.

Andreessen Horowitz: Krista Thayer (MBA), Market Development; and Stephanie Zhan (CS), Deal Team.

Canvas Venture Fund: Rick Barber (CS Masters) and Nir Blumberger (MBA)

Cowboy Ventures: Daniel Liem (CS) and Ramon Flores (CS)

Natalie Luu (MatSci), Accel-KKR and Y Combinator Campus Associate.

Andre De Haes (MBA), Index Ventures.

Innovation Endeavors (cofounded by Eric Schmidt and Dror Berman in 2010): Greg Greiner and Seth Werfel (PhD Political Science).

Featured image courtesy of LendingMemo via Creative Commons license. 

Twitter, First Amendment Warrior?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That is the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights. The portion many—and now Twitter—focus on involves the freedom of speech and the press. This clause, as interpreted by countless court decisions, asserts the press as watchdog of the government and conduits of information to the public. The press has the right to critique and close scrutinize the government for the sake of transparency.

Twitter could potentially fill this role as well if the U.S. government continues to restrict how transparent the social media self-expression advocate can be.

The now public site released its Transparency Report Thursday. The report, first released in 2012 and now published bi-annually, aims to highlight “trends in government requests [Twitter] receive[s] for account information … for content removal and copyright notices (both takedown notices and counter notices). The report also provides insight into whether or not [they] take action on these requests.”

Though the report cites a 66 percent rise in worldwide governmental information requests, data about U.S. requests are limited. Despite a two percent increase in U.S. government requests in just the last six months, we still don’t know much about what exactly it requested. Twitter is not able to release much information about U.S. national security requests due to current Department of Justice regulations.

That could soon change. Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of Global Legal Policy, blogged about potentially seeking legal action in order to increase the company’s transparency by releasing more information.

“We have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users,” Kessel wrote. “We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.

With national debate focusing on National Security Administration policies, we may seen an increased legal action from Twitter and other social media companies that value a free flow of information and expression.

I think such legal action could lead to a slippery slope. On the one hand, it would allow more forms of media to provide a check on the government. It could also increase self-policing of social media conduct by users. On the other hand, it could also—like the WikiLeaks situation—endanger people and information if not done with tact and caution. Though I would lead toward Twitter’s side, as a member of the media and proponent of the First Amendment in all its capacity, I’d warn, in the words of metal band Limp Bizkit: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Other companies have also begun publishing their own transparency reports. View them here.

Featured image courtesy of euthman via Creative Commons license. 

Going Yippee for Yahoo!

When I tell you Yahoo is moving in the right direction, I mean it. With the company’s recent purchase of Tumblr, C.E.O. Marissa Mayer continues to transition the ancient email provider and unmentioned search engine into a media powerhouse.

Here are five (of the many) reasons Yahoo is #winning:

Marissa Mayer — How many C.E.O.’s would hire the cast of SNL to be a part of their keynote speech at a tech and gadget conference? With a rise in personality-driven brands, Yahoo is right on. Not only does Mayer attract attention because she is a female in a male-dominated space, but she does not shy away from embracing her feminine wiles. Remember her infamous Vogue spread? She is the best of both worlds.

Mouth (and eye) watering visuals — At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Yahoo announced its launch of two new vertical sites aimed at engaging an audience that is visually motivated and invariably younger and mainstream. On the Tumblr platform, Yahoo Food and Yahoo Tech pair the content focus of a news site with the image-laden emphasis of Yahoo’s other property, Flickr. This is what digital media, and invariably media as a whole, has been missing. Audiences want to be titillated intellectually, audibly and visually; Yahoo understands that.

Build it, they come — The more than 10 million unique visitors to the sites since their launch a month ago seem to be screaming that Yahoo has filled a void and reached a necessary audience. Techcrunch compares this to the reported 31 million monthly unique visitors of the entire NYT site. I’m no math major, but for a new set of sites to bring in an audience that is already one-third of an industry leader’s is bananas! Let’s hope it continues.

Google it — I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “Yahoo it,” when referencing the need to search Croatia’s G.D.P. or the release date for Beyonce’s new album. Google, and maybe Bing, are the go-to search engines. Though this may seem like a drawback, the virtual anonymity in the search category gives Yahoo the leeway to experiment and make mistakes. And when Google messes up—because no one is perfect—Yahoo will be there to save the day with a tested, reliable alternative.

Infinity and beyond — No one knows what is next for Yahoo. After declining to provide any projections for the year on its earnings call recently, we’re kept guessing—and that’s where Yahoo wants us. Mark my words, Yahoo is coming back with a vengeance.

Featured image courtesy of clasesdeperiodismo via Creative Common license. 

Mark Zuckerberg and the Internet of People

Silicon Valley is well-known for forward thinking especially when it comes to predicting the future of technology. Stanford President John Hennessey asked Mark Zuckerberg to do just that during their on-stage discussion a few weeks ago and to the surprise of no one, Zuckerberg provided an insightful response.

Zuckerberg remarked that Internet-connected devices are getting smaller and more powerful and that it was a clear trend that computers will someday be in us. Zuckerberg wasn’t just thinking about the Internet of things but the next stage of computing, which will likely be the Internet of people. Is the next step in human evolution, Homo Techiens? Perhaps Cyborgs, the Borg, and the Terminator aren’t that far into the future.

Already, much of Silicon Valley is set on the Internet of Things. On the day that Zuckerberg spoke on campus, Google bought Nest for 3.2 billion dollars. Many venture capitalists and tech companies are spending billions of dollars betting that all of our devices will become Internet-enabled and smarter. The first device was the phone. Nest then made it the thermometer and smoke detector, and a fair number of people in Silicon Valley now sport wearable devices like fitbit and the fuelband.

Zuckerberg’s view of the future is not really a prognostication because the Internet of people is already happening. Google recently announced its smart contact lens, which would monitor glucose levels in tears. People are already talking about how this might work in conjunction with the Google Glass. Additionally, companies are now working on digestible sensors in the form of pills that can track one’s internal state and adherence to medication.

Zuckerberg also discussed the rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He joked about how people continue to raise the bar with A.I. and how at one point in time, people thought A.I. would have been achieved if computers could beat man in chess. Then it was whether computers can defeat man in Jeopardy trivia. Already computers are faster and better at recognizing faces and voices.

Silicon Valley embraces disruption and new technology because that typically means more money, more jobs, and more power. However, is technology once again outpacing our ability to understand its implications? Beyond simply understanding the impact of social media networks like Facebook and Snapchat, do we have the right policies in place for wearable devices like Google Glass? The rapid technological advances and A.I. development leads many casual observers to believe that the future will soon bring Internet-connected devices in people. However, before that day arrives, we need to discuss whether Homo Techiens are really preferable to Homo Sapiens.

Featured image courtesy of  Robert Scoble via Creative Commons license. 

StartX Q&A: Nightingale

Founded by MIT dropouts Delian Asparouhov and Eric Bakan, Nightingale is both an online and mobile app that offers patients and caregivers the tools to help manage health data. Nightingale’s health data tracking tools aim to improve treatment options for children with autism.

Asparouhov and Bakan were also Thiel Fellows. The Thiel Fellowship awards young innovators and entrepreneurs $100,000 grants over two years to skip college and focus on their research and goals.

Asparouhov spoke about his experiences throughout the company’s development.

The Dish Daily: Could you tell me a little bit about the history of Nightingale and the original idea behind the company?

Delian Asparouhov: The origin of the company was actually when I was my grandmother’s caregiver while she was being treated for breast cancer when I was a junior in high school. I started working on it more actively in January of 2013 with my co-founder, Eric Bakan, and we’ve been working together ever since.

TDD: How exactly does Nightingale track the children’s personal health data?

DA: Nightingale allows the parents, therapists and teachers of children on the autism spectrum to record behavioral data using their phone. This can mean anything from a tantrum happening to how often a tick happens throughout the day. The caregivers of these children input all of this data through our mobile app.

TDD: Have you found a lot of demand for the product among therapists and caregivers? 

DA: Yes! It’s a huge unmet need, and we already have three autism therapy programs paying to use our product.

TDD: How did the Thiel Fellowship help launch the company/idea?  Were both of you part of the 20 Under 20 Program? (And if so, could you talk a little bit about your experience with it?)

DA: Yes! I applied for the Thiel Fellowship with this idea, and I can’t imagine where I would be without it. The program has been instrumental to my personal development and Nightingale’s development. I would highly recommend that anyone under 20 fill out the application for sake of laying out your priorities in life and recommend joining the program if you are someone who learns better outside a classroom.

TDD: What have been your biggest challenges along the way as the company has developed?

DA: Learning to listen to our customers. Sometimes you want to pretend like you know a lot about the world, but, as it turns out, you don’t!

TDD: What are your hopes and plans for StartX Demo Day? 

DA: To help people understand why what we are working on is such an important problem to solve.

TDD: What are your short-term and long-term goals?

DA: Short-term: Help more kids! Long-term: Help even more kids!

TDD: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

DA: StartX rocks!