Newsy, a startup formed in 2008 and based in Columbia, Missouri, announced this morning that the company has raised $2 million from undisclosed angel investors. The money, president Jim Spencer wrote in a prepared statement, “will allow us to grow our news operations and deliver a remarkable product.” Separately, Newsy’s free iPad app, released last week, shot to No. 6 on Apple’s list of most popular news apps.
What’s the big deal about Newsy? In short, Newsy is trying to do for the mobile video explosion what Ted Turner did with the cable TV explosion thirty years ago: Deliver a new kind of news enabled by the technology.
“You should go look at our iPhone app, at the quality of video we can deliver over 3G,” Spencer told me during a phone interview. “That wasn’t possible two years ago.” Imagine what two more years will bring.
Newsy does neither original reporting nor automated aggregation. Instead, the company calls its product “analysis.” Newsy prepares two-to-three-minute videos that highlight and explain the different coverage angles on a topic from different media sources. The goal isn’t to look for biased reporting, but rather to provide viewers with a wider range of valuable information on a hot topic. Newsy’s human journalists summarize the expanding newsosphere so you don’t have to do it yourself.
Newsy operates a website version of its news analyzer, which you can currently use for free and without being interrupted by ads. For example, see Newsy’s recent report on Florida governor Charlie Crist’s defection from the Republican Party. Newsy’s reporter narrates a mix of reports from Fox, CNN, Florida newspapers, plus political blogs you’ve probably never heard of. It’s a great clip that opens immediately with Crist giving his reasoning to an audience. An unnamed female anchor then guides viewers through reactions and reports from Fox, CNN, and a couple of blogs you may not have heard of. How will Crist’s move play out? Newsy hits a half dozen pithy takes from people who come across as experts. (My cheap advice: Put the names of Newsy reporters in the lower third of the video when they first appear onscreen. Viewers want to feel they know a little about who they’re watching.)
Why did Newsy move from San Francisco to Columbia? Because instead of being close to Stanford, Spencer, a veteran of AOL’s news channels as well as Ask Jeeves and MSNBC, wanted to work with the acclaimed Missouri School of Journalism, where he got his master’s degree in the field. The 100-year-old college provides a talent pool and a nurturing environment for Spencer’s team, who teach classes and recruit contributors on campus.
“Also,” he said, “we’re able to run the operation for one-fifth of what it would cost in San Francisco or New York.”
Newsy makes smart, non-controversial use of fair use laws to wrap up snippets of video and text in value-adding analysis. The company provides high-profile attribution and links back to sources in their reports.
To make money, Spencer has a three-pronged plan. “One is syndication,” he said, in which video news services will hopefully carry Newsy content and split revenues with them. “There’s also a licensing approach, for companies that want to deliver the news under their own brand, but have us produce it for them. The third form is advertising and paid apps,” which haven’t yet been rolled out.
It’s too soon to tell if Newsy will become a major news brand or not. In fact, I’m sure they could whip up a two-minute report on forecasts for their own future. But among all the attempts to bring quality journalism online, Newsy’s mobile video news analysis seems the smartest about journalism’s newest medium.
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