Rooted News, A Closed-Loop News Source Starting with You

Knight News Challenge

Project Title: Rooted News—A Closed-Loop News Source Starting with You


Team 3: Katie Borowicz, Taylor Dunivin, Lindsey Scullen

A rough sketch of what Rooted News looks like

A rough sketch of Rooted News

Requested Amount:  $10,000

Expected Amount of Time to Complete Project: 

Ann Arbor Prototype:  1 year

Worldwide social media site:  10 years


Description (500 words)

So, the plan:  Localize environmental news by way of our permaculture-based Rooted News app.  This will primarily be a visual news site as we hope to avoid losing audience members by intimidating them with too many words. As for the basic setup, our app will be very dynamic and visually stimulating.  It will be formatted in an Archimedes’ spiral.  The spiral will have small, rounded photos on which the app-user will be able to click.  Once a photo is clicked upon, it will expand to show the full photo along with a 2-3 sentence caption.   We want app-users to be able to soak in as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. We hope that this will lead to a short visit-time needed for the visitor to take in our app’s information and will therefore draw larger audiences, including the time-conscious.

At the innermost root of the spiral, an empty, rounded icon will be where the app-viewer can upload his or her own environmental newsworthy photo and caption to the spiral (from the successful garden in his or her backyard, to the sustainable meal and captioned recipe just made, to the solar car race, to the tree drawing done, and beyond.)  If using a phone, the user will have to take the photo through our app in order to try to keep the feed of information timely (though there would be an option to save the photo to the camera roll from there.)  The first cycle of the spiral will then function like a social media site might–it will display friends’ pictures and captions.  The next spiral will showcase a sampling of the photos uploaded by people living in the city in which the user is living.  The next will showcase a sampling of the most newsworthy photos uploaded in the user’s state, the next spiral in his or her country, and the last in the world.  The idea is that the best, most visited photos and captions will work their way up to the local, statewide, and national rings of the spiral (with perhaps a little help from the app’s administrators).  It is in this way that app users will literally grow the news themselves.  It is in this way that we will put the user in the same sphere of news as the rest of the world’s environmental news.

Each day of the week, we hope to solicit a theme which will shape the pictures and captions our users may choose to upload for that day, though the theme would not be at all enforced (Monday–food, Tuesday–health, Wednesday–energy, Thursday–animals, Friday–water, Saturday–Celebration, Sunday–kids).  When a full week is completed, the user will then, hopefully, have a fairly complete and healthy idea of the happenings in environmental news.

The plan would be to start small, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In order to prevent misinformation, we hope to manage our app as Wikipedia does at first, with volunteer fact-checkers.  As the app continues to grow, we eventually would hope to employ fact checkers in order to make this app a very reliable news source.  However, we do feel that self-checking is a suitable way for this app to function as the app will focus less on facts and words as it will on ideas and pictures.

Unmet Need (200):

For sustainability reasons, the whole world is pushing toward the local.  There’s a stress on local food, local energy, local business… but nobody yet has localized news.  Comparing local papers to social media sites, it is clear that they are not so local. We don’t generally read local papers to find out about our friends and we don’t generally take any part in publishing the local paper.  That job is for the journalist. If people start feeling like a part of the shift towards taking environmental responsibility and start realizing that they play just as important a part in it all as the guy on the front page of The Times, maybe social change will more easily happen.

One of the biggest problems in news today is that it separates the reader from the story.  It celebritizes the subject of the story and leaves the rest of us feeling like observers, like fans reading about strangers we most likely feel zero personal connection to. It is now the time for everyone to do something “newsworthy,” to change the social norms as they pertain to the environment and the world’s sustainability. Let’s make an environmental news source where we’ll not only see news about the people taking environmental responsibility on a global scale, but where we’ll also see our neighbors, our friends, and even ourselves making the news.

Interviews (200):

Not surprisingly, the subjects mostly discussed issues with time when considering an environmental news source. Carolyn Moore, a middle-aged dentist,  claimed that it did not matter the amount of material, she would not have the time to read. In extreme cases like this, perhaps inspiration is lacking as well as time.  A college student participant, Carson Phillips, noted that he only skims articles unless they are short or have bullet points. For these reasons, we decided to place emphasis on pictures. The issue of time had a critical role in our design project. We understand this dilemma and want to use our site to inform people about environmental news quickly and in a way that will personally engage them, leaving meatier stories for other news sources. Another student, Raina Sheth, commented that she will read any news she can get her hands on, as long as it is international. This suggestion helped us decide to incorporate environmental news on all scales, from personal to national. Sarah Gallagher, a high school senior, said that she really likes using social media for news.

Carolyn Moore Carson Phillips Raina Sheth Sarah Gallagher
56 22 21 17
Female Male Female Female
Dentist Student – Sociology Student – Political Science High School Student
Northville, MI Ann Arbor, MI Ann Arbor, MI Farmington Hills, MI

Potential market (100):

Because our site ranges from personal perspectives to global perspectives, it has the potential to be relevant to anyone.  On the personal level, we hope to break the division between social media and news.  Because of this social media aspect, we hope to have a large market, much like Instagram’s 150 million-person audience (Instagram). We hope that the social aspect of our site will draw this large audience, but with the incorporation of personal, local, national, and global news coming from a personal lens, we hope to see even that number surpassed.

Uniqueness (200):

The EPA offers information on local environmental issues, but it focuses more on negative topics. We hope that featuring only positive stories will set us apart from the sometimes discouraging coverage environmental issues receives. Other apps, like “Green News,” showcase positive stories but are not local or interactive. Including both local and national stories will allow users to feel more connected with current environmental events and also get informed on more large-scale happenings. The Great News Network has a section for positive environmental news but only has long articles. Other positive news sources, like Planet Ark, have begun to use pictures with short captions. Our model will overcome this competition by only using pictures with simple captions. The app will function like a social media site for environmental news, therefore making our news source interactive–making people realize that they are a part of environmental news. With this, of course, Instagram comes to mind, but we believe that because people have already become comfortable with Instagram, it may act as a springboard for our project. Our app uses the socially appealing nature of Instagram to draw people to news. Apps like iRecycle have high ratings because of their user-friendliness (according to reviews). Our purpose differs from iRecycle enough to make them less of a competitor and more of a support for why our idea will succeed. Additionally, our plan relies on personal submissions rather than a staff or writers/photographers, a model we could not find popular examples of elsewhere. The combination of all our features makes this idea truly innovative.

Funding (150):

We want a simple site layout that does not have clutter from advertising, so funding from common sidebar advertising is unacceptable. Instead, we will allow local businesses to be featured for a price. For example, on Ann Arbor’s “food day,” Zingerman’s may submit a photograph of an organic cheese plate with a caption on how it supports organic practices. On health day, a St. Joe’s hospital may want to feature its farm and farmer’s market. Paying for the submission would guarantee the store a top spot in the photographs for that day. As we will not need a large writing or camera staff, we do not expect to need much income per local area. Money will mostly go to site monitoring and maintenance as well as organizing the advertising.

Why us? (100):

We all agree that showing people progress is most important. The three of us all have positive perspectives on the environment and a passion for using optimism as a tool for promoting sustainability. We believe that for the sake of the sustainability of the planet, we need to localize news just as badly as we need to localize food.  In fact, we need to localize news so that we can successfully localize and sustain everything else.  If people start feeling like a part of the shift towards taking environmental responsibility and if people start realizing that they play just as important a part in it all as the guy on the front page of The Times, maybe social change will more easily happen. We plan on using our understanding of our generation and its technology to make these beliefs digestible.


Another permaculture spiral from Chiwara Permaculture's Community Garden.  Click on this photo to visit Chiwara's website.   Chiwara Permaculture is like the soil to our "Rooted News!"  They are a huge inspiration.

Another permaculture spiral from Chiwara Permaculture’s Community Garden. Click on this photo to visit Chiwara’s website. Chiwara Permaculture is like the soil to our “Rooted News!” They are a huge inspiration.





About Lindsey Scullen

I study Comparative Literature, Spanish, Complex Systems and Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. I'm an intern for the Environment Report and Editor of the Environment Account.

3 Responses to “Rooted News, A Closed-Loop News Source Starting with You”

  1. Michael Marie Schofield Reply October 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I really like the idea of a newsy, photo-driven social media network. I think that journalists and news organizations have taken off with twitter, and this idea could have a lot of potential. Pinterest has been hugely successful with their photo-driven platform. You’ll just have to find the right way to market the idea and advertise what you offer that these other competitors do not.

    I’m still a little confused about this Archimedes’ spiral. Although your images are helpful, I am having a difficult time visualizing the application. You may need to find a way to creatively lure in clients. I think one of the reasons that twitter has worked so well is that many people begin using it for trivial, nonprofessional purposes, sharing what they ate for breakfast, bragging about mundane things, advertising anniversaries, etc. They then discover how much access it provides to current events, news, politics, etc. It may be a little bit more challenging to sell something completely news-driven right away. I think you’re off to a great start with photos and a fun layout, though!

  2. Lindsey and Taylor — I like the way you’re thinking here about user-generated news, social networking, and visual story-telling. Way to wrap in many key themes related to the future of news! I see two major challenges with making this idea work. One Michael has already mentioned: how are you going to get people to participate? I suggest you think about possible incentives such as badges for posting great content, possibly coupons for use at the farmers’ market or other local businesses, possibly meetings with interesting sustainability experts if your photo is the best of the month in your state — I don’t know. Think about what will motivate people to spend time on this. The other challenge I see is how to keep the site from being over-run by public relations people or others offering positive news to promote businesses or themselves. I know you say that one source of income for this project would be selling placement of photos promoting businesses. But what if businesses try to get around that by having employees or friends or relatives post on their behalf — the same kind of thing that happens now on rating sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor. How would you deal with that? Again, really interesting idea. Keep polishing it.

  3. This has potential to be pretty cool. I liked the idea of it being a launching point for other interests. This sort of reminds me of stumble upon, but it a way that centers around permaculture. I think your biggest challenge will be making this unique and setting yourself apart from the other competitors. Otherwise, great job!

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