Knight News Challenge Application: NewsMe

Team Name: Bad NEWS Bears

Team Members: Nicholas Jansen, Rae Sakakibara, Joseph Xu

Project Title: NewsMe

Requested Amount: $50,000

Expected Amount of Time to Complete Project: Eight Months to Twelve Months


Describe Project

With the advent of the digital world, it is necessitated that we consider the more effective means to translate thought and emotion in news. Video has played a large role in bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds with utilization of visuals and sounds. In looking to further the discourse surrounding news and, thus,  the industry itself, we propose the launch of a social platform based on randomized video chats in a website entitled NewsMe. NewsMe takes video chat and creates social communities based around external news articles with its primary target user base being college-age students from 18 to 22. Users are able to use the website to initiate video chat rooms of two, four, and six members of their institutions to discuss a multitude of topics pulled from various major news sources and local college papers, as well as user generated content. According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of young adults (18-29) use the internet on a regular basis as opposed to 74% of the rest of the adult population. By keeping our initial launch exclusive to college communities, we aim to build on the importance of news discussion within a burgeoning generation by giving them a sense of exclusive ownership of both the community and the responsibility to read and discuss news.

Once community members select a topic they want to discuss with fellow community members via categories and tags, they are taken to the video chat room with randomized individuals based on their selected preferences in their college communities (number of participants, neighborhood, major, and so forth).. Members agree to community standards prior to participating in chat, allowing for creation of a safe space for members to discuss topics. Rules and standards are malleable to the communities’ needs, however, with allowance of user-submitted discussion standards, as well as a user-voting system in which individuals can denote violation of rules and/or an abusive user for review by a board. Chat moderators will remain objective and impartial and will only enter a chat to review situations if 50% of the channel deems a user abusive.

Finally, NewsMe will cull its news stories and their respective related chat rooms into an organized front page into four separate categories: local campus news, national & international, trending, and editor’s choice.  By pulling from a variety of sources, we hope to present our users with a diverse array of sources rather than allowing user trends in social activity to determine what is featured prominently. By linking externally to other sources, we hope to develop a wide array of relationships with various news organizations and have them eventually participate in monthly chat events that enable users of the community to interact with writers, editors, and characters in the story. By establishing this basic level of trust through transparency, we hope to set the roots for a rapport between readers and news organizations.

Ultimately, as news has shifted to the internet and with the largest audience being college-aged students, we find it necessarily to build a community from within that fuels the future of news.


What unmet need does your product meet?

The Young People and News report from Harvard showed that 59% of young adults identified as non-users of Internet-based news. This statistic is shocking, given the frequency of which this generation uses the Internet. Our website, targeting young adults, will meet this currently unmet need of getting youth to engage more in news. Specifically, our website accomplishes this by creating an environment which connects youth to engage in discussion about the news. Furthermore, NewsMe incorporates a tagging system, which allows users to connect with other students of their choice based on demographics. With the option to select and talk with people of different backgrounds, more intense discussions are generated, offering more perspectives on a given story. This fulfills the need of acquiring diverse input, for those that discuss news with the same people all the time. In addition, since these discussions will be held in the form of video chats, the unmet need of bringing transparency to news is met. Video chatting and the construction of community standards prior to entering chats will omit the rude, off-topic, argument-provoking comments that often accompany online news articles, which are encouraged by the anonymity effect that the Internet has. Furthermore, this ultimately will bring personality and emotion into the conversation, which helps humanize the Internet interaction.


Interview of four potential users of your product about unmet needs


Rich Phillipson, (20), middle class, white, UM student mainly talks to friends over facebook. His introverted personality appreciates that the Internet creates a wall to hide behind and chat. This indicates the need for fostering a sense of community on our site, so users feel comfortable participating in chats.

Laura (25), white, female, photographer, living with parents, enjoys discussing topics in the news that she feels passionate about with her family and friends face-to-face. She believes expressions and voice give life to news, which made us consider incorporating video chats on our website to liven up the conversations.

Prabhu (21), upper-middle class, suburbia, Indian, engineering student at UM doesn’t like how often he discusses the news with people that already share his opinions. Creating group chats of up to 6 people, and using a tag system for the ability to select different people (based on demographics, etc.) to talk with would invite more diverse perspectives to the chat.


Margaret Rudberg (67), white, female, from rural town outside of Indianapolis, loves using Twitter. It allows her to always be connected with the latest news, even on the go or at work when she is busy. Our tag system as well as the featured article attribute caters to this desire of easily being notified of trending news.


Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

We bring a diverse skill set that complements the individual needs of NewsMe. Joseph Xu brings his visual knowledge as a multimedia content producer. Nick Jansen complements this with his former role as a social media coordinator, enabling him to integrate NewsMe with deeply within social media. Rae Sakakibara brings a wealth of knowledge of the intricacies of community interaction through her time as an International Studies BA student, which will help maintain the growth of NewsMe while also allowing us to look forward to expand beyond college and universities. Finally, as college students we have uniquely deep insight into the growing  digital social habits of our peers.


How big is the potential market for your idea?

Our initial target market are college campuses which can spread to all over the world. PEW Research center shows that 89% of people from ages 18-29 that use the internet (and that number goes to at least 96% when just looking at college students), use some sort of social networking site – basically the market for social networking sites is high. Also being that technology is integrated more and more into the college classroom, we believe this will be a great way for higher education to capitalize on the social media prevalence in the everyday college student life.


How is your idea innovative?

Facebook lacks a personal connection as conversation is reduced to comments; Google hangouts is a “one size fits all” interface that doesn’t provide a platform that encourages meaningful discussion; and Chatroulette provides an opportunity to talk with a single stranger. Our idea addresses those shortcomings by putting a face and real-time conversation about a trending topic/article and gets rid of the impersonal aspect of comments; the point of logging on to our website is to talk about a current topic, whether indicated by what’s “trending” or by the featured “article of the day” which facilitates directed conversation; and using our website, you can talk with a stranger or a group of up to 6 strangers, but can be narrowed down by selecting to find users using various tags. Our website will then take this unique concept into the classroom modernize classroom discussion as more and more campuses are transitioning to online learning methods. No other media platform provides a way for groups of strangers or friends to come together, face-to-face, to have an intellectual conversation about trending issues in a way that can be productive in and out of a classroom setting. Ours does.


How will your idea be financially sustainable?

Our website will get money from news outlets submitting their stories/articles to our website to be featured as the “article of the day” in the respective category (environment, politics, international, etc.) Once it is proven that our website creates significant traffic, it will be beneficial for other companies to have their work appear on our website as it will increase their traffic as well. The monthly talks with editors/professionals will also bring in money as that will be a great way to bring users into our website as well as being another great way for media platforms to get out their name more – a real win-win situation as our website and other media platforms will ultimately increase their online traffic.


3 Responses to “Knight News Challenge Application: NewsMe”

  1. I think your idea to engage people in discussion about news is a great idea. Having the opportunity to dissect the information in an article through discussion with others provides more engagement with the story compared to reading and absorbing the information alone. I think this is a good way to for people to analyze important new ideas and topics, and not just accept everything that is written out for them. I have a slight concern about the video aspect in that I personally would not want to get on camera and talk with strangers from campus, but this could just be me. I agree that sound and visualization are important to communication and I think this idea wouldn’t work as a written chat forum. Maybe the site could add something, similar to Facebook, where users have a group of friends/acquaintances versus starting chats with strangers from campus. Maybe you could alter the site to create interest groups. For example Professors focused on the environment and leaders of environmental organizations could be “friends” and chat together to discuss recent environmental news stories. Or a group of college friends all interested in social rights could become “friends” on the site and discuss recent social justice/rights news.

  2. I think that this idea is really cool! I especially like the way that your team described the people that you interviewed and included their race, class-level, and other personal information that is able to connect the reader to what you’re actually talking about. I think that your social media network would be able to branch out to an audience that is looking for a unique kind of social media experience, one that is meaningful and beyond simple facebook statuses. I am curious, however, how the rules and regulations will be watched over and managed. I know that video chat websites such as chat roulette and omegle often have a lot of issues with people abusing the website and showing sexual videos and/or targeting members of the website in a way that is deemed as harassment. I know that your group instantiated strict rules in regards to this. My favorite thing that you did in relation to this was for users to “downvote,” persay, other users if they are not following the rules of the website or harassing other users. I know that for most other social media networks, in order for a user to be banned from using the site, a form must be submitted regarding what the incidence was and/or what the user was doing wrong. I like that NewsMe does something different. As long as the NewsMe method helps keep the site clean and informative for users, I think that it will be a great hit.

  3. This is a very creative response to the need you’ve uncovered. I see a lot of potential here, but, as Jill points out, it may not be for every student. Some of the challenges I see for this idea:
    · How would you convince users to give this a try? People’s time is valuable. This seems to require a pretty big initial commitment of time, way more than just scanning a headline or photo.
    · Then how would you keep them returning to use the site again? I think it would be hard to provide consistently valuable opportunities for discussion, since so much of the value depends on the other people in your chat group.
    · Would there be a limit on the time of each chat, or periodic opportunities for participants to gracefully leave?
    · How would you entice news organizations to pay for the opportunity of sharing their content with you? Your might need a much larger initial investment to start out partnering with news organizations that would share content with you for free initially.

    I see other potential uses for your platform, related to teaching. In fact, I think that you might want to look at online-teaching sites as partial competitors. Many online courses include online discussions of readings. I don’t know of any that are video-based discussions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some. You may find some design features you like, and some you want to avoid.

    Speaking of competitors, it would be nice to include more info about Chatroulette and Omegle and how they are doing in terms of audience and finances. How are they sustainable? What can you learn from them?

    A few more small details about the way you wrote your proposal:

    What year was the Young People and News report you mention published?

    I think your video chats will bring more transparency to communities that comment on news – but not necessarily to the news-gathering process itself, as you state. Bringing more transparency to commenting on news is a great idea. Comment streams on many news stories are rude and sometimes anti-social. This is because currently many sites allow people to comment anonymously on news stories. Your idea would be a refreshing alternative.

    Also, I’m not sure that you’re correct when you state that the largest audience for news on the Internet is college-aged students. Yes, a higher percentage of people in the college age group use the Internet on a regular basis. But that’s a pretty narrow age range. There are way more people who aren’t college-aged than people who are. And it may be that older people click more often on average than college-aged people do.

    Again, interesting idea here! Think about the reaction and keep tweaking it…..

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