NewsBridge: Using Social Media to Bridge Information Gap for Millennials

20161208_111638Knight News Team 6

Megan Von Ermen, Roland Davidson and Hadley Tuthill

Project Title: NewsBridge: Using Social Media to Bridge Information Gap for Millennials

ProductName: NewsBridge

Requested Amount: $2500

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 6 months

Describe your Project:

The goal of our projects is to reduce the time burden that finding news sources places on millennials, specifically college age students. Our application, which would start as a browser extension with the goal of being directly incorporated into Facebook, seeks to fuse social media and news media into one common platform.

Prior to the media fragmentation that is endemic of our current news landscape; people couldn’t avoid the news.  However, as greater access to a greater number of different channels and websites allowed people to only look at information which directly interested them.  As a result, people who were interested in the news acquired significantly more knowledge than those who weren’t.  While much of the established scholarship surrounding has been done around television, preliminary research shows that a similar paradigm applies to social media.  Thus one of NewsBridge’s key successes is integrating news into Facebook to help remedy this information gap.  

NewsBridge would be tailored specifically to each individual user in order to give them the ultimate interface to consume news that is relevant and interesting to them. We would start by having users rank certain topics such as international relations, domestic policy, sports, fashion, food, science in order of their appeal. While we are seeking to remedy the information gap and help people find quality news, we also do want to cater to our audience’s desires, then we would gather multiple news stories, coming from varying perspectives and sources, and post them directly into their newsfeed. The posts would include a link to the article, the headline and a brief synopsis of its major points.  We would either outsource the actual summarizing to a website like SMMRY or write our own algorithm for creating these summaries.  Just like you see sponsored posts from other apps and ads, NewsBridge would interweave news stories into the regular posts to create an unobtrusive balance between social media and news media.

As college age students often prioritize social media over news media, introducing headlines and summaries about topics that interest them could help to increase both their news literacy and desire to explore the full article. Also, since we would have access to a given user’s location and social identity through Facebook’s data collection, our app would include articles about public health and the environment which will directly impact them. This would fall into the “breaking news” category that we provide our users, with topics and headlines that do not specifically meet their chosen preferences but will certainly have a direct impact on them. We would ensure that the articles pooled for our users are from credible sources by allowing them to report what they deem as untrustworthy news. Overall, the goal of NewsBridge is to make it easier for college age students to access the news and information about current events in a manner that fits their established way of life. This application would increase news literacy, readership and overall appreciation from a subpopulation that does not often prioritize this industry.

What unmet need does your product meet?

Our research has elucidated the need for more accessible news that isn’t offered in an extraneous or overwhelming way. The consumption of news is convoluted by the sheer amount of topics, biases, and mediums. NewsBridge exists to bring news to social media in a manner that is more convenient and concentrated. Geared towards the generations that have grown up with social media and rely on it as a link to world events, NewsBridge is addressing the need of increasing awareness and consciousness of current events and topics. Specifically aimed at college students, NewsBridge is intended to increase readership of interested individuals who otherwise would not be able to filter or narrow the available news and discourse. Additionally, as a way to engage diverse interests and perspectives, our product is tailored to each unique reader to further enthusiasm and concern with information.

Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need. Do not tell them about your idea. Just explore their need. What did you learn? Include names and contact info for interviewees and a few words describing each — age, gender, occupation, town where of residence. Go for variety.

  1. Maria Dimayorca (mdimayorca@umich.edu), 20, is a University of Michigan student from New Jersey, studying nuclear engineering. She said it was difficult for her to find time to focus on the news when there was always something that she needed to do for school.. From this interview, I immediately identified the need to make news more accessible to students.
  2. Abby Felix (amfel@umich.edu), 20, a junior at the University of Michigan studying Psychology and Entrepreneurship, approaches news from social media with caution, always “considering the source and proponents of the promoted news.” Felix appreciates the visual and social medium of the news she consumes via social networks, but more credible news when she actively searches for it.  
  3. Kate Samra (kesamra@umich.edu) and Mason Friend (friendm@umich.edu) both 20 and students at U of M in Linguistics raised similar concerns about their ability to find news which directly impacts their lives.  They often felt that news about politics is so far away from their lives that they find it hard to care about it.  With the exception of women’s reproductive rights, neither one of them could name a public health issue which is currently likely to affect them.

How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use.

NewsBridge runs through Facebook and, hopefully, will be totally enmeshed with the website in the future.  Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users so that is the ceiling for our user base.  Initially, the extension will only pull news from English news outlets such as The New York Times, Scientific American and The Guardian so our audience will initially be much smaller but still substantial since there are approximately 200 million monthly active English speakers .  Additionally, 62% of Americans get news from social media so NewsBridge will be able to leverage an existing social phenomenon.

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors

NewsBridge utilizes an active and prominent platform to further promote, encourage, and popularize the consumption of unbiased, credible, and inclusive learning. Incorporating news into a dominant social platform, our proposal circumvents the introduction and promotion of an extraneous news media outlet. Instead of polluting the already abundant news outlets and perspectives NewsBridge seeks to incorporate a substantial social medium with filtered, directive news. Unlike the existing news aggregators, NewsBridge combines the ideas of cumulative news amongst unique topics, inclusive perspectives, and an existing social network. An important contrast to competitors such as NewsBlur and Feedly is that our product exists entirely within the realm of social media. Capitalizing on an already captive and invested audience, NewsBridge acts as a conducive and directive news outlet.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

The algorithm would start as an extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox so there’s no maintenance cost.  We would include a donate button so if there are unexpected expenses or if we want to advertise then those costs could be covered.  While making the people pay a nominal fee for the extension would be the ideal, we’re skeptical that people would pay information that they feel could be gotten easily, for free.  The ultimate goal is for our algorithm to be bought by Facebook at which point it wouldn’t need further advertising since it’s fully integrated into Facebook and any work on the algorithm would be supported by Facebook’s financial infrastructure.

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

As students and dedicated news consumers, we want to guide our consumption to be more convenient and catered to our interests. We are the right people to develop this project because, first and foremost, we benefit from and believe in the success of NewsBridge.  This project is aimed at helping guide our learning and understanding of the world and issues around us. With first-hand experience of this necessity and a personal stake in its prosperity, we are invested in and devoted to the influence of NewsBridge.

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3 Responses to “NewsBridge: Using Social Media to Bridge Information Gap for Millennials”

  1. This is definitely a very interesting idea- especially how much you want to incorporate social media into the consumption of news. With the volume of news media available, it is so important to be able to personalize the news in a way that will be informative and interesting for a particular reader.

    Currently, I use Apple News, which has a similar process that you discussed. Before I started using the app, I went through an exhaustive list of questions regarding my interests and preferred news sources. This resulted in my own personal news feed that refreshes throughout the day. Your idea of creating an extension on a web browser is great, however I do believe that lots of news consumption takes place on a mobile device (while riding the bus, walking to class, waiting in line, etc.). It might be worthwhile looking into developing an app that incorporates the heavy social media component that you are looking to have. Having an app that combines social media and personalized news in a comprehensive, efficient way would be very useful for college students.

    • Sahar,

      While there are other convenient ways to consume news that is tailored to individual interests, Apple News was a good example, we find that incorporating news into Facebook could be more effective and could reach wider audiences. From your comment we were able to think of ways we could include NewsBridge into mobile Facebook mediums including Facebook Messenger. Thanks for you comment!

      -Knight News Challenge Group 6

  2. As you polish this idea, you are working alongside developers at Facebook and at some of the world’s most iconic news brands, all looking at the same problems and the same huge opportunity you’ve identified around delivery of news via social media. So you’re in an exciting, dynamic space with this proposal.

    The thing that would make your proposal much stronger is some analysis of how your idea relates to Facebook’s Instant Articles: https://contently.com/strategist/2015/05/13/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-facebook-instant-articles/

    Many analysts of the news ecosystem point out that the various technology companies offering their own news-delivery systems are transforming the way we gather and share information in the public interest: http://www.cjr.org/analysis/facebook_and_media.php

    So it seems appropriate for you to demonstrate your awareness of these developments and to talk about how your idea fits into this discussion. I think your interviews are really interesting, and speak to the potential market for getting news through social media. Some additional big questions you might want to think about:

    Is it a good idea to transfer the news distribution system to a few private social media companies that don’t have a primary interest in producing news? Maybe it’s a better idea than leaving news distribution in the hands of some old news companies that have failed to innovate. Nevertheless, if these companies continue to lose money and staff, how will society pay for news to be produced? Who will watchdog government? Can we really crowdsource that watchdog function consistently? If not, how do we pay for independent journalists if social media companies are making most of the revenue from distribution of news?

    Your idea lies right at the center of these big questions. Good job!

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