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Newsbound: Helping consumers stay afloat in the torrent of news

by: Michele McLellan |

May 17, 2011

Newsbound: Helping consumers stay afloat in the torrent of news

Josh Kalven launches Newsbound, an online service that aims to make it easier to keep up with complicated ongoing news stories by breaking them into small, explanatory bites.

Kalven incubated Newsbound in KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp in May 2010. A few months later, he left a full-time job to focus on developing the project. With the beta launch this week, I asked Josh by email for an update on the project. Here’s our Q &A.

Q. What is the mission of the site?

A. To engage and inform emerging news consumers: those who are motivated to learn about the issues of the day, but feel overwhelmed by the pace and fluency of the online news system.

Q. Who do you see as your primary audience?

A. The real-time nature of the current news system serves the junkies well, but I think it creates extremely high barriers-to-entry for those whose news consumption is more casual and sporadic.  (A recent Pew study showed that an increasing number of consumers are checking the news “from time to time” rather than at “regular intervals.”) These users are disadvantaged by the fragmented way in which we deliver news today.  Whenever they dip into the fast-flowing river of news, they’re immediately bombarded with up-to-the-minute updates, but they aren’t given any tools to close the gap between where they left off and what’s happening now.  In talking to friends and strangers about their news behavior over the past year, I’ve repeatedly heard about how hard it is to “keep up.” 

Newsbound’s goal is to capture this audience by creating a product and experience that makes “keeping up” effortless.

Q. What do you consider particularly distinctive about the site?

A. The most unique aspect of the site is the abandonment of the “article” or the “blog post” as the primary unit of consumption.  Instead, Newsbound maintains “stacks”: episode-based narratives that are devoted to a particular news story and that expand as the story develops.  It is a fixed-but-dynamic piece of journalism, much like the topic pages you see popping up on news websites these days.  Unlike most of those pages, however, the content is intended to be engaging, accessible, and explanatory in style.

Granted, the design and presentation of Newsbound’s two initial stacks is very basic.  But my belief is that this format lends itself to some extremely exciting functionalities down the road.

(Here’s the Budget Breakdown stack, which explores the federal budget debate.)

Q. Why did you decide to use video?

A. Two reasons: First, I think explanatory material just pairs well with video; after all, many of us are visual learners.  Second, videos simply take up less real estate, which is very important when you consider our stack format.  It’s great to be able present a 1,500-word piece in video form and have it take up only 300 vertical pixels.

While video is most likely going to remain the primary means of delivery, it won’t be the only one.  For instance, we’re currently serving up separate text versions of each episode.  I hope to also create tablet-friendly, slide-based versions as well that marry the text with some of the graphical elements seen in the video.

Q. Where did the idea come from?

A. As editor-in-chief of small Chicago-based news website in 2009, I first experimented with creating two tiers of coverage around a complicated labor dispute we were covering.  Once I got that idea into my head—that the tools of the web free us to create different types of new experiences for different types of users—I was hooked.  I particularly loved the idea of creating editorial content that gains value over time (by contrast to most real-time coverage, which depreciates quickly).  In August 2010, I left that position and began to focus on developing Newsbound.

Q. What, if anything, was particularly useful from KDMC boot camp in getting this project going?

A. Well first of all, the actual process of applying to the KDMC boot camp in 2010 was indispensable, as it forced me to put pen to paper and articulate the business concept that I’d been only talking about for months.

Looking back on the camp itself, it was a great introduction to the “entrepreneurial mindset” and helped me think clearly about what Newsbound would ultimately be selling and who would represent the “customer” in that scenario.  I also appreciated the process of reaching out to mentors in the lead-up to the conference.  That’s such an important part of being an entrepreneur, but sometimes you need a push.

Q. Where do you expect your revenue to come from?

A. At the moment, our revenue model includes a mix of subscriptions, advertising, and media partnerships.  The latter is the easiest to pursue during this beta phase, assuming this content is validated by the online journalism community.  Meanwhile, the subscription-only features that I have in mind are the most difficult to test at this early juncture as they require a significant technology investment.

Q. What’s next?

A. My initial plan is to use Newsbound’s current, sparse resources to build out the Budget Breakdown stack over the next couple months and experiment with new content. (I’m anticipating releasing 2-3 additional episodes.)  During this time, I’m also going to be recruiting initial members of the editorial team and working with my advisors in Chicago and New York to raise a round of angel funding this summer.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

By Michele McLellan, 05/17/11 at 5:08 am


Congrats, Josh and thanks for the piece, Michele. I look forward to seeing you both at KDMC again this week, where at least one entrepreneur was incubated!

Polly Kreisman
Publisher | theLoopny.com

By polly, 05/18/11 at 11:08 am

Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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