Jeremy Klaszus didnât even have a Facebook account until last August, when he realized that it would be useful for the news startup he was planning to launch.
Nine months later, The Sprawl â a hyper-local, Calgary-based âpop-upâ news outlet that focuses on a handful of in-depth stories or projects a year â is not only up and running, but getting a big helping hand from the U.S. social media giant.
The Sprawl is one of the five news startups selected to spend five months in the Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ) incubator, with access to up to $100,000 in seed capital and $50,000 in Facebook advertising to help get their ideas off the ground.
None of these startups aims to take on the big legacy players in the news business. Instead, they each aim to tackle a specific niche, in the shadow of the new media giants â Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon.
Facebook says that since a lot of people get their news from the social media platform, they have skin in the game when it comes to innovation and new models for news production and delivery. The idea of partnering with the DMZ is to take a few promising ideas and foster their growth.
Representatives from each of the startups were at Facebook Canadaâs office Monday for a panel discussion on the future of news, as part of Innovation Week.
Among the others are Ground, which aims to use citizen journalists to provide verified information in fast-breaking news stories, and Trebble FM which wants to create an easy tool to let people build interactive newscasts for smart speakers such as the Google Home and the Amazon Echo.
In the case of The Sprawl, the whole business is built off big-tech platforms; Klaszus doesnât even have a stand-alone website, choosing instead to aggregate content on the blogging site Medium, on top of regular posts on Twitter and Facebook.
âThe opportunity is that people can make things quickly using these platforms,âÂ he said. âYou donât need to buy a printing press.âŚ But then youâre beholden to them, in a sense, so itâs a bit of a balancing act.
âOne of the vulnerabilities is that all your stuff is living on these other platforms that may or may not be around for a long time.â
The same push toward hyper-specific content is whatâs driving The Gist, a sports-media startup aimed specifically at catering to millennial women.
âI think with the future of news, what people are looking for more and more is customized, catered content,â said co-founder Ellen Hyslop. âSo for us, we are catering sports news for that female millennial.â
The Gist is still in its early stages, building an audience and figuring out what works, but theoretically a hyper-specific readership could be valuable to advertisers who want to target messages towards that specific slice of the population.
Like The Sprawl, The Gist is trying to figure out how to navigate as a small media startup amid the tech titans, and has noticed subdivisions with its target readership, depending on the platform.
âWe have a certain demographic thatâs really, really active on Instagram and itâs a slightly different demographic thatâs really, really active on Facebook,â said Jacie DeHoop, the other co-founder of The Gist.
One of the vulnerabilities is that all your stuff is living on these other platforms that may or may not be around for a long timeJeremy Klazsus, founder, The Sprawl
Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada, insisted that Facebook doesnât have a specific vision for how the news landscape will unfold in the coming years, and he said the social media giant isnât trying to steer things in a certain direction by picking which startups get funding.
âOur hope, obviously, for everybody involved in this digital news innovation challenge, is that at the end of their five-month residency theyâre going to come up with really cool business models that are going to be able to scale nationally, and hopefully even bigger than that.â
But on that front, Chan might be disappointed.
Speaking to the Financial Post, Klaszus said he doesnât have any grand ambitions for growing The Sprawl beyond a good, hyper-local media outlet publishing in-depth reporting.
âI never started with the intention of creating a big institution. This is small,â he said.
âI see it growing in that same manner, where youâve got a handful of people who are doing really deep work.â
First published at http://business.financialpost.com/technology/news-startups-think-small-to-find-a-niche-in-the-shadow-of-tech-giants