Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Knight News Challenge identifies key factors in digital startup success

What separates a successful innovative media project from the rest? The Knight News Challenge has reviewed the successes and failures of its 2010 and 2011 winners and identified the key factors in digital news success.

The Knight News Challenge has been supporting news media innovation since 2007, funding more than a hundred projects to the tune of $37 million. Some of its winners have developed into successful businesses (though not necessarily doing what they originally planned), while others have sunk without a trace.

The report looks at 28 projects such as FrontlineSMS, iWitness, and Zeega and picks out important lessons that contribute to successful media innovation.

Target users with “a need you can feel”

Successful projects scale because they have identified a core audience and proven need, whereas others fail “because they developed a tool without first identifying target users”.

Get the interface right

“An intuitive user interface is vital for attracting and retaining users.” But don’t underestimate the time and expense involved in developing what appears to be a simple design.

Successful projects may appeal to a different audience than first imagined…

Tools developed to help media outlets with tasks such as visualising data have struggled to get traction in the newsroom but have found success in other industries. “Small budgets in journalism and a lack of technical understanding among journalists can inhibit adoption.”

…Anticipate resistance to innovation

Successful startups realise that their innovation may cause disruption and meet institutional resistance. Successful innovators anticipate resistance and plan ahead for it, for example by identifying a wider potential audience beyond the initial target.

Identify staffing needs early

Many startups rely on a mix of full-time paid staff and a community of users and evangelists to develop and promote services and tools. Identify which parts of your project need paid, full-time staff and those that can be carried out by volunteers, and allocate resources accordingly. The contribution of unpaid supporters can be undermined by insufficient core staffing.

Article by Peter Whitehead

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