Demos, Tech Staffing, and Funding Challenges/Solutions at Hacks/Hackers Colorado

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by Sandra Fish

How can nonprofit news organizations build community and produce content across platforms while also building sustainable business models?

That’s the complex question that emerged from the August meetup of Hacks/Hackers Colorado. Three nonprofits and one location-based startup made presentations to about 40 people Monday, Aug. 8, at the Techstars bunker in Boulder. Here’s a brief overview:

Laura Frank founded the I-News Investigative Network in 2010 to produce investigative news stories across platforms to be used by news organizations in Colorado. With initial funding from foundations, three full-time employees, and one part-time employee, I-News has conducted investigations on sex assaults on college campuses, the environmental and health dangers of electronic waste, the surplus of product in the medical marijuana industry, and more. Frank says she’d love to work with developers—possibly in a weekend hackathon—on concepts such as presenting big stories on small screens and scraping and automating public data.

EdNews Colorado covers K-12 and some higher education policy issues in Colorado. Nancy Mitchell, one of three full-time employees of the site, says databases, such as test scores, are the most popular features for EdNews. “People really want data. They want to find their information and they want it unfiltered,” she said, adding that EdNews, which also operates a site for parents, EdNewsParent, is looking for more ways to present that data online—and to create a community and conversation about education reform in Colorado.

Health Policy Solutions is a site modeled after EdNews that covers health care policy in Colorado. Editor and founder Diane Carmen says the site’s initial funding came from foundation grants, but she wonders how she can fund the site into the future. Solutions launched in December 2010 and is based at the University of Colorado at Denver’s School of Public Policy.

Tagwhat is a Boulder startup that focuses on delivering location-based information to mobile devices. CEO Dave Elchoness demonstrated how his app tells stories about places using different channels—sports, food, art, heritage, etc.—featuring traditional elements such as maps, phone numbers, and contact info as well as written and visual information about a place.

Discussion revolved around financing and building community. Tagwhat’s Elchoness would consider charging for branded channels (a “Real Housewives” channel, Bravo?), as well as potentially incorporating games or advertising. And he suggested nonprofits such as I-News, EdNews, or Solutions might find ways to partner with Tagwhat by providing content. Frank said I-News is pursing a “revenue promiscuous” strategy, including foundation funding, payments from news organizations for content, donations, and events. EdNews is seeking sponsorships of the site as well as foundation money.

September’s Hacks/Hackers Colorado meetup will be Thursday, Sept. 8, in Denver. Location TBA.[


Category: News