COLUMBIA — The latest media outlet to open its doors in Columbia intends to reach far beyond the happenings of mid-Missouri.
Through its Web site Newsy.com, Media Convergence Group will deliver online video news that integrates world coverage by leading news outlets. A partnership between the group and MU has given the School of Journalism a high-tech multimedia newsroom to train its journalists right across the street from campus. The company also provides a public/private collaborative model, which local economic planners hope to use to attract future businesses to the area.
The arrangement between MCG, the School of Journalism and the newly formed Reynolds Journalism Institute means students get hands-on experience while taking classes that require them to produce and write Newsy.com's editorial content, said Jim Spencer, president of MCG. Students also get to advance the content online using Web marketing strategies.
Through the journalism school, MCG staff teach small classes on global online marketing and advertising and advanced global online news. Journalism students, in turn, help staff Newsy.com's state-of-the-art newsroom, which is perched above The Upper Crust bakery at 904 Elm St. The facility was unveiled at a reception for MU's School of Journalism centennial celebration on Sept. 11.
"MU gains access to an additional learning lab that's right across the street that emphasizes writing, critical analysis, light technical production and how to advance a story online," Spencer said.
About 20 students currently work in Newsy.com's newsroom, where they can earn school credit. Some have even been offered paid positions.
Keith Politte, spokesman for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, said the partnership between the university and MCG is a win-win situation.
"It allows our students another real-world experience in that great tradition of the Missouri Method," Politte said. "This really does afford a unique opportunity to have a front-row seat for creating new media models and business models."
Newsy.com produces video clips that are multi-perspective, meaning it emphasizes a multitude of sources to show who's covering news events in fresh or distinctive ways. Its revenue comes from online advertising.
This week, the site launches its restricted test version where users can register to view and give feedback on the site in its current form. Over the next few weeks, the site will open up this test version to a wider audience.
Newsy.com is Spencer's idea and, if his research proves to be correct, it's an awfully good one.
"Fifty percent of the U.S. population will watch a video online in the next month," he said. "We know there's demand for vetted, high-quality videos."
Newsy.com will provide its audience news clips with both context and convenience, he said.
"There are so many news sources available that if you just watch one, you're not getting the whole picture," Spencer said. "What do you do with 100,000 sources? (With Newsy.com) you're exposing yourself to multi-perspective news."
George Schellenger, vice president for content and production, said Newsy.com aims to turn around a two- to three-minute video clip in about four hours. Providing analysis on how a given story is covered can help people discover new sources for news that they may not have considered in the past, he said.
A model for regional economic collaboration
When MCG relocated to Columbia from Silicon Valley last May, it was a complex series of regional economic collaborations that made the move possible, Spencer said.
With the support of MU and Regional Economic Development Inc., MCG was able to win over numerous local investors and take advantage of state and local economic incentives.
When Spencer came up with the idea for Newsy.com and assembled his team in November 2007, he thought about partnering his start-up business with a prominent journalism school. Spencer got his master's degree in journalism at MU, so Columbia was an obvious place to look. But it took a bit of research to make sure Columbia was the right town. Austin, Texas, and Berkeley, Calif., were also on the short list of possible towns for the move.
When Spencer approached the MU School of Journalism in late 2007 about the partnership role school officials immediately "got it," he said. MCG also received a warm reception from REDI.
"REDI saw the opportunity and stepped up the support that really made it happen," Spencer said.
REDI helped introduce Spencer to Centennial Investors, a collection of regional business leaders and certified investors, said Bernie Andrews, president of REDI.
Centennial Investors identified with Spencer's vision enough to buy in. It even contacted the St. Louis-based Arch Angels investment group, from which several more individual investors emerged, said Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, REDI worked on finding a desirable space for the business and conducting research on state programs to see if MCG would qualify for financial incentives, Andrews said. The work yielded a Missouri Department of Economic Development tax credit of up to $75,000 and a fund from REDI called the Flexible Incentive Grant of $25,000.
Missouri Technology Corp., a Jefferson City-based nonprofit, also invested heavily.
"In a relatively short period of time they were able to get a significant amount of money working with REDI and some of these groups to be able to put them in a position to start up," Laird said.
All told, MCG raised close to $1 million in investments, grants and tax credits, which was a large factor in helping Columbia beat out the other cities MCG was looking at.
The quick and widely collaborative effort to bring MCG to Columbia is something of a model for how local entities can work together to bring new businesses to the city.
"I think it can be a good model for future projects," Andrews said. "Since this was a successful partnership, we want to see if we can duplicate that on other projects."
Spencer hopes the collaborative efforts can help "ignite a chain reaction that builds towards the long-term success of Columbia."
"It shows the city of Columbia is open for business," Spencer said.