Each February for the past five years Marty Steffens has taken her University of Missouri School of Journalism business models class to Seattle to experience and hear from entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who are furiously transforming news media. Seattle has a tremendous range of news outlets, from hyperlocal news sites and traditional print and broadcast properties, to the MSN Web portal and brand newsrooms at Edelman and Starbucks. The startup and innovation culture in Seattle is exciting.

During the class tour, I had an opportunity to briefly visit with executives from these three entities:

The Starbucks Newsroom

Starbucks Newsroom is a storytelling platform that “focuses on our people, not on our products,” said Linda Thomas, Newsroom director and editor-in-chief of digital news. “We describe ourselves as in-house journalism … journalistic more than promotional.

“We employ more than 300,000. That’s a lot of opportunity for storytelling. It’s storytelling basics: We tell stories through people, not things. You don’t have a story without emotion.”

“We have 85 million customers a week,” added Corey duBrowa, senior vice president of global communications. “Seventy percent say they return to Starbucks for its people, more than any other reason.”

NBC News Digital Network’s Breaking News platform

Breaking News is a digital notification platform built on structured data — with loads of tagging, much of it automated — curated by human editors. It uses APIs to deliver notifications to its mobile apps and to the website. Breaking News has experienced a 96 percent growth in notifications year over year. The platform has more reach on the Web, but more views via the mobile apps. iOS outperforms Android, but Android is strong overseas. “We focus on utility,” said Cory Bergman, general manager of Breaking News.


Aggregate is a four-year-old firm that provides strategic communication guidance for social justice issues, primarily with nonprofit organizations. Clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and several documentary filmmakers. “Our job is to help create or take client content [and] engage the audience with the issue,” said Siobhan Canty, Aggregate managing director. “We’re about facilitating discovery … about relationships, not eyeballs.”

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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