Don’t overlook the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow and other innovative companies large and small when looking for voices in media thought leadership. Below are observations and insights from a handful of the city’s media leaders that I collected while accompanying a Missouri School of Journalism innovation and entrepreneurship class as they visited each venue.

What if you threw a party and everybody came?

Based on other hackathons, the Zillow organizers figured to “accept” 400 and expect 200. So they set 200 chairs. The 400 flooded the place (no doubt due to the culture’s habit of providing beer and snacks).

The weekend challenge: Take newly available housing data collected and now shared by the federal government and build tools to address two problems or challenges. Creative challenges included:

  • Use data to identify affordable housing (apartments) and information on how to apply for them without having to find childcare or take time off from work to go stand in line — by hacking a mobile app to do those jobs. Too many who need the housing end up a day late or at the end of the line, missing out on much-needed opportunities.
  • Use data to identify home ownership opportunities and the many local and state agencies that provide assistance for first-time buyers that might lack traditional down payments or credit scores. There is housing in the area that is no more expensive than paying rent — if they can find the available housing and match it to appropriate funding opportunities. And create mobile tools to provide that information.

This is using data to solve problems and build or strengthen community. That’s a form of journalism, isn’t it?

Innovation takeaways

  • Innovation is not always something new. Often it’s a mash-up of existing technologies or strategies, used or delivered in new ways (Zapier).
  • Often it springs from a mistake (Post-its).
  • Don’t dismiss startups as sub-par journalism (Buzzfeed, others).
  • Don’t dismiss startups because they burn cash and are unprofitable to start.

Related links

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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