2015-16 Challenges


#1 Exploiting Popular Podcasts

By one estimate, podcast downloads passed 1 billion in 2014. By another, the number of unique monthly podcast listeners has tripled to 75 million in the past five years. And ways are being found to make money from podcasts, with some experts predicting huge revenue growth potential.  

Challenge:  Come up with a way to motivate citizens in a community or geographic region to upload their own podcasts on whatever topic they choose or a range of topics you suggest. Then, engage your listening audience by having them provide feedback so you can determine the most popular podcasts and encourage citizens to produce more of the same.

These “user-generated” podcasts may be uploaded to an existing online “host” service, or you can create or customize your own. The key is to not simply come up with a way for listeners to rank or “curate” the most popular podcasts, but to allow you to learn why they are the most popular. Was it the topic? The narrator? The length? The quality of the storytelling? And what can you learn about the person downloading the podcast? Their age? Gender? Profession? Interests? The number of hours they typically listen to podcasts each week? The podcast length they prefer? The genre of podcasts that most appeals to them?

 In other words, come up with ways to get all the relevant information you need to 1) determine the most popular podcasts, 2) encourage more of the same so you can grow your podcasting audience, and 3) use this information to help you produce a revenue stream that will cover all your costs and, it is hoped, produce a profit.

#2 Tracking Money in State & Local Election Campaigns

There are many digital tools available for voters to track political contributions to candidates at the federal level. But it’s not so easy for citizens to see who is financially supporting those running for state and local offices.  It’s important for citizens to be able to know who is trying to influence these state/local candidates (or ballot initiatives). And it’s important for voters to know this before – not after – Election Day. 

Challenge: Come up with a product or tool for citizens to access the most up to date campaign finance data in state and local elections. It could be offered as a service by a news organization, or as a standalone digital tool. Your idea should be easy to use and be able to help citizens hold candidates (or backers of ballot initiatives) accountable by allowing them to track the real or potential influence of money in politics. You must show the cost of development and marketing, as well as ways your product or tool can produce revenue. It also must be innovative in providing a service that is distinct from anything that currently exists.

#3 Engaging First-time Voters

Many high school and college students will be eligible to vote for the first time in the 2016 presidential election. With an unusually large field of presidential candidates already campaigning, and with saturation media coverage, overall public interest is high. Yet if history is a guide, campaigns will have a real challenge getting potential first-time voters to register and cast ballots.

Challenge: Create a truly innovative product, tool, service or strategy to get potential first-time voters engaged and motivated to register to cast ballots next November on Election Day 2016. Your solution can rely on the full range of technological devices at your disposal, including (but not limited to) apps, digital gaming and social media. Many vehicles exist for getting citizens to register and vote. Yours must be focused on a subset of these: first-time voters. You must fully explain the cost of developing and marketing your idea, as well as how it will produce revenue to either cover your costs or, hopefully, produce a profit.

#4 Create a news outlet to serve a “Media Desert”

A growing number of lower income communities, urban and rural, are no longer adequately served by news organizations. These so-called “media deserts” are economically disadvantaged areas incapable of supporting news outlets that rely primarily on local advertising revenue to cover the cost of providing news coverage. A few nonprofit news ventures have sprung up to fill the void (http://knightfoundation.org/features/nonprofitnews-2015-summary). But most struggle to pay even modest salaries to journalists who cover the news. One way to reduce this cost is to rely on unpaid contributors. Wikipedia, which is written collaboratively by people who care about specific topics, does this on a global scale. Other sites like Quora (https://www.quora.com/about) rely on volunteer experts to answer questions posed by people from around the world. 

Challenge:  Using the collaborative concepts of Wikipedia and Quora, create a locally focused news outlet capable of serving a “media desert” by harnessing unpaid contributions from the people who live there. Your idea must include a way for the community to pose pressing questions – both large and small – to be answered by your volunteer “reporters.” Examples: Why are local high school test scores so much lower than the state average? Does the recycling center take aluminum foil? Who do I call about that large pothole on my street? Were there competitive bids to construct the new city building? 

Your solution to this challenge must address how this type of non-monetary-based sharing could be harnessed to support local news generation or community empowerment. How would local citizens learn about and tap in to this resource? And, even though your citizen “reporters” would not be paid, how would your news outlet be sustained financially?

#5 Incentivize your audience to help tell stories

 With social media, it's never been easier for publishing sites to gain feedback on stories that can help to push storytelling forward. Digital publishers, including many of the most popular news websites, routinely ask readers to comment on stories using feedback devices like hashtags or Google Forms. Many of those comments are then featured in updated stories, deepening audience engagement by inducing still more people to read the story and weigh in. But what's in it for the person providing the feedback? A chance to be one of many audience members whose comments are featured in a story? There was a time when that was sufficient motivation. But with the proliferation of this kind of user-generated content (UGC), publishers are finding that simply having a  comment appear in a story is often no longer enough to motivate readers to offer feedback. That’s left many publishing sites looking for ways to better entice users to be a part of the storytelling process? 

Challenge: Come up with a way to intrigue and motivate a connected audience to better interact with publishing sites. The goal is for the publishing site to increase reader feedback that it can use to deepen audience engagement, and for the person offering the feedback to be meaningfully rewarded for their effort. For example, perhaps the solution is an app that entices users to offer feedback in return for prizes or incentives offered by the publisher.  Or, your solution might involve a way for the audience to rank UGC feedback, perhaps offering some sort of prize or special recognition for “top-rated comments” that would be featured in stories. Whatever your idea, it must be clear whether this is a product or innovation available for only one publisher or whether it is a generic solution that could be used by any publishing site. Your entry also must clearly describe how both the publisher and those offering feedback benefit. And your challenge solution must address how it can generate a revenue stream to produce a profit or, at a minimum, cover the cost of development and implementation.

NOTE: The team judged to have the best solution to this challenge will be awarded a special prize. Mashable, which submitted the challenge, will provide free transportation, room and board for two members of the team to go to New York City where they will have VIP access to Mashable’s 2016 Social Good Summit, a conference examining the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. The team members also will meet with staffers at the headquarters of Mashable, a growing global media site that bills itself as “redefining storytelling by documenting and shaping the digital revolution in a new voice, new formats and cutting-edge technologies.” 

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