Media Spot Me is the latest startup to launch out of the Communitech hub in Waterloo, and looks to give journalists a way to research and quickly access experts in a given field for commentary on their stories, in turn giving subject matter experts a way to get their name out in the press. The turn-around times for publishers and journalists are getting increasingly shorter in an age of instantaneous Twitter reports and live blogs, and researching experts can be one of the more time-consuming parts of the process. Media Spot Me lets journalists search experts by keywords, with a growing database of experts across Canada.
Co-founded by former journalist Stavros Rougas and Ebrahim Ashrafizadeh, a University of Waterloo engineering grad, the duo met at a local startup event and decided to solve what was often a painstaking process for Rougas. The company received a $30,000 grant from VentureStart, and is now part of the VeloCity accelerator at the University of Waterloo.
“It was always a struggle to find people, it was a major part of my job and it is for a lot of journalists to find people with the knowledge to then produce your [stories],” said Rougas in an interview with BetaKit. “[Media Spot Me] takes a lot of principles that pre-exist and brings them together. These aren’t just random people, the value add of getting in contact with people who provide value immediately is a big time saver as a journalist.”
The startup is focused on creating a curated database of academics from across Canada who can be filtered by both region, educational institution, and expertise. The criteria for experts is that they are recognized in a given field, and that unlike corporate representatives are not restricted by policy in providing their opinion. Anyone can apply to be part of Media Spot Me’s expert database by connecting their LinkedIn profile, with the company reviewing each applicant and accepting or rejecting them based on their qualifications. If accepted, they fill out a profile page which lists their email as their primary contact information.
Journalists on the other hand sign up and have a two-week free trial, with Media Spot Me costing $29 per month after the trial ends, or $290 per year. The startup also has enterprise plans available, which would be best suited to a newsroom or larger media organization.
Other developments we’ve seen at BetaKit when it comes to reporting involve the rise of marketplaces for publishers to access content from freelancers and citizen journalists like Cont3nt, Spread, and Rawporter. Journalists could just as easily search LinkedIn’s database themselves or put out a request for expertise on platforms like Help A Reporter Out (HARO), which lets journalists put out requests for expert sources in the company’s daily emails, but Rougas says Media Spot Me’s service aims to streamline the process by providing them with more control.
“What we do is put the journalist is in control, you go in and solve the problem immediately. The other one [HARO] is if you send something and wait for people to come back, you’re not sure who they are and there’s a time delay,” Rougas added. Despite the fact that it’s proactive, the service is also only focused on Canada right now, so U.S. or international reporters will still need to turn to social networks and services like HARO to find expert sources.
The company will look to expand its database of academics to eventually include groups like think tanks and other research-based organizations that are always looking to comment on their area of expertise. With its launch, Media Spot Me will look to see if journalists are willing to pay their monthly fee in exchange for both the time and effort they would put in finding their own leads. In a world of instantaneous journalism, journalists are often turning to the same platforms they promote their stories on to find sources and leads, so whether Media Spot Me will prove to be a value-add to journalists will depend on whether it truly does save time, or just adds another step to the reporting process.