Photojournalism platform Tackable is our topic today and who better can present it than its co-founder Luke Stangel.
Tackable is a Silicon Valley-based tech startup co-founded in 2010 by Ed Lucero, Luke Stangel and Steven Woo. Lucero was one of the founders of the digital marketing agency AGENDA, which was sold to the WPP Group in 2008. Stangel is a former journalist and Woo was one of the top software engineers at Blizzard, and helped build the bestselling Diablo II title.
Tackable received seed funding from the California Newspapers Partnership, a consortium of roughly 80 newspapers in California. The company’s 10-member team is incubated inside the San Jose Mercury News. In mid-July, the team launched its first product, a location-aware digital newsmagazine called TapIn Bay Area for the iPad. Download the app here.
The team is currently building its second product, an assignment-based citizen photojournalism platform.
Q: Tackable is a new platform, tell us more about it.
A: Team Tackable has launched one product, and is in the process of producing another. Our first product is a location-aware iPad newsmagazine called TapIn Bay Area. We’re currently building a second (still unnamed) product designed around mobile photojournalism. Using this app, traditional print, broadcast and online reporters can create time- and location-aware assignments, which their readers and viewers complete using their smartphones. People can also upload live photos and video to a real-time, digital map. The idea is to give people a live look at the newsworthy things happening in any city, right now.
Q: What was the inspiration for creating Tackable?
A: While studying journalism in college, I wrote for a hyperlocal newspaper startup called the Palo Alto Daily News. We worked under incredibly tight deadlines and were expected to scoop our competition every day, if possible. Live information was a valuable commodity, so we’d listen to police scanners 24/7. (This was 2003, several years before Twitter’s live information stream). The problem with following live information is that you can’t follow it 24 hours a day. You need to sleep. I’d wake up and turn on the scanner feeling like I had missed 8 hours of reality. The early theories around Tackable came out of my desire to solve the problem of those missing 8 hours. Initially, I imagined people dropping digital beacons on a map to indicate, “News is happening here right now.” Later, that concept evolved into live smartphone photos on a map.
Q: Considering that your platform is for live photojournalism, do you think people prefer photos over video and text?
A: When we launch this new platform, people will be able to respond to assignments using photos and videos. Photos are nice: They’re visual, they’re fairly easy to send over a cellular network, and they can instantly capture the subtleties of a story. Videos are cool, but they’re tough to transmit over the network and we find a lot of people shoot shaky cell phone video. That said, video is also very interesting. Text is at best boring, and at worst, misleading. You can tweet from the middle of a protest: “There are thousands of people marching in the streets right now.” The true number could be several hundred. It’s better to instead take a photo of the crowd, and let people see what it looks like for themselves.
Q: What’s the link between citizen journalism and Tackable?
A: We’re huge believers in citizen journalism. Citizen journalism no longer conducted by a small group of dedicated people: It’s become mainstream. Whenever there’s an earthquake, people turn on their webcams, record the footage and upload it to YouTube. People pass a wildfire on the freeway, take a photo with their iPhone and put it on Facebook. Chances are, you don’t do this thinking “I’m engaging in citizen journalism,” you do it because you’ve experienced something notable and you want to share it with the world.
Our issue with YouTube and Twitter is dealing with the keyword-based information stream — the chances of someone seeing “vid_007.mov” on YouTube are exponentially lower than someone seeing “Malibu earthquake footage 03/07/11”. It’s the same with a large-scale emergency — your tweet containing the word “earthquake” will get buried very quickly in the information stream. Facebook is a walled garden, so you’re largely blocked from seeing citizen journalism posted there. We believe a more elegant solution is to organize live media by time and location, rather than keywords.
Q: Do you think Tackable can make a more perfect bond between traditional and new media?
A: We work with traditional newspaper reporters on a daily basis and find that most are eager to try new media tools, if those tools help them be more effective as journalists. The industry’s most popular new media tools — YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and RSS feeds — weren’t designed specifically for journalism. So, we find most reporters cobble together a mix of tools and do the best they can. We’re building this new platform from the ground up with social journalism specifically in mind, with the hope that we do help traditional journalists embrace new media more completely.
Q: What do you think about social media today?
A: Social media will no doubt go down as one of the most significant inventions in human history. Millions of people’s thoughts and interests now instantly accessible in an unprecedented way. It’s fascinating to watch crowdsourcing in action — as the crowd turns its attention to a new viral video or a trending news article. Increasingly, our challenge as technologists is to help people distill the flood of information down to its most important and essential elements. Like anything technical, the first 90 percent of the problem is easy to solve. The last 10 percent will take decades to get right.
Q: What is the Spartan Daily?
A: The Spartan Daily is the daily student newspaper at San Jose State University. I studied journalism at San Jose State, and wrote for the Spartan Daily. We built an early sandbox app for the student journalists at the Spartan Daily, giving them to ability to create photo assignments for students. This app allowed us to experiment with our ideas in a controlled environment and work out what types of incentives work best. The app has been live in the iPhone App Store for the past six months. We’ll probably close the experiment once we launch the full platform.
Q: What do you see for the future of citizen journalism?
A: Right now, citizen journalism and traditional journalism operate separately from one another, and the phrase “citizen journalism” is still stigmatized in traditional newsrooms around the world. I don’t know if traditional journalists and citizen journalists will ever work out their differences. Instead, I see the rise of a third type of journalist — call them spontaneous journalists, or accidental journalists. These spontaneous journalists happen to witness news, and document and upload their experience truthfully. Without meaning to, they’ve written the “first draft of the first draft” of history.
Both traditional journalists and citizen journalists are increasingly using spontaneous journalism as a source of reporting. The problem with spontaneous journalism is that there are 6.7 billion people who could possibly witness and document news, and no way to structure and organize that journalism in a smart way. We hope to build that structure.
Q: What’s in the future for Tackable?
A: We like building interesting things. Right now, our focus is on helping improve the journalist’s tool belt. We’re a smart and creative team, so we’re constantly kicking around other big software ideas. I encourage you to contact us at play [at] tackable [dot] com if you’d like to talk further. We always love to hear new ideas.
Thanks again to Luke Stangel, co-founder of photojournalism platform Tackable for sharing his time, opinion and future plans.