Shift the Story: What We're Seeing


By Wes Panek

In the categories:

Photo by Josh Johnson on Unsplash

At the beginning of 2018, we announced our Shift the Story open call, posing two broad questions to the entrepreneurs and activists wrestling with the biggest challenges facing our democracy: 1) How can we change hearts and minds? and 2) How can we build movements for the future? We got amazing responses. More than 700 of them.

Now, after several months of screening, interviews, pitches, and diligence, we’re almost ready to announce our Shift the Story cohort, the 10–20 startups receiving funding and support from New Media Ventures this year. We’ve learned a lot from the process of reviewing such a wide variety of applications—from political messaging to content creation, for-profits to nonprofits, explicitly political to completely nonpartisan—and we want to share some key themes that emerged:

And here are some of the ideas that we’re most excited about:

  • Massive upgrades to the political messaging supply chain. Dozens of companies and organizations are working to understand the social media landscape. We need to improve our research methodologies, create and test our messages with rigor, and deploy the most persuasive content—not just the most engaging. The current process is expensive, time-intensive, and hard to measure. What if it were quick, cheap, creative, persuasive, and had a clear and measurable return on investment? We’re thrilled to see that many teams are taking on the challenge.

  • Local media. Applicants are re-thinking the role of newsrooms, supporting journalists as they experiment with new revenue models and structure financially sustainable businesses. The renewed attention to the many components that make for successful local media—not just the content—has made us the most hopeful we’ve been on this front in years.

  • Training that scales. Many of the previous efforts to train candidates and activists have been intensive, lengthy, and in-person. That kind of in-depth leadership development is tremendously important, but if we want to field candidates for every position in America, we’re going to need to figure out how to scale these efforts. Online education and digital training components have the potential to capture and amplify the post-2016 waves of mobilization and win victories up and down the ballot. That’s great news, and we’d love to see innovations like this for campaign staff, too.

  • Direct service as a pathway to advocacy. We’ve seen really strong pitches from organizations that provide direct services (e.g. helping low-income people save cash), and are looking to build on their client base to start or expand advocacy projects. While we’ve tended to focus more on power building and structural change, we’re excited about the possibility of the direct service and advocacy worlds beginning to come together to complement each other’s work.

We hope these takeaways will spur your thinking, expand your sense of what's possible, and inspire you to #ShiftTheStory. We encourage you to connect with us on Twitter, and stay tuned for our investment announcement!