Nieman Foundation at Harvard
BREAKING: The ways people hear about big news these days; “into a million pieces,” says source
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 17, 2018, 9:53 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Cold, hard numbers will drive the stories on this Internet-crawling company’s new media arm

Fintech company Thinknum has lots of interesting data to sell access to. Now it wants to build public-facing stories out of it.

Google Trends, but for more than just searches and not freely public. The Bloomberg Terminal, but for data trails over time. Alternative data, but for journalists. (The Wall Street kind, not the Kellyanne Conway kind.) The price of a Chipotle burrito bowl, but comparing the price differences across zip codes.

Thinknum Media launched this morning under the leadership of longtime tech journalist Joshua Fruhlinger (formerly of Aol Tech, Engadget, and The Wall Street Journal) and fintech company Thinknum, which crawls the Internet to provide data on other businesses to subscribers. Fruhlinger leads the team of writers charged with taking the data and building “facts-only” stories around it, which other news organizations could aggregate from or could prompt business-minded folks to buy into Thinknum’s database to monitor in the future.

“As a journalist who has been everywhere from Engadget to The Wall Street Journal to TMZ and seen all different sides of the reporting world, one thing I’ve learned is that facts and actual trends are some of the most fertile grounds for being able to tell a story,” Fruhlinger told me. Or, as he put it in his intro post, “There is a universe of numbers out there, and I want to tell their stories.”

Thinknum’s cofounders approached Fruhlinger about the media opportunity for their database, which is built by frequent crawls across the Internet in search of quantifiable data, such as the aforementioned Chipotle prices. The project has been in the works for over a year. Fruhlinger says he was drawn by the cold, hard numbers Thinknum has been stockpiling since its founding in 2013: “…pulling that data every six hours from all of Chipotle’s locations, parsing it into a database, and normalizing it into an interface that an investor has a subscription to,” he explained for the burrito bowl example. “What’s proprietary here is that we’re collecting it on a regular basis and normalizing it.”

Nasdaq quoted Thinknum cofounder Justin Zhen in 2016:

Take a company like Home Depot for example. With Thinknum I can quickly pull up Home Depot store locations on a map and then overlay it with locations of a competitor such as Lowes. Then I can connect this information to demographic data such as median household income by county.

With this I can determine where income is going up and which of these two companies will benefit from that because they have more stores in or near that area.

We can look at unemployment rates and see which restaurant chains are going to lose business. We can look at weather data and if it rained a lot this past quarter which companies will benefit and which will be hurt by that.

Stories produced by Fruhlinger, Jeremy Bloom, and three freelance writers are based on trends ranging from Amazon reviews to the northernmost place on Earth to buy an iPhone (Barrow, Alaska) to how a dating website is stealthily faking its user numbers to BuzzFeed’s hiring halt:

The Wall Street Journal reported that BuzzFeed was “on track to miss its revenue target for this year by a significant amount.”

The report noted that BuzzFeed was “targeting revenue of around $350 million in 2017 but is expected to fall short of that figure by about 15% to 20%.”

This news made their investors sad kitties. Which in turn panicked management. At Thinknum, one of the things we track is job listings on LinkedIn, and you can see it in the numbers: Buzzfeed’s job listings started to contract.

Think of it as content marketing: You can’t access the full data on your own unless you buy into Thinknum’s database. (Or otherwise manually enter in zip codes to Chipotle’s website to find burrito bowl prices, or count BuzzFeed’s job listings on LinkedIn every day.) So the journalism serves as an ad for the paid product. But it’s still an interesting way to find legitimate data to write about, especially without PR people for the companies themselves pitching numbers to journalists.

Beyond the Thinknum Media website, you can get their stories on social media and on a forthcoming weekly newsletter. You can also tune into Ann Arbor’s top country radio station every Wednesday morning to hear Fruhlinger present fun facts from Thinknum Media stories on the “Breakfast with Bubba” show.

Photo by Fabio used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Jan. 17, 2018, 9:53 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Aggregation & Discovery
Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
BREAKING: The ways people hear about big news these days; “into a million pieces,” says source
The New York Times and the Washington Post compete with meme accounts for the chance to be first with a big headline.
In 1924, a magazine ran a contest: “Who is to pay for broadcasting and how?” A century later, we’re still asking the same question
Radio Broadcast received close to a thousand entries to its contest — but ultimately rejected them all.
You’re more likely to believe fake news shared by someone you barely know than by your best friend
“The strength of weak ties” applies to misinformation, too.