The PolarNews Story — Putting MBA Resources to a Mission

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Have you heard about PolarNews?  It is a daily news reader that pairs two articles with polarized perspectives on topics to let readers see two sides to every issue.  After two months, we just reached a milestone of 3,000 messages delivered with over 50% engagement.  And there is more good news: three Wharton MBAs are behind the project!  

For those of you who are on our service, here is a closer look at the actions and inspirations that led us to create this project.  We hope that you enjoy our story of how we broke against inertia to create a service intending to improve conversation in the world.

How did it happen?

Our day to day Wharton lives are full.  We have classes and activities and social occasions and presentations and conferences and did I mention social occasions and a whole lot else.  Still, somewhere in that chaos we found the stepping stones to put together a business.

1. Wharton Women in Business Pitch.  PolarNews first hatched as an idea in a last minute effort to enter a pitch competition.  Alongside learning teammates Roshni Naidu, Kanako Shimahara, we decided to enter into the Wharton Women in Business Conference Pitch competition with less than 48 hours to spare before our entry was do.  Our only problem was that we had no pitch and no business ideas!  

So one afternoon, we locked ourselves in a conference room and chucked out concepts Big Idea style, from city mapping, to bicycle helmet rentals, to fat burning shoes.  Toward the end of this fun brainstorming session of whatever crossed our mind, I offered an idea that had been present to me for years: a service to break through polarization in our news.  I had thought it while reading polarized coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict during fall of 2014, and more recently when reading polarized coverage of the UK’s Brexit vote during summer of 2016.  I used to constantly flip between many sources on a specific topic to gain a more balanced understanding of the issue and wondered, does anybody else go to this trouble?

The idea to make that ‘trouble’ less robust stuck with us.  We agreed on the idea and submitted our hastily prepared deck.  And despite facing established businesses that had been working for months and years, we cleared the first round of the competition.

2. MBA Cafe Conversation.  We did not win the Wharton Women in Business pitch competition.  Still, the experience provided hope.  Instead of drop the project, we then tried to build it.  More specifically, we tried to build it during lunch.  

Lunch, as many would agree, is both a social and productive hour which contains energy and enthusiasm.  Communities are crossing in the MBA cafe on route to information sessions, speakers, event notifications, and engaging conversations.  On November 6th, we captured that energy and drafted our first email, one which showcased conflicting opinions about the VP debate.  We sent it six subscribers – the people sitting at our same table.  The following day, we drafted a new email and sent it to even more.  

Momentum started build and team began to form.  Matt Alexander, who brings experience as a senate policy analyst sat and developed a list of over twenty sources from which to choose articles – sources leaning far left to far right and everywhere in the middle.  Mimi Bell noticed the absent lack of design touch and missing social media presence, so she built our logo and facebook page.  Friends took on sharing the service fromt the MBA cafe, and we fed off that energy.

3. Late Night Phone Calls.  With hundreds of subscribers soon expecting a PolarNews email to start their morning, our evening routine started including news curation.  At the expense of guests and social commitments, our team would drop everything send each other articles late at night, slotting them into place at the conclusion of the news cycle.  Our days of work, which included full days of classes and other commitments, reliably included a phone call from 9-10pm, sometimes later.  We would chat on the phone, edit our language, check each other’s biases, and search for inspiring quotes on life, love, and meaning to share with our readers.  Can you tell me a better way to spend an evening?

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An example of the side-by-side analysis presented in the PolarNews e-mail newsletter.

Why are we continuing to do this?

1. To expose people to new perspectives.  We want to expose readers to viewpoints that they would not otherwise encounter in their daily lives. By pairing articles from readers’ “familiar and trusted” news sources with stories from influential news outlets that these same readers distrust, we enable our audience to be confronted with opinions and ideas outside of their echo chambers. We do this irrespective of political or ideological affiliation i.e., a more liberal reader will find articles from Fox News, Breitbart, and RedState paired with stories from Slate, The Atlantic, and Vox.

By exposing our readers to divergent views on current events, we hope to empower them to think for themselves. Unfortunately, speculation and misinformation are perceived to be rampant in our current news culture. If individuals feel they can’t trust news from mass-media organizations, it’s important that coverage and analysis of current events be aggregated in a way that allows people to form their own opinions.

2. To aggregate niches.  Given the ever-expanding number of niche news organizations online, many people only seek those sources that confirm opinions they already hold. In this way, many readers’ quest for truth has become one for validation of their own views. PolarNews pushes readers to consider the perspectives of niche articles and news sources in a broader context.

3. To cut through noise.  News and media organizations often publish headlines that drive traffic at the expense of analyzing what actually matters. Rather than trying to cover all the news, we focus our coverage on a small, important set of news items.

Beyond this, we created PolarNews to give people a tool that enables them to better think for themselves, in the hope of driving constructive thought and dialogue on today’s most pressing issues.

What happens next?

We cannot achieve these objectives alone!  We have big goals for the impact we intend to drive this year and hope to have your support.  If you are interested in helping us with this mission, here are a few ways that you can drive the mission of creating more informed news reading.

  1. Tell us your thoughts. What do you like and enjoy about our product?  What else are you looking for?  We are constantly looking to make the service better and the feedback of business savvy individuals is essential for that development.
  1. Have conversations. If you read something in PolarNews or elsewhere that moves your opinion, discuss it with others.  Read your news with the aim of broadening your understanding.  Let us know those moments in which your views have been moved – it inspires us to continue.
  1. Share us! We hope to broaden our net of people subscribers and voices engaged.  If you know others who would value PolarNews please bring them on board.

Now comes the hard part – taking a project that serves hundreds to one that better informs thousands.  We looking forward to build this platform, continuing to engage in discussion, and improving conversation in the world together.  Onward!Photo3  

PolarNews is a daily news reader that pairs two articles with polarized perspectives on topics to let readers see two sides to every issue.  Davis Filippell, Mimi Bell, and Matt Alexander act as Editors.  To see past issues and to subscribe, visit our website at www.getpolarnews.com.  For more information, email davis@getpolarnews.com.  

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