Stanford graduate launches media platform aimed at Millennials, Gen Z
With help from his classmates at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Judd Olanoff, MBA ’20, has launched a journalism platform that’s reimagining the news industry for a young, modern audience.
Stanford 2020 graduate Judd Olanoff has created a mobile video journalism outlet on social media called Storyist Media that’s challenging current trends in the news business. In its first month since launching, the project has begun to reimagine how a troubled industry can find its place in the digital age.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of how to create an economically viable model for news, while also addressing problems like hype, triviality and bias,” Olanoff said.
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That fascination is, in part, what brought Olanoff to Stanford. For the past two years, he has been enrolled in a dual MBA/MPA program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Although he started his career in finance, his love for writing and journalism led him to consider how to engage young people with stories that matter.
Olanoff began creating Storyist during the spring quarter at the GSB. With no capital, investors or formal team, he quickly built a library of short, engaging videos on news topics like achievement gaps in U.S. schools and the future of movie theaters. The platform’s most distinctive quality is, perhaps, its rethinking of what a news host is.
“All of the hosts are GSB students,” Olanoff said. “So this has been, so far, a real Stanford project.”
A new model
Over the last couple of decades, the rise of online media, particularly social media networks, has upended the news business, which has traditionally relied on advertising to generate revenue.
“The fact that advertising dollars have migrated to Google and Facebook [has made it] harder for news outlets to make money,” Olanoff said. “So, they’ve been forced into this race to the bottom where they need to generate outrage to maximize ad dollars.”
What’s resulted, Olanoff said, is an emphasis on superficial and sensational content that contributes to the growing political polarization and tribalism in our culture. And too often, he said, information is presented without enough context and explanation.
“It feels like you’re walking into a movie theater, and the movie is halfway done,” he said. “It’s easy to get lost because there’s not a lot of stepping back, providing context, explaining how we got here and framing the overall story and why it matters.”
“I’m fascinated by the idea of how to create an economically viable model for news, while also addressing problems like hype, triviality and bias.”
—Judd Olanoff, MBA ’20
Olanoff is taking a different approach. Storyist’s videos, which are 2-5 minutes in length, feature friendly and relatable hosts who discuss topics about which they’re knowledgeable. Some topics are evergreen, but most are tied to the news cycle. Rather than deliver news in a formal manner – as is often seen on TV newscasts – Storyist hosts are casual and conversational. The news they discuss is contextualized in their unique experiences.
“I want the audience to learn something, but also feel engaged by a personal story,” Olanoff said.
A video hosted by Tylon Garrett, MBA ’20, for example, discusses the death of George Floyd and policies to address systemic racism. But rather than simply deliver facts, the information is told through Garrett’s personal experience as a Black man. Another video, hosted by Betsy Arce, MBA ‘21, examines how SpaceX became the first private company to launch humans into space in May. A former SpaceX employee, Arce explains the distance to the moon and Mars, and also describes eating lunch in the SpaceX cafeteria with the two astronauts currently at the International Space Station. Storyist’s most popular video to date is hosted by Oladoyin Oladapo, MBA ‘20. A children’s book author, Oladapo discusses the representation of minorities in popular media and shares her struggle to relate to American film and TV characters when she was a child.
Olanoff oversees every aspect of Storyist – identifying topics, recruiting hosts, then interviewing and filming them via Zoom. His sister Liz, a developer at Food Network, has helped produce the videos, while freelance graphic artists have created animations. And GSB Lecturer Glenn Kramon, ’75, who oversees Pulitzer entries for The New York Times, has advised Olanoff on the project.
“The GSB has been indispensable,” Olanoff said. “I’m grateful for the culture and encouragement. Most of all I’m thankful for my GSB classmates making this possible. They’ve been amazing hosts.”
Although the project is still in its infancy, Olanoff said that feedback from this early experiment will help him refine the product, build a brand and expand both the scope of Storyist’s content and audience. In order to reach his target audience of Millennials and Gen Z, Olanoff said it’s important, especially in the beginning, to meet them where they are – on social media.
At some point, Olanoff hopes the project may grow into something larger, perhaps a for profit company. But right now, Storyist is an early project designed to see whether the content will resonate with audiences.
“Ultimately I see this having its own app and living on its own site so we control distribution,” he said.
Storyist will continue to publish videos throughout the summer while producing new content. In the meantime, Olanoff encourages anyone to pitch ideas for videos. For more information about Storyist, or to contact Olanoff, visit the Storyist Media Instagram page.