A team of 10 young computer programmers and entrepreneurs is in Manhattan for the summer, trying to revolutionize a piece of the newspaper business.
That outfit is led by Jake Seaton, a recent Harvard grad and the next generation in a newspaper family.
Seaton, a 2013 Manhattan High graduate and a 2019 computer science grad from Harvard, is launching a company called enotice, pronounced “e-notice.” That company aims to build a digital platform designed to make public notices accessible online. A public notice is an advertisement required under the law to be published in a local newspaper to let citizens know about proposed government actions and legal procedures.
Seaton aims to streamline it in an efficient way online, while maintaining print publication.
“It’s a problem that I stumbled upon by talking to a bunch of people who work in journalism and media about things in the local news industry that are … pending change, where there’s a need for innovation,” Seaton said.
Seaton aims to fix this current issue with this online database.
“I think that this whole system is pretty inefficient, and that wastes a lot of time and money on the part of local governments and local newspapers,” he said. “And so if we can save everyone involved time and money, we’ll be happy. We ultimately think the problem that public notices are supposed to solve is informing the public about what the government is doing.”
Jake Seaton is the son of Ned Seaton, publisher of The Manhattan Mercury, and the grandson of Edward Seaton, the newspaper’s chairman. The newspaper has been in that family for more than a century. Jake Seaton’s first enterprise was as a newspaper carrier for The Mercury.
“One of the reasons why I care so much about local journalism is because it builds and forms communities, and that’s a really important building block of our society,” he said. “And so long-term, we hope that building a sort of centralized digital platform for this that makes information like this accessible to anyone who’s looking for it — if not even proactively distributing it to them — will help build a more informed democracy.”
By working on computer code in his free time, Seaton started assembling the plans for the company. The planning took about a year and a half. He originally hatched the idea in 2017.
Mentors for enotice include News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern; Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post; Nancy Gibbs, director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard and former editor-in-chief of TIME Magazine; as well as others from the Shorenstein Center, Seaton said.
Seaton’s Harvard classmate Annie Schugart joined forces with Seaton, with a team of 10 members including other Harvard students forming in February. The team also includes Kirkland Lambert, a 2016 MHS grad and current K-State junior, helping to coordinate operations. Seaton and Lambert are cousins who grew up together.
The company is operating out of the Ironclad co-working space on Poyntz in downtown Manhattan.
Others on the team include Kevin King, Josh Hone and Leo Hentschker, who all worked with Seaton at a startup they helped create called Quorum, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs software firm.
Seaton previously took time off from Harvard to assist with the startup before finishing his degree in 2019.
“The process of doing a start-up is about getting a bunch of great people in a boat and shoving off, and that’s what we’ve done here,” he said.
Overland Park native Schugart and Seaton bonded over the fact that they are both from the Sunflower state, which sealed the deal for her to join the team.
“When Jake came to me with this idea, I was just very impressed by kind of his thought-process behind it, and his business skills and his technology skills,” she said.
In addition to forming a friendship with Seaton, King said he learned more about the importance of local news to communities, which drew him to this initiative.
“I told him as a blank check whenever you decide to work on this problem, call me, and I’d love to figure out how I can help,” said King, a native of Carrollton, Texas.
Moving forward, the team hopes to build software that satisfies their customers with an efficient platform. Additionally, Seaton and the enotice team recently hosted a series of events sponsored by Hacks/Hackers, a nonprofit organization, to get to know the community. More events are planned in the future.
“Being in Manhattan, we’re really able to talk with the people who are going to be using our product,” Schugart said. “One of our biggest goals is to be able to work with those people and really build software that meets their needs, and being on the ground working with them.”
Kansas is the first market for enotice, Seaton said.
“We’ve been very lucky to build some early interest on the part of the local governments as well as a relationship with the Kansas Press Association and a bunch of the newspapers around the state,” he said.
However, Seaton has goals to expand elsewhere in the future.
“After we launch [in Kansas], trying to think about how does it scale beyond just Manhattan, beyond Kansas, and is this something that solves a problem everywhere,” he said.