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April 02 2013

14:58

Tuesday Q&A: Storify’s Burt Herman on entrepreneurial journalism, advertising, and finding the right business model

burthermanWhen you run a startup that leans on journalism, the hunt for a stable business model is top of mind. Burt Herman, cofounder of Storify, said he feels an urgency to find ways to monetize the service, which helps individuals and publishers collect and curates social media into stories. That’s in part because Storify is now three years old, but also because Herman has more than a decade of experience as a journalist working for the Associated Press — meaning he’s seen the disruption of the media business up close.

Last week, his company took its first step towards a business model: Storify announced the creation of Storify VIP, a new paid version of the service that offers a new tier of features and customization for users. The VIP program is designed with big publishers — who have an army of journalists and money to spend — in mind. The BBC has already signed up.

I spoke with Herman about the decision to create a premium version of Storify, how the company might explore advertising, and where he sees entrepreneurial journalism going this year. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Justin Ellis: When you were looking at ways to monetize, were there other models or options you looked at before deciding on the premium tier?
Burt Herman: We are looking at all potential business models. There basically are two models we see as ones we could use. There’s some kind of subscription or a freemium/pro/VIP plan where we ask some of our users what they would like and offer these premium features. We’re quite fortunate in that we have users who are large publishers and brands and PR agencies, political organizations, NGOs, and all kinds of people like that. They’re interested in these features and have come to us asking for some of these things. That’s a clear way we can now give them something better that they want, and also make sure this is something sustainable.

On the other side, there’s definitely an advertising model we’ve talked about. And it’s still something we kind of have out there for the future. The idea there is to come up with a native form of ad that goes in a Storify story — that is a social ad, like other things in Storify stories. It could be a promoted quote, or a promoted video, or a promoted photo from a brand that is trying to get a certain message out there.

That’s still something we’re talking about. But that requires a larger scale, and being able to sell a specific new form of advertising. But if we do that, we’d also want to do it in a way that works together with our users, and share revenue back with the people creating the stories. That’s really the most valuable thing, and we’re really lucky we’ve gathered this community of amazing people who, everyday, find the best of what’s out there.

Ellis: One of the questions with advertising would be who controls what ads are served — if companies or brands go through Storify, or if they go through publishers directly.
Herman: Yeah, and we could do it both ways. The thing we look at is YouTube — how they have embeds all over the web, and sometimes have advertising in those as well. We would want to work, obviously, with our users on that, who are their advertisers, does it conflict with other ads on the page, and other issues.

We do think there is room for this new form of advertising. We’ve talked about different ways of doing this: It could be more like we promote content to the user creating a story, and whether they want to put that in the story is their own decision. But it’s very clear that’s promoted in some way — that someone is paying to get in front of the eyes of our valuable user base. That is something we have experimented with a little bit, and it is quite an interesting model to look at — not advertising to the masses but advertising to this more elite user base.

Ellis: You’ve said you have more than 600,000 people using Storify now. How did you think about what types of features you would bring up to the premium level? Ideally, you want to create added value in the service but not take away from the things other non-paying users want.
Herman: Well, a lot of these things are things people have asked for, like customization. We’ve offered some things and see what people do with it, and had some people use it for different events, including The New York Times, Yahoo, the BBC. They’re already doing these things, so we’re responding to what they say.

We didn’t intend to be a live-blogging platform, but people have been using us in that way, which is great. So we want to serve that need too. That’s something that can be quite expensive, to service live updates on embeds that are being viewed hundreds of thousands or billions of times around the web. That’s a pretty technically intensive thing, so just to make it sustainable to us, that’s why we’re putting that in the premium tier of features.

Ellis: What’s been most surprising to you about the ways people have found to use Storify? That idea of using Storify for live-blogging seems like a MacGyvering in a way.
Herman: We did think about live stories, in a way, from the start. I worked at the AP for 12 years and that’s what I did all the time — take stories, update them whenever news comes in, move things around, take out quotes, add new quotes. That’s always what we’ve done.

But it’s the story in place that gets changed, which I still would be interested in seeing people thinking about more. Newspapers do that, but they just don’t show you that they’re doing it. Or the next day, they’ll just post a new story, because they’re still in this daily cycle. But what if the story itself was just in one place and kept changing over time as developments occur? I think that’s the idea we had originally.

I thought, initially, journalists will use this and see, “Oh, the Supreme Court is hearing the gay marriage case,” and just see what people are saying in general and mine the best — look for who’s reacting, and kind of pull things in. The thing I did not expect to see, which people have used Storify for, is to say, “Hey, we’re just starting this story, send us what you think about it and use this hashtag on Instagram, on Twitter, respond to us on Facebook, we’ll take the best thing you do and put them in a story and publish it.” It’s much more of an engaging way of creating a story — where it’s not just gathering reaction, but tell us what we should put in the story, we’re going to include what our audience is doing.

The New York Times has done some really interesting things with Instagram — like during storms, the big winter storm in February, or Fashion Week in New York, asking their readers, “Hey, send photos on Instagram, tag them #NYTfashionweek and we’ll put the best ones on The New York Times.” I think it’s really cool to see journalists getting this idea that yes, this is not just a one-way thing anymore — we don’t just decide what we write and call the people we want and put it out there. Now it’s really working collaboratively with the audience to create something bigger.

Ellis: As a journalist, what’s it been like for you to watch news organizations embrace new ways to create stories?

Herman: When I talk about this, I say it’s really like what journalists have always done. We’ve always taken bits of information, whether it’s a press release, or a federal budget, or your notes, or your audio, and pieced it together to tell a story. Now we just have so many more sources potentially to mine for our stories. So many more voices of people that you can include, that you might not have otherwise heard from. I think this is something more news organizations are realizing, and I think it’s a great way to be relevant with your audience again — “Hey, we hear you, we are listening to what you say.”

How can you not want to do this? As a journalist, I was always wanting to know what are people talking about, what are the stories that I’m missing that are out there. Now you can see what people are talking about, at least a segment of people, using social media. That’s a large group of people, and growing all the time. I just think: How could you not embrace that and look at that if you’re a journalist who wants to get the stories that are out there?

Ellis: Storify also gives tweets and other social media a little more permanence. If I’m following a hashtag on the vice presidential debate, I could theoretically go back and read through it, but it’s happening so fast. You guys capture that.
Herman: We picked the name Storify because it was this word used at the AP when editors would tell you to write a story about something, to “storify” it. It really is a word that means “to make a story.” But also, sometimes people see it more here in Silicon Valley and they think “Storify, oh, you’re like a storage company.” Which, in some ways that is true too. That is a lot of what people actually use Storify for in a way we didn’t foresee: simply being able to stop time and save some stuff from this never-ending deluge of tweets and photos and videos from all these social networks. Just being able to pause, take those out, and organize them in one place is kind of valuable.

There’s not a simple way to do that and just make it look nice, or to keep it for yourself or a smaller group. That’s another reason why we’re planning to launch things now like this private story feature. We noticed people simply saving stuff without adding any text in a story, or just saving drafts and never publishing stories because they wanted to keep it somewhere and refer to something, or show it to somebody.

We’re just inundated by all this media now. Everybody has the power to create things and publish easily, instantly, all around the world. It’s great, but it’s getting harder and harder to figure out where the valuable stuff is in all of that.

Ellis: What trends do you see in Storify usage? In terms of people gearing up for big events or big stories?
Herman: We are very aligned with what you would think of as peaks on Twitter or social media, of people talking about things. Definitely the election, the Supreme Court hearing the same sex marriage cases. Certain topics are very resonant on social media and obviously for us too, those are peak things, and that seems to be when people think to use us.

We hope that people also think to use us in other cases when it isn’t just mining what’s out there when it’s a huge event — a smaller, local scale, or asking the audience to help find stories. We’re seeing more of that. That’s also why we wanted to move in this direction we’re launching, to work more closely with people and be more embedded in their organizations too, so it’s not just the social media editor who says, “Hey, there’s this Supreme Court thing — can you get a reaction thing on the blog?”

Ellis: The premium service represents a focus on establishing a business model. For some startups, finding a business model is a “further down the road” idea. How pressing has it been for you to monetize Storify?

Herman: I think there’s been a shift out here in Silicon Valley in terms of thinking about startups and business models. They just had the recent class of Y Combinator, and The Wall Street Journal wrote a post saying none of the companies are doing social media, they’re businesses, which have a built-in business model where you pay somebody for something.

I think it’s definitely kind of shifted here, people are wanting to see the business model in what you’re doing. Unless you have massive, massive scale, you have to have a business model. We are lucky the users we have, more than 600,000 people, are amazing, high-level users. That’s why, as we look at that, we say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we can make this more sustainable and work with them and hopefully help give them some of the things they want. But also make sure we can survive into the future. “

People seem to understand that now. People have grown a little skeptical of companies that don’t seem to have a business model and you wonder when they’re going to do something. So far, the reaction has been hugely positive — I think people understand why we’re doing this.

Ellis: Do you think there needs to be more support for startups that are in this kind of journalism or journalism-adjacent area like Storify? I’m thinking about something like Matter, which is sort of a combination of the Knight News Challenge and Y Combinator.
Herman: I was just at Matter earlier this week talking to the companies there. They’re doing it in a smart way. They are saying yes, it should be related to media, but you can do something that has broader relevance. It can be for-profit, it doesn’t have to be nonprofit just because it’s sort of connected with public radio. I think if you make it too narrow — just for journalism — then you might have a problem in terms of thinking really big. When you’re doing a startup, you should be thinking as big as possible. I guess it would be difficult to limit things — it’s better not to impose that on startups from the start.

We do need things related to media, but I think people will go there. It is still a huge business — billions of dollars are spent on advertising on the web, and even in print still. Startups will go there. I think there are a lot of incubators, Matter and other people, who are focusing on that.

I guess I’m worried that when you support things and force them to be nonprofit or open source, which some of the Knight News Challenge grants did earlier, that it limits the potential of some of these organizations. I love Spot.us, and Dave Cohn is a great guy, and I always think of it as he had the idea for Kickstarter before it existed. But it was limited because it had to be open source and nonprofit and only in a local area. There were all these constrictions on how he was supposed to operate. He had some success, but what could have been if he wasn’t limited in that way? I just think any of these new things should not limit people and Matter is definitely not doing that.

Ellis: Now that you’ve reached this point with Storify, is there something you know now you wish you knew when you were launching?
Herman: I guess I would say it’s different than being a journalist. Things take much longer than you would think, even though people say startups are very fast-paced — often times technology is slow and has debugging issues. Getting a process for people to work together is not an easy thing because you’re not really sure how to do things, because you’re inventing them for the first time. Be patient and realize that this is a longer journey and not a sprint. You get fooled sometimes reading these supposed overnight success stories. But when you look into them, often times it’s somebody who’s been going back for years trying to work their way through different products and pivots, and finally figuring out something that people notice. Really, if it was an overnight success, it was built over years.

March 29 2012

14:00

The Difference Between 'Invention' and 'Innovation'

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner.

From its inception, the site received a tremendous amount of attention. The New School, USC Annenberg, the Online News Association and, ultimately, the Knight Foundation all saw something interesting in what we were doing. We won awards; we were invited to present at conferences; we were written about in the trades and featured in over 150 blogs. Yet despite all the accolades, not once did the word "invention" creep in. "Innovation," it turns out, was the word on everyone's lips.

Like so many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I was under the impression that invention and innovation were one and the same. They aren't. And, as I have discovered, the distinction is an important one.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I would help define the difference between the two. A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:

INVENTION VS. INNOVATION: THE DIFFERENCE

In its purest sense, "invention" can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. "Innovation," on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Consider the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor. But by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another piece on the circuit board. It's what was done with that piece -- the hundreds of thousands of products, processes and services that evolved from the invention of the microprocessor -- that required innovation.

STEVE JOBS: THE POSTER BOY OF INNOVATION

If ever there were a poster child for innovation it would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And when people talk about innovation, Jobs' iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best.

steve jobs iphone4.jpg

But let's take a step back for a minute. The iPod wasn't the first portable music device (Sony popularized the "music anywhere, anytime" concept 22 years earlier with the Walkman); the iPod wasn't the first device that put hundreds of songs in your pocket (dozens of manufacturers had MP3 devices on the market when the iPod was released in 2001); and Apple was actually late to the party when it came to providing an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes.)

So, given those sobering facts, is the iPod's distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Absolutely.

What made the iPod and the music ecosystem it engendered innovative wasn't that it was the first portable music device. It wasn't that it was the first MP3 player. And it wasn't that it was the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements -- design, ergonomics and ease of use -- in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionized the music industry.

IBM: INNOVATION'S UGLY STEPCHILD

Admittedly, when it comes to corporate culture, Apple and IBM are worlds apart. But Apple and IBM aren't really as different as innovation's poster boy would have had us believe.

Truth is if it hadn't been for one of IBM's greatest innovations -- the personal computer -- there would have been no Apple. Jobs owes a lot to the introduction of the PC. And IBM was the company behind it.

Ironically, the IBM PC didn't contain any new inventions per se (see iPod example above). Under pressure to complete the project in less than 18 months, the team actually was under explicit instructions not to invent anything new. The goal of the first PC, code-named "Project Chess," was to take off-the-shelf components and bring them together in a way that was user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful.

And while the world's first PC was an innovative product in the aggregate, the device they created -- a portable device that put powerful computing in the hands of the people -- was no less impactful than Henry Ford's Model T, which reinvented the automobile industry by putting affordable transportation in the hands of the masses.

INNOVATION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

Given the choice to invent or innovate, most entrepreneurs would take the latter. Let's face it, innovation is just sexier. Perhaps there are a few engineers at M.I.T. who can name the members of "Project Chess." Virtually everyone on the planet knows who Steve Jobs is.

But innovation alone isn't enough. Too often, companies focus on a technology instead of the customer's problem. But in order to truly turn a great idea into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst with Infosys Labs, the key to ensuring that innovation is successful is aligning your idea with the strategic objectives and business models of your organization.

In a recent article that appeared in Innovation Management, he offered five considerations:

1. Competitive advantage: Your innovation should provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the marketplace;
2. Business alignment: The differentiating factors of your innovation should be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals;
3. Customers: Knowing the customers who will benefit from your innovation is paramount;
4. Execution: Identifying resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for succeeding in the innovation is equally important;
5. Business value: Assessing the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring that value into the organization is a critical underlying factor in selecting which idea to pursue.

Said another way, smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company's place in that marketplace.

This adherence to the "status quo" may sound completely antithetical to the concept of innovation. But an idea that requires too much change in an organization, or too much disruption to the marketplace, may never see the light of day.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While they tend to be lumped together, "invention" and "innovation" are not the same thing. There are distinctions between them, and those distinctions are important.

So how do you know if you are inventing or innovating? Consider this analogy:

If invention is a pebble tossed in the pond, innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. Someone has to toss the pebble. That's the inventor. Someone has to recognize the ripple will eventually become a wave. That's the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs don't stop at the water's edge. They watch the ripples and spot the next big wave before it happens. And it's the act of anticipating and riding that "next big wave" that drives the innovative nature in every entrepreneur.

This article is the seventh of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

January 23 2012

14:20

Breakthrough Websites for Young Women, by Young Women

A new generation of young women has begun to make their mark online, combining entrepreneurial energy with the hardwired digital fluency that typifies the so-called digital natives.

Here are two stories of such women, both 26 years old, who jettisoned their office jobs to create online media outlets designed for young women like them. For these women and others like them, the decision to embark upon these web-based ventures was not revolutionary. To them, the "digital media revolution" has receded and they're simply operating in the only media environment they've ever known.

The Daily Muse: Work, Inspired

Kathryn Minshew hadn't been interested in starting a website for young professional women. As an undergraduate at Duke, she had no particular predilection for women's issues, and she didn't belong to any women's groups. So when, last month, Forbes featured Kathryn in its "30 Under 30" article for her leadership of The Daily Muse, the wildly successful career- and lifestyle-focused online magazine, it was an accolade that was unforeseen by her former self.

Kathryn, who's moved her publication (and herself) out to San Francisco to participate in an incubator program, recently told me that her passion for female-oriented career advice developed gradually. "I was surprised when I applied to a position at [management consulting firm] McKinsey, and they had a separate information session for women." After she landed the job, however, she began to observe the complex gender politics amid the corporate environment. She noticed how uncomfortable women were when asking for salary increases, foregoing a bonus check for $10,000 herself simply because it didn't occur to her to ask for it.

P1150585.JPG

She scoured the web for sites that offered professional guidance to young women like her, but her search was fruitless. So she partnered with friends Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery to create their own. Today, The Daily Muse has a formidable readership, with a staff of five and more than 140 writers contributing content nationwide. The site's articles are syndicated on Forbes and the Huffington Post, and Kathryn's modest ambition of targeting an otherwise underserved demographic has been regarded in media circles as prescient. She herself explains that investors are "shocked to learn that there are no other sites" that are designed and deployed for professional women.

"Kathryn saw a need and filled it," said Rachel Sklar, media entrepreneur and adviser to The Daily Muse. "She recognized that not only was there a huge market of young professional women being pumped out of colleges every year -- but that there was key information that they weren't getting. Fixing those information asymmetries is extremely powerful -- and damn good business. And it's their niche, because they made it."

Big Girls, Small Kitchen: A Guide for Quarter-Life Cooking

Phoebe Lapine was bored by her first office job after graduating from Brown. She remembers sitting down at a Thanksgiving dinner when her cousin interrupted her workaday complaints by asking her, point-blank, what she'd rather be doing. She thought about it a moment and then replied, "writing a cookbook."

Knowing, instinctively, that the boundaries between media were becoming increasingly porous, Phoebe called Cara Eisenpress, a cooking friend of hers since high school and, together, they started a cooking blog. They knew that they wanted to focus on young women who, like them, were facing the challenges of limited resources. So they came up with the title, Big Girls, Small Kitchen as an online "guide to quarter-life cooking."

According to Phoebe, they "started off slow, meeting at coffee shops after work or sneaking out to plan recipes on [their] lunch breaks." They didn't get a lot of traffic but were seen by the right people. Before long, a literary agent who had taken notice of the site approached them, and they had their deal for a cookbook. "In the Small Kitchen" was published in May and is currently available on Amazon.

pheobe.jpg

While Phoebe had pretty swiftly accomplished her goal to write the cookbook, she and Cara decided to reinvest a significant portion of their advance into the website, transforming it to a more thorough resource for the community of young chefs that had begun to follow them. Phoebe recounted her literary agent's advice: "A book is something that goes on the shelf. It could be hidden discontinued, and you have much less control. It's more static. The site is something you have more control over. It lives on beyond the book and gives a rich opportunity for interaction with your audience."

What she didn't expect, however, is that the development of a more polished and attractive site actually decreased the amount of user-generated comments and contributions. She and Cara speculate that it may have been difficult for her audience, which was used to a shabby-chic site, to be greeted by something that had a more professional design. Cara observed, "When we did our first redesign, we were so sick of having an ugly old blog that we over-corrected and wound up with a homepage that was beautiful but static, even boring. It took a few months, but we were just able to go into another design phase and play with the elements until they felt vibrant."

Now, as they embark on their new venture, Small Kitchen College, they're applying their learned lessons to create community for the culinarily curious college student. With nearly 40 student contributors, they are harnessing the collective contributions of people with shared interests, much in the way The Daily Muse has done.

These are just two examples of young media-minded entrepreneurs who are noticing barren spots in the media landscape. They understand that people with similar interests to their own are being underserved by the the current catalog of media offerings, and so they're deciding to insert their own voices into this otherwise vacuous lull. As more and more digital natives come of age and instinctively exploit online opportunities in the way that Kathryn and Phoebe have done, the digital media landscape will become more verdant and variegated for it.

Mark Hannah is the director of academic communications at Parsons The New School for Design. Coming out of the public relations world, he has conducted sensitive public affairs campaigns for well-known multinational corporations, major industry organizations and influential non-profits. Mark worked for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign as a member of the national advance staff. He's more recently worked as an advance associate for the Obama-Biden campaign and Presidential Inaugural Committee. He serves on the board of directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and was a 2008 research fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He holds a B.A. from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from Columbia University. He can be reached at markphannah[at]gmail.com

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January 09 2012

15:20

3 Keys to Naming Your Product

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner. Considering the fact that "video" is one of the most searchable words on the web, our first startup challenge -- actually coming up with a name for our site -- proved to be extremely daunting.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I had any tips for startups regarding choosing a name for their product.

A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:

MAKE SURE THE DOMAIN NAME IS AVAILABLE

Let's face it: We live in a digital age. The fact that a record $35.3 billion was spent online this past holiday season is evidence of that. And in this digital age, the proverbial "open for business" sign that used to dangle in the front shop-window has been replaced with the search bar.

So the first thing to think about when naming your product is this: If the domain isn't available, you don't have squat (more on the concept of "domain squatting" in minute).

But finding an available '.com' is just the beginning. As the web becomes increasingly crowded, a myriad of domain extensions have emerged. A few of the more popular ones include: .tv, .me, .biz. And this doesn't even take into consideration domains for foreign territories.

With all these new extensions emerging, a natural question many entrepreneurs ask is: "Does a place exist that will check all the available domain extensions at the same time?" Actually, there are several.

If you just want to search the "big three" -- .com, .net, .org -- I suggest a site called Instant Domain Search. Just type in the name you want, and the website does the rest.

If you want to search all the extensions, give Check Domains a shot. Not only will it instantly tell you all the domains that are available, when you're done it even takes you to GoDaddy.com, a popular registry site that lets you purchase those extensions you've selected.

Because you never know which domain extension is going to be the next one to take off, my advice is to purchase as many domain extensions as possible. I know .cc (the domain for the Coco Islands) may seem completely unnecessary today, but the last thing you want to do is be held hostage by some domain squatter who had the foresight to buy your domain before you did.

YOU DON'T BE EXACT; YOU CAN ALLUDE TO YOUR PRODUCT

As your business grows, chances are your product line will expand as well. You want to make sure your name grows with it, too. It's okay to leave something to the imagination of your customers. In the "name game," being allusive can be a powerful attribute.

Take the word, "Amazon," for example. For Jeff Bezos, books always were just the beginning. From the very outset, the forward-thinking entrepreneur saw his company expanding well beyond the written word.

Don't kid yourself. The selection of the name "Amazon" was hardly happenstance. Bezos deliberately chose a word that alluded to the business he saw downstream, rather than the actual entrepreneurial waters he set out to navigate in 1995.

Inspired by the seemingly endless South American river with its countless tributaries, the notion of a continuous flow of consumer goods feeding into a massive marketplace perfectly aligned with Bezos' vision to create the world's largest e-commerce site.

Today, when we think of Amazon the first thought that pops into our mind is retail, not a river in South America. Apparently, the Googleplex agrees. Just search the word "Amazon" (preferably after you're done reading this blog).

The first mention of a river or rain forest doesn't appear until page three.

CREATE A NEW WORD THAT CAN DEFINE YOUR COMPANY

Google ... Yahoo ... Facebook ... Twitter ... These words may have existed before they found their way into the pantheon of contemporary popular culture. ("Googol" is the digit 1 followed by 100 zeros; a "yahoo" is a rude, noisy or violent person; "Facebook" is the nickname for the student directory at Phillips Exeter Academy, where Mark Zuckerberg went to high school; "twitter" is a short burst of inconsequential information.)

But the brilliance of the entrepreneurs behind the companies that bear those names is that those words are now so far removed from the original meaning associated with them that they are effectively new words altogether.

Yet just coming up with a catchy name isn't really the trick. The real magic is coming up with a word that's connected with your product in such a way that it becomes both a noun and a verb -- at the same time.

Let me give you an example from my own experience--

When we were coming up with the name for Stroome, we wanted a name that would work as both a noun and a verb. Much in the same way people now say, "Google it," we wanted people to say, "Stroome me," when they had some great content they wanted to share. Of course, we didn't have the word "Stroome" yet. But the Dutch did -- "Strømme."

It means "to move freely," which is exactly what we want our site to facilitate -- the movement of ideas, points of view and content freely between people. We played with the spelling a bit, but the name was perfect.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Without question, naming your product is important. But it's also a great opportunity. The right name can distinguish you from the competition, as well as differentiate your product from seemingly similar offerings.

So when naming your product here are three things to remember. First, make sure the name you chose is available across as many domains extensions as possible. And if the domains aren't available, don't get discouraged. Instead, get creative. Second, come up with a name that alludes to who you are, but doesn't specifically say what you do. And finally, if you do have to come up with a entirely new word, don't be afraid to really think outside the box.

Who knows, you might not just be naming your product. You may just end up defining an entire new product category.

This article is the fourth of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

January 03 2012

15:20

How We Created a Startup Culture at ASU's Cronkite School

It was a few days before the end of the fall 2011 semester, and a friend at a small southern university was bemoaning the lack of innovative spirit among her students. She'd built in an entrepreneurial module into her class, but only a small percentage of the students took the bait to even try to come up with a business idea.

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By contrast, on that very same day, my office was buzzing with students seemingly in no hurry to pack up for the holidays and head home. And, interestingly, only one of them was my actual student. One was a Cronkite School of Journalism freshman who had heard me speak to her class and wanted to run an idea past me. A Cronkite sophomore had a major media company interested in a Microsoft Word plug-in he had come up with and wanted to make sure it was actually doable. Another was a business major at Arizona State University's Carey School who needed some advice on developing an iPad application that he got $5,000 in seed money to build. An ASU engineering major wanted to make sure he could get on my schedule before the end of the year to talk through plans for his new business for the coming year.

As I was looking into the earnest faces of the students who paraded in and out of my office that day, with their Power Point presentations and legal yellow pads filled with sketches for their big ideas, I thought about what made the difference between my friend's institution of higher education and my own.

encouraging innovation

At ASU, innovation and entrepreneurship are being pushed everywhere you go. Funding contests abound such as the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative, which funds up to $20,000 per student team; the ASU Innovation Challenge, in which each student team can win up to $10,000 for an idea; the Performing Arts Venture Experience gives away up to $5,000 for student ideas, and the new 10,000 Solutions provides up to $10,000 to fund good ideas from students, staff, faculty and community members on how to impact local and global communities.

Additionally, Cronkite School students (and faculty) are encouraged to submit ideas for Knight News Challenge and J-Lab Women Entrepreneurs grants, and those winners are heralded as much as winners of journalism contests.

Professors at Cronkite and other schools bake pitch session into their syllabi so students are thinking of the practical as well as the theoretical. I recently sat in on a pitch session at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation where nutrition and health majors were trying to answer two questions with fresh ideas: How do we get Americans to drink more water, and how do we get sedentary office workers to move more?

The university also tries to make it easier for like-minded entrepreneurs to find each other. Each of the four ASU campuses have Changemaker Centers where students from different majors can hang out and kick around the "what if" questions. I've always kept an open door policy at my own lab, Cronkite's Digital Media and Entrepreneurship Lab, where students from any major can pop in to talk, and they do. In the past academic year, I've helped a public policy major think through an iPhone app to help track lost pets and a social work major create a proposal for a volunteer matching site for high school students and non-profits. Journalists for local media companies stop by to hash out ideas as well, and I am really excited about a couple of projects in the works.

University President Michael Crow employs Entrepreneurs-in-Residence who help student startups get their footing but who also help faculty working on innovation and entrepreneurship at such a large university find and support each other. It helps that professors at the College of Technology and Innovation know that I'm looking for Objective C engineers to hire or that faculty at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning might be interested in collaborating on a mapping project.

like minds unite

Lastly, like minds like being around each other. At Cronkite, we've hosted News Foo for two years running, and a fall Where Camp attracted several dozens of data nerds for a weekend hack fest. Cronkite students are encouraged to attend local startup weekends around the area and conferences out at the university's Sky Song business incubator. It was at such a startup weekend last spring that one of my graphic design students hacked together his latest venture that is attracting angel investments; a few weeks ago, he dropped out of school to move to Silicon Valley to give it a try.

Several adjunct professors at Cronkite are working on startups, and the school employs both a technologist-in-residence and an entrepreneur-in-residence. Next door to my lab, a startup Network, Magicdust Television, has launched a hybrid digital media/television show called RightThisMinute that is produced in the Cronkite building and employs Cronkite students.

So it's no wonder that a lot of students at Cronkite and other ASU schools have the entrepreneurship bug, and especially a penchant for social entrepreneurship. Yeah, it's a cold, cruel world and a god-awful economy, but the message over here, at least, is that such a reality only provides another opportunity to do something about it.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Nick Bastian.

December 08 2011

15:20

Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?

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I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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July 05 2011

16:11

The New News Paradigm: 'Pivot or Perish'

At the recent MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, I had the pleasure of speaking to 16 of the most promising thinkers in the area of digital news. Culled together from myriad of disciplines and backgrounds, some had already established themselves as pioneers in the digital space.Others had come from legacy newsrooms. A few had found their voices in the field.

But regardless of their backgrounds, they all were united by a drive to innovate, inform and empower. In short, these 16 new news entrepreneurs had come to Cambridge, Mass., with a plan: Reinvent the news business.

But if I had just one takeaway I wanted to impart in my talk to the newly knighted 2011 News Challenge winners, it was this: Those carefully crafted plans are about to change.

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Being Open to Change

There's an old axiom in entrepreneurship, and it goes something like this: Pivot or perish.

"Pivoting" -- the ability (and perhaps more importantly, the willingness) to change your course of action when you realize the ground beneath you is shifting -- isn't just the essence of entrepreneurship, it's the only way you'll survive.

Trust me, we've been at it for just a little over a year now with Stroome, and in that time we've had to pivot plenty.

Now let me be clear -- having a plan for the future is just as important as a good, solid pivot. Looking two, three, even five years down the road is critical, not just because it places your idea in a larger context, but because it forces you to realize that no one really knows what the future has in store. In the end, the best we can do is play the hand that's dealt us. And this is precisely where the concept of pivoting comes in.

When we set out last June to build the next iteration of Stroome, a collaborative online video editing platform to simplify the production of news and video, we sat down and diligently drew up a list of goals. The exact number was just short of a dozen or so, but the three key ones included: increase adoption in journalism schools, forge strategic allegiances, remain open to unforeseen uses.

It didn't take long before those goals started to come to fruition. Within four months of receiving our grant, Stroome was being used by a class of aspiring digital journalists at Columbia College Chicago to comment on the importance of voter registration during the highly anticipated mayoral election. In April, we partnered with USC Stevens Institution, relaunching the site at the third annual TEDxUSC conference.

And who could have possibly foreseen that we'd have found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Egyptian revolution? But that's exactly what happened this past January when protesters began using Stroome to get their video out of the country when the government shut down Twitter and Facebook.

More than a 'to-do' list

Remarkably, in less than a year we had accomplished nearly every goal we had set for ourselves. But our goals had became more than just a list of "to-dos'' to be ticked off one-by-one. Instead, they became "listening posts." And by listening to our users, we were able to gain valuable insight into what is truly important to them.

In most instances, their revelations were consistent with our expectations. Yet at times, what we heard was completely incongruous with what we thought we should be building. And when that happened, we had to evaluate which comments to implement, which to set aside for the time being, and which to dismiss altogether. Said another way, we had to pivot.

Because while we may have had many goals, at the end of the day we only had one objective: Create the most intuitive user experience possible. But without those pivots, that objective would never have been achieved.

And as I looked out across the room and into the faces of this year's Knight News Challenge winners, I could see an unmistakable determination, an undaunted doggedness, an unrelenting sense of resolve. There was no mistaking it: Reinvention of an industry many have written off as outdated, archaic and obsolete is a goal well within their grasp.

They're just going to have to pivot to get there.

If you're interested, Los Angeles angel investor Mark Suster has written a great post on the importance of pivoting. Read it here.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum.

March 29 2011

16:00

Video: Robert Scoble on How to Build a Career in Media

I don't know about you, but when I want to find out about the newest tech stuff, I read blogs and their related Twitter feeds. As a newspaper journalist, it puzzles me that somehow those blogs, with their limited resources and short history, manage to beat the mainstream media.

Take, for example, uber-blogger Robert Scoble. When Flipboard's servers went down around the time of its launch, some said it was because of a positive review on his blog, Scobleizer. Scoble currently works for hosting company Rackspace as a kind of online media ambassador, but he's also a media brand of his own.

So, when I met him a few weeks ago at the Lift conference in Geneva, Switzerland, I wanted to talk to him about how bloggers can outsmart mainstream media, and what this means for aspiring journalists, among other things.

Need for Entrepreneurial Skills

During our conversation, which is captured in the below video, Scoble made five key points about breaking into media and building a brand:

  1. Getting a job at a newspaper or television station is very hard these days. Consider other options.
  2. Focus on a niche and think about timing. The ideal niche serves a dispersed community of people who are just as enthusiastic about something as you are. The fact that they are dispersed and "just a niche" means mass media it probably neglecting them. For example, one of Scoble's friends started a blog about Facebook -- nothing but Facebook. He did this at a time when Facebook was not particularly popular (timing!), and his popularity grew along with that of Facebook. Now he runs other blogs as well.
  3. Get access to something other people don't have access to. This could be possible because of contacts you've cultivated, and special knowledge you acquire via research and reporting.
  4. Be entrepreneurial and produce multimedia coverage: Video, audio, and pictures tell a more complete story.
  5. Get to understand how Google, Twitter, and Facebook work in order to learn how distribution works.

Scoble said journalism departments don't focus enough on equipping students with entrepreneurial skills. In his view, this is because mainstream journalists have traditionally relied upon other people in their organization to find an audience and handle distribution.

"In this new world you need to do a lot of that hard work yourself," Scoble said.

This hard work has its advantages. By taking control of distribution you cut out the middle men and are able to control your content. By working on attracting an audience, you have the opportunity to build a stronger connection. Distribution is today less of an issue -- the hard thing is getting people to pay attention to what you're doing.

"That's the fun thing," Scoble said.

No matter what you end up doing -- whether you start your own website or company or work to push innovation at an established organization -- you'll need to develop a deep understanding of what it means to be a new media entrepreneur, according to Scoble.

Here's my video chat with Scoble:

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What do you think? Is Scoble correct about the skills needed by today's journalists? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Elisabeth.

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November 30 2010

18:05

Net2 Recommends - November's Interesting Posts From Around The Web

The NetSquared team reads and shares lots of different blog posts, articles, reports, and surveys within our team. We have a lot of fun sharing within the team and it occurred to us that we should start sharing them with you, too! Net2 Recommends is a monthly series of news and blog posts from around the web that we found interesting or inspiring, mind-bending or opinion-changing, fun or just plain weird.

read more

September 24 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Apple’s subscription plan, the exodus from objectivity, and startup guides galore

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Is Apple giving publishers a raw deal?: The San Jose Mercury News’ report that Apple is moving toward a newspaper and magazine subscription plan via its App Store didn’t immediately generate much talk when it was published last week, but the story picked up quite a bit of steam this week. Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal both confirmed the story over the weekend, reporting that Apple may introduce the service early next year along with a new iPad. The service, they said, will be similar to Apple’s iBook store, and Bloomberg reported that it will be separate from the App Store.

Those reports were met with near-universal skepticism — not of their accuracy, but of Apple’s motivations and trustworthiness within such a venture. Former journalist Steve Yelvington sounded the alarm most clearly: “Journalists and publishers, Apple is not your friend.” It’s a corporation, Yelvington said, and like all corporations, it will do anything — including ripping you apart — to pursue its own self-interest.

Several other observers fleshed out some of the details of Yelvington’s concern: EMarketer’s Paul Verna compared the situation to Apple’s treatment of the music industry with iTunes, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wondered whether publishers would balk at giving up data about their subscribers to Apple or at Apple’s reported plans to take a 30% share of subscription revenue. Ingram predicted that publishers would play ball with Apple, but warned that they might wind up “sitting in a corner counting their digital pennies, while Apple builds the business that they should have built themselves.” Dovetailing with their worries was another story of Apple’s control over news content on its platform, as Network World reported that Apple was threatening to remove Newsday’s iPad app over a (quite innocuous) commercial by the newspaper that Apple allegedly found offensive.

Media analyst Ken Doctor broke down publishers’ potential reactions to Apple’s initiative, looking at the plan’s appeal to them (“It offers a do-over, the chance to redraw the pay/free lines of the open web”) and their possible responses (accept, negotiate with Apple, or look into “anti-competitive inquiries”). In a post at the Lab, Doctor also took a quick look at Apple’s potential subscription revenue through this arrangement, an amount he said could be “mind-bending.”

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka noted one indicator that publishers are in serious need of a subscription service on the iPad, pointing out that Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated can’t pay for the designers to make its iPad app viewable in two directions because, according to its digital head, it doesn’t have the money without an iPad subscription program. Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan used the same situation to explain why iPad subscriptions would be so critical for publishers and readers.

A coup for journalism with a point of view: It hasn’t been unusual over the past year to read about big-name journalists jumping from legacy-media organizations to web-journalism outfits, but two of those moves this week seemed to mark a tipping point for a lot of the observers of the future-of-journalism world. Both were made by The Huffington Post, as it nabbed longtime Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman and top New York Times business writer Peter Goodman.

The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford looked at what Fineman’s departure means for Newsweek (he’s one of at least 10 Newsweek editorial staffers to leave since the magazine’s sale was announced last month), but what got most people talking was Goodman’s explanation of why he was leaving: “It’s a chance to write with a point of view,” he said. “With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what’s going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting.”

That kind of reporting (as opposed to, as Goodman called it, “laundering my own views” by getting someone from a thinktank to express them in an article) is exactly what many new-media folks have been advocating, and hearing someone from The New York Times express it so clearly felt to them like a turning point. The tone of centrist detachment of mainstream journalism “has become a liability in keeping newsroom talent,” declared NYU professor Jay Rosen on Twitter. Others echoed that thought: Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan extolled the virtues of being “able to call bullshit bullshit,” and former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg said legacy news orgs like The Times need to find a way to allow its reporters more freedom to voice their perspective while maintaining their standards. Salon’s Dan Gillmor agreed with Rosenberg on the centrality of human voice within journalism and noted that this exodus to new media is also a sign of those sites’ financial strength.

Former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver countered that while transparency and clear voice is preferable to traditional “objectivity,” freeing traditional journalists isn’t as simple as just spilling their biases. Advocacy journalism is not just giving an opinion, he said, it’s a “disciplined, ethical posture that tries to build truth out of evidence, regardless of the outcome.”

Getting journalism startups off the ground: If you’re interested in the journalism startup scene — for-profit or nonprofit — you got a gold mine of observations and insights this week. Over at PBS’ Idea Lab, Brad Flora, founder of the Chicago blog network Windy Citizen, examined five mistakes that kill local news blogs. Here’s how he summed his advice up: “You are not starting a blog, you are launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. … You need to know something about blogging and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what it takes to run a small business.” The post has some fantastic comments, including a great set of advice from The Batavian’s Howard Owens. On his own blog, Owens also gave some pretty thorough tips on developing advertising revenue at a local news startup.

On the nonprofit side, the Knight Citizen News Network went even deeper into startup how-to, providing a comprehensive 12-step guide to launching a nonprofit news organization. It may be the single best resource on the web for the practical work of starting a nonprofit news site. Voice of San Diego is one of the most successful examples of those sites, and its CEO, Scott Lewis told the story of his organization and the flame-out of the for-profit San Diego News Network as an example of the importance of what he calls “revenue promiscuity.”

David Cohn, founder of another nonprofit news startup, Spot.Us, also looked at six new journalism startups, leading off with Kommons, a question-answering site built around Twitter and co-founded by NYU Local founder Cody Brown. Rachel Sklar of Mediaite gave it a glowing review, describing it as “a community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions — publicly.” She also said it sneakily lures users into giving it free content, though Brown responded that anyone who’s ever asked you to interview has been trying to do the same thing — only without giving you any control over how your words get used. (Kommons isn’t being sneaky, he said. You know you’re not getting paid going in.)

Three more future-oriented j-school programs: After last week’s discussion about the role of journalism schools in innovation, news of new j-school projects continued to roll in this week. City University of New York announced it’s expanding its graduate course in entrepreneurial journalism into the United States’ first master’s degree in that area. New-media guru Jeff Jarvis, who will direct the program, wrote that he wants CUNY to lead a movement to combine journalism and entrepreneurship skills at schools across the country.

Two nationwide news organizations are also developing new programs in partnership with j-schools: Journalism.co.uk reported that CNN is working on a mentoring initiative with journalism students called iReport University and has signed up City University London, and AOL announced that its large-scale hyperlocal project, Patch, is teaming up with 13 U.S. j-schools for a program called PatchU that will give students college credit for working on a local Patch site under the supervision of a Patch editor. Of course, using college students is a nice way to get content for cheap, something Ken Doctor noted as he also wondered what the extent of Patch’s mentoring would be.

Reading roundup: As always, there’s plenty of good stuff to get to. Here’s a quick glance:

— Former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie gave a lecture in the U.K. Wednesday night that was, for the most part, a pretty standard rundown of what the U.S. journalism ecosystem looks like from a traditional-media perspective. What got the headlines, though, was Downie’s dismissal of online aggregators as “parasites living off journalism produced by others.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan gave it an eye-roll, and Terry Heaton pushed back at Downie, too. Earlier in the week, media analyst Frederic Filloux broke down the differences between the good guys and bad guys in online aggregation.

— The New York Times published an interesting story on the social news site Digg and its redesign to move some power out of the hands of its cadre of “power” users. The Next Web noted that Digg’s traffic has been dropping pretty significantly, and Drury University j-prof Jonathan Groves wondered whether Digg is still relevant.

— A couple of hyperlocal tidbits: A new Missouri j-school survey found that community news site users are more satisfied with those sites than their local mainstream media counterparts, and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds posited that speed is less important than news orgs might think with hyperlocal news.

— Finally, a couple of follow-ups to Dean Starkman’s critique of the journalism “hamster wheel” last week: Here at the Lab, Nikki Usher looked at five ways newsrooms can encourage creativity despite increasing demands, and in a very smart response to Starkman, Reuters’ Felix Salmon argued that one of the biggest keys to finding meaning in an information-saturated online journalism landscape is teaching journalists to do more critical reading and curating.

August 19 2010

18:05

Social Media, Entrepreneurship Dominate AEJMC 2010

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

The problem with five jam-packed days of panels and events is that you can't do it all. Presentations and business meetings for the 93rd annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), which was held in Denver earlier this month, ran concurrently from 7 a.m. until, for some, after midnight. I hustled from my booth in the exhibit hall to sit in on sessions across the different groups, but especially to eavesdrop on discussions among attendees and peek over their shoulders as they tapped silently on their iPhones. Below are five key messages I overheard in Denver.

1. Boots on the Ground

"I have to be on the ground, witnessing events with my own eyes ... [War reporting] is not just a cocktail party -- you can't just drop in." - Anne Garrels, former foreign correspondent for NPR

Garrels commanded the room during a keynote address that saw her recount harrowing experiences during her six years as an embedded journalist during the Iraq War -- including false accusations made on her Wikipedia page that she believes could have gotten her killed.

In the face of "raw information" quickly disseminated through new social mediums, Garrels emphasized committed, responsible, on-the-ground reporting. "Having knowledge to put events into context is really key," she said. "Otherwise, information is pretty hollow."

2. Editing Skills to Pay the Bills

"We need to get our students to think of themselves not just as reporters, but as editors." - Eileen Gilligan, assistant professor, SUNY Oswego

Gilligan said the above during a session about teaching convergence in the midst of a climate of ambiguity surrounding priorities in journalism education. Her session, "Teaching through Transition," presented data from several research studies conducted by AEJMC members that revealed an alarming disparity between the skills needed in convergent newsrooms and the core curricular priorities in U.S. journalism schools.

The data underscored the importance of superior storytelling skills. But interpersonal skills (such as the ability to develop sources), news judgment (the right story, the right way), and multi-tasking (the hardest of the three) were cited by news directors as necessary traits to succeed in converged newsrooms. Gilligan said the most meaningful feedback was that editing is a core skill for current students and future journalists.

3. Social Media Everywhere

"Social media showed me that people don't just care about the news, they care about the people who write it." - Arizona State University student Sebastien Bauge, as quoted by Serena Carpenter in her presentation in the AEJMC social media competition

Social media was popular during the conference, both in panels and in practice. One session, "Social Media in the Classroom", shared how instructors incorporate these tools in their courses. Examining Twitter updates during current events -- like the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year -- and hashtagging course names for classroom conversations were among the suggestions discussed. One course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invited Pizza Hut's public relations coordinator-turned-"Twitterologist" as a guest speaker to discuss corporate social media strategies. Mich Sineath, who tweeted for @AEJMC during the conference, called it the "hands-down BEST panel of #AEJMC10."

Social media happened to me, too. When inside the large, glass-walled room for Poynter's News University presentation (and announcement of its new syllabus exchange program), I tweeted from @CQPJournalism that it was one of the most well-attended sessions I had seen. Within minutes, professor Jake Batsell of Southern Methodist University responded that he had at least "40+" attendees for his panel on creating and running multi-platform student news websites. Turns out, Batsell was sitting two seats away from me.

4. Entrepreneurship the Answer?

"I'm not even slightly interested in saving the industry." - Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University

The lack of viable business models that can sustain an increasingly complicated news marketplace was still the elephant in the room this year, especially in light of the fact that the conference showed that traditional news jobs continue to disappear. In fact, panelists for the "New Media Economics" panel admittedly had little to offer in terms of successful strategies. Gillmor, author of "We the Media" and a forthcoming book called Mediactive, went on to say, "I've given up the idea that the industry wants to be saved. We've moved on."

By that Gillmor meant that the news industry should look toward new types of social and media entrepreneurship. He explained that journalists and entrepreneurs must have an appreciation of risk and be attuned to the current media culture.

"Innovation," he said, "is doing something better than how somebody else is doing it."

5. Enrollment Changing Along With the Industry

"Everything is changing, not dying" - Guy J. Golan, chair of the new Political Communication interest group

During the conference, I frequented the Starbucks on 16th street, just across from the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel. It was a place to refuel, charge my laptop, and access free wireless, which was not available in the conference rooms nor in hotel rooms. When I reached over to unplug my laptop, Golan handed me my cord and we chatted about the conference. He corrected my assertion that the common perception is that the news industry is "dying" and yet enrollment rates are rising in journalism schools.

It's the PR and advertising programs that are gaining students, he said, along with niche beats like sportswriting and political coverage. That was an interesting distinction to note. It was also borne out by some of the association business that was taken care of during the conference: political communication and sports communication became newly-minted interest groups this year, and the Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk Interest Group (ComSHER) was raised to division status at the conference.

Golan, currently a "free agent" professor, interviewed for work during the conference job fair, along with the many grad students I ran into at a school-sponsored evening social. He said there are "lots of jobs, and lots of candidates" in the world of journalism and communications education.

Christina Mueller is an Assistant Editor in the College Division of CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications. She comments at @CQPJournalism and blogs for the journalism and mass communication line of books. The opinions of this post are that of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of SAGE Publications.

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July 09 2010

17:20

Where Did We Go Right? How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

Imagine a well-known Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Wanting to repeat his success, he scrutinizes all his articles and discovers they contain the letters "E" and "R" 10 times more frequently than any other letters. In his next article, he focuses on increasing the use of these letters, and then plans on teaching his new-found secret during his journalism seminar next fall.

More than likely, his success as a reporter is due to a combination of talent, hard work, circumstances, personal relationships and some luck. Which means that evangelizing the benefits of proper letter frequency is irrelevant at best and probably harmful to his journalism students.

Entrepreneurial Mortality

Successful entrepreneurs make this same mistake. New ventures are born every day and the sad fact is most die young. Yet the causes of startup death are predictable: Lack of cash, lack of funding, arriving too early or too late to market, insufficient experience or talent on the team, or just plain bad luck.

In a startup, you may not be able to avoid death, but at least you'll know what killed you. Triage is easy on a corpse; it's a lot harder to dissect a healthy Olympic athlete to understand what makes them a champion.

Entrepreneurs who experience failure usually have lots of time to ponder the question "Where did we go wrong?" in order to learn from and avoid making the same mistakes. It's much harder for them to figure out "Where did we go right?" so success can be repeated.

Success As Poison

Before becoming entrepreneur-in-residence at the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, I spent my career as a serial entrepreneur. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs who had worked on as many successes as failures. Some of these entrepreneurs are very well known and have achieved legendary status, while others are just starting to become the next generation's Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Failures, fizzles, flameouts and near misses are the norm -- and in Silicon Valley they are rites of passages for every entrepreneur.

Experience gained from failure is more valuable than an Ivy League M.B.A. and can serve as a passport for long-term success. Misinterpreting prior success factors can doom the entrepreneur, as well as infecting all other ventures they mentor. Yes, early success can be worse than failure -- just ask any child star.

Many entrepreneurs who taste success attribute it to their own intelligence, vision, creativity or business savvy. They ignore the critical influences of timing, circumstances and luck. In many cases I've seen people ignore an inheritance, an influential relative or a family name when they take stock of their success. This brush with success poisons future attempts.

Snake-Oil Success

Far more dangerous are former entrepreneurs who have one success to their credit and spend the rest of their career imparting (or worse, selling) their secret to wide-eyed aspiring entrepreneurs everywhere. The books and seminars shout, "Be like me! Use more E's and R's than your competition and you'll be successful."

Being an entrepreneur is often like driving a half-built race car 200 mph in a thick fog -- and not being sure if the steering wheel works. There are lots of voices in the crowd telling you which direction to drive, but who can you trust? Even if one of the voices belongs to an experienced racer, they have not been successful in these exact same circumstances -- so their advice could be fatal.

Success is Simple. It's Just not Easy

Mark Zuckerberg's path to success was different than Steve Jobs' path. They are different people with different backgrounds and situations, so trying to copy their path and methods is probably futile. A more reliable way is to look at the majority of success stories and find out what they had in common, and apply the lessons to your own situation.

Great entrepreneurial success often looks like a combination of luck, timing or brilliance -- or sometimes sheer genius -- but when you dissect it, there are really just two groups of entrepreneurial success factors:

1. Personal Factors:
  • Hard work and commitment
  • Sufficient intelligence
  • Interpersonal skills/relationships
  • Location and proximity to resources
2. Circumstantial Factors:
  • Economic and business situation
  • State of technology
  • Social trends
  • Customer wants/needs/behavior
  • Competition

When looking at these two groups, notice that all the personal factors are within your control, and the circumstantial factors are the same for every other entrepreneur. So what's the catch? The best entrepreneurs play to their strengths on the personal factors and develop a particular clarity on the circumstances and leverage them to their advantage. Most successful entrepreneurs actually have one key personal factor and one key circumstantial insight that makes all the difference in their success.

Now we can better understand what appears as luck, timing and brilliance:

  • "Luck" is when any of the personal or circumstantial factors are stronger without any extra effort. Recognize it, embrace it and use it -- but don't count on it.
  • "Timing" is when several circumstances are aligned with the entrepreneur's interests. Wait for it, recognize it and move fast when it happens.
  • "Brilliance" is when you are aware enough to take advantage of luck and timing.
  • "Genius" is when the entrepreneur overcomes the personal and anticipates the circumstantial.

Where Did You Go Right?

As an entrepreneur, what can you do to make these success factors work for you? First, take a look back on any success you've had in the past -- no matter how minor -- and ask, "What did I do right?" Think about which personal factors were your strengths, how you can use them again, and which personal traits need more work.

Next, take a look at the circumstances surrounding your prior success. Which of them were you able to foresee or even predict? Perhaps you have a special gift or insight in that area. Are you particularly observant as to customer needs, or can you understand technology or spot trends better than most? These are your success factors, and they don't come out of a bottle sold by someone else.

All entrepreneurs, and potential entrepreneurs, have the necessary success factors -- personal traits and circumstance. The key is being aware of which are your own relevant success factors, and which ones are someone else's snake oil.

June 21 2010

18:31

FeedBrewer Pays It Forward to Knight Media Innovation Fund

Last week at MIT's annual Future of News and Civic Media conference, I stood on the stage with Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen and made an announcement.

FeedBrewer Inc., a new company I co-founded with two other Printcasting team members, is donating 6 percent of its corporate stock to a brand new Knight Media Innovation Fund. Our hope is that our future success can also enable success for others who, just as we did with the Knight News Challenge, will receive grants that allow them to create new innovative media tools and programs. You can read more about our company and the donation on our site and at the Knight Foundation blog.

After the announcement, I got two reactions from conference participants. The dominant reaction was very positive: "Way to go!" "You did the right thing!" "That's awesome."

But there was also another, more pragmatic reaction. A few asked me point blank, "What are you getting out of this?" "Is there any new funding attached?" "What motivated you to do something you didn't have to do?"

What Are Your Values?

The second question is the more interesting one, because I think it speaks directly to the real value the Knight Foundation has created through four years of the Knight News Challenge. this value has nothing to do with money. But just to be clear, the answer is that no, there is no new funding attached to this donation (which would make it a purchase versus a donation), and there is no tangible, quid pro quo benefit.

But we feel we are definitely getting something out of this. We're showing with our actions that we want to remain a partner with the Knight Foundation and its community of media entrepreneurs in writing the story of innovation -- whether or not they're writing us more checks.

Empowering Publishers, and Future Innovators

Just as we've used Printcasting to empower new local publishers, and will use FeedBrewer to expand that mission to mobile and eBook publishers, we hope that we can one day say that FeedBrewer's financial success helped empower new innovators. And in the spirit of open source, we also know we may benefit from their contributions just as they may with ours (Printcasting code was open sourced on Drupal.org this month).

I think this is a really important thing for future media entrepreneurs to understand, because ultimately it comes down to values.

I've been going through a tech entrepreneur training and mentoring program called The Founder Institute in Denver, and every Tuesday night we hear presentations from successful CEOs and entrepreneurs. I was struck by what Bruce Dines, a principal at venture capital firm Liberty Global Ventures, recently told us.

"What is your culture, and what are your values? Make sure your behavior is consistent with your values," he said. "You are building a corporate identity that is consistent with your brand. Everything impacts your brand. It is a precious thing that can be destroyed in a minute."

I found it interesting that this was coming from someone who manages an investment portfolio for the purpose of getting a hefty financial return, which for VCs is typically five to 10 times their initial investment. What this says is that values are important even in the context of making money, and that bad values can hurt your bottom line.

I wish more newspapers had paid heed to this over the last 20 years. Falling circulations led many to capitulate on core values -- for example, the now widespread practice of charging for obituaries that were previously seen as a core community service. Values and brands are tightly connected, and once you lose your brand, you're toast.

How Equity Works in Incubators

I'm learning a lot of great lessons through the Founder Institute, just as I did through the Knight News Challenge. The Founder Institute also has its own "pay it forward" concept. If I proceed to graduation in two months, I and my board will sign a document giving the institute a warrant to take 3.5 percent of FeedBrewer stock in the event that we receive significant future funding.

That isn't unique to the Founder Institute. Most tech incubators, such as Y Combinator and TechStars, require some sort of equity in exchange for funding, training and connections. However, the Founder Institute is unique in that every graduate also shares in a pool from that 3.5 percent.

Up until very recently, the Knight Foundation required nothing in terms of equity, etc. in return for the grants it gave out, but it is moving in that direction with the Knight Media Innovation Fund. I think that's a good thing, so I'm glad to support it up front with this first, non-mandatory equity donation.

FeedBrewer's Road Ahead

So what's ahead for us with FeedBrewer? Riches? Fame? Glory? Not initially, if ever, but there will be a lot of hard work as we strive to achieve our vision for simple multi-platform publishing solutions. And if we succeed in that vision, whatever else comes after is icing on the cake. We're running a startup because we think we can do a better job achieving our vision than if we were operating in a large company, not because we anticipate an immediate windfall.

The other thing I've learned through the Founder Institute is that I am a hair short of insanity for starting a new business. My co-founders and I are already bootstrapping our path to the future, taking on consulting projects that leverage our expertise while keeping a percentage of our time free to work on our own concepts (such as BookBrewer -- more on that later!)

Contrary to what you may think, the vast majority of startups do not attract enormous multi-million dollar investments or acquisitions. They work project by project, sale by sale, and some result in sustainable businesses. (Shameless plug: yes, we have room for more consulting projects. Learn more about that here).

The Real Value of the Knight News Challenge

The bottom line is that without the Knight Foundation's support, I would never have had the time to study and learn what I have through Printcasting, and FeedBrewer simply wouldn't have been possible due to lack of confidence. I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the large audience that this Knight-funded Idea Lab blog provides, or present my wacky ideas at countless conferences around the world. And I doubt I would have had the honor and privilege to be part of such a fun and inspiring Knight News Challenge community.

So I want to thank the Knight Foundation and its late creator John S. Knight -- who it turns out shared my birthday -- and all of the innovators past, present and future that emerged as part of his legacy. That community is the real value of the Knight News Challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing more projects pay it forward like we have done.

April 21 2010

02:56

NetSquared Camp Comes to Portland, Oregon

I'm Donna Arriaga, and I'm excited to share that I'll be organizing a NetSquared Camp in Portland, Oregon.  

For the past two years, I've been actively involved in NetTuesday/501TechClub events in Portland. Beginning about a year and a half ago, I started co-organizing nptech events with two other fellow nptechies through PDXTech4Good.  Being a part of these community events has provided me with an amazing opportunity to meet, share ideas with, and learn from a diverse array of professionals.  

read more

April 05 2010

07:56

NetSquared Madrid Encourages Students to Become Entrepreneurs

NetSquared Local is growing with groups getting started all over the world. But groups aren't just coming together once a month, they are finding even more ways to connect the local community and make positive social impact. The first NetSquared local group in Spain, NetSquared Madrid, is a new group that's already going above and beyond to spread opportunities and informaiton about social entrepreneurism in Madrid.

netsquared madridNetSquared Madird is organized by five Spanish Engineers with a passion for innovation and social change:

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February 25 2010

18:38

January 04 2010

10:17

Ten things every journalist should know in 2010

This is an update on a post I wrote at the beginning of last year – Ten things every journalist should know in 2009. I still stand by all those points I made then so consider the following 10 to be an addendum.

1. How to monitor Twitter and other social media networks for breaking news or general conversations in your subject area using tools such as TweetDeck. Understand and use hashtags.

2. You are in control. Don’t become a slave to technology, make it your slave instead. You will need to develop strategies to cope with information overload – filter, filter, filter!

3. You are a curator. Like it or not, part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web using tools like Publish2, Delicious and StumbleUpon. As Publish2 puts it: “Help your readers get news from social media. More signal. Less noise.”

4. Your beat will be online and you will be the community builder. Creating communities and maintaining their attention will increasingly be down to the efforts of individual journalists; you may no longer be able to rely on your employer’s brand to attract reader loyalty in a fickle and rapidly changing online world (see 7).

5. Core journalistic skills are still crucial. You can acquire as many multimedia and programming skills as you want, but if you are unable to tell a story in an accurate and compelling way, no one will want to consume your content.

6. Journalism needs a business model. If you don’t understand business, especially the business you work for, then it’s time to wake up. The reality for most journalists is that they can no longer exist in a vacuum, as if what they do in their profession is somehow disconnected from the commercial enterprise that pays their wages (one side effect of journalists’ attempts to ‘professionalise’ themselves, according to Robert G Picard). That does not mean compromising journalistic integrity, or turning into solo entrepreneurs; rather it means gaining an understanding of the business they are in and playing a part in moving it forward.

As former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves said in his excellent speech to Warwick Business School last year: “You cannot be an editor in today’s media environment without also being a businessman. It might say editor on my business card, but really, I am in the business of making news profitable and budgets, targets and performance are as important to me as words and newsprint.”

OK, you may not be an editor yet but that is no excuse, and it is probably easier to innovate while you are still working on the coalface without managerial responsibilities. Plus, in some cases, your editor may be part of the problem.

7. You are your own brand – brand yourself online! I’m not talking bylines here – you need to build yourself an online persona, one that earns you a reputation of trustworthiness and one that allows you to build fruitful relationships with your readers and contacts. You can no longer necessarily rely on having a good reputation by proxy of association with your employer’s brand. And your reputation is no longer fleeting, as good as your last big story – there is an entire archive of your content building online that anyone can potentially access.

Obvious ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook, personal blogging, but you can also build a reputation by sharing what you are reading online using social bookmarking sites like Publish2 and delicious (see 3).

8. You need to collaborate! Mashable suggests seven ways news organisations could become more collaborative outside of their own organisations, but this could also mean working with other journalists in your own organisation on, for example, multimedia projects as MultimediaShooter suggests or hook up with other journalists from other publications as Adam Westbrook suggests to learn and share new ideas.

9. Stories do not have to end once they are published online. Don’t be afraid to revise and evolve a story or feature published online, but do it transparently – show the revisions. And don’t bury mistakes; the pressure to publish quickly can lead to mistakes but if you admit them honestly and openly you can only gain the respect of your readers.

10. Technology is unavoidable, but it is nothing to fear and anyone of any age can master the basics. If you do nothing else, set up a WordPress blog and experiment with different templates and plugins – I promise you will be amazed at what you can achieve and what you can learn in the process.

    Learn more practical advice on the future of journalism at our news:rewired event at City University in London on 14 January 2010.

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    November 30 2009

    17:05

    Journalism students as entrepreneurs

    “Are traditional skills enough or do the new generation of journalists also need to be entrepreneurs?” asked Patrick Barkham in a Media Guardian feature today.

    He cited examples of entrepreneurship, as preached by CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, in journalism departments at various British universities.

    Journalism.co.uk – rather an old ’start-up’ at 10 years old, it must be said – got a mention, along with my comment that blogs and Twitter gave student journalists more opportunity than ever for a platform from which to get noticed.

    But the real challenge of making money is rather more tricky than just getting heard, as the debate on today’s NUJ New Media email list indicated.

    “Surely freelancers have always been entrepreneurs?” one contributor commented.

    “Yes, journalists need to be taught about how business works and also how to manage people (how many journalists do you know who have made awful managers?) But that might be more appropriate to ongoing training than basic foundation courses,” added Journalism.co.uk’s founder John Thompson.

    Alex Wood, City University alumni and a founder of the Berlin Project, thinks the entrepreneurial speak is ‘old news,’ saying that he and his student colleagues regularly made use of freelance opportunities, web design and online articles. “I’d say with most courses now over £10,000, becoming an ‘entrepreneur’ isn’t a skill, it’s a necessity (…) It’s a simple case of sink or survive and with huge debt around graduates necks these days, people are a lot more willing to fight.”

    Meanwhile, multimedia and recently freelance journalist, Adam Westbrook, said that ‘this talk about journalists-as-entrepreneurs recognises a distinction between freelance journalism and entrepreneurship’.

    “Yes, if freelancers run themselves as mini businesses there is some similarity, but I think its also about embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, looking for new markets and opportunities to exploit – seems a bit anti-journalism but that’s the game I think.

    “And the ultimate journalism start-up is the one which cuts a profit and self sustains (ideally not through advertising alone), rather than living off grants or donations.”

    Paul Bradshaw, lecturer at Birmingham City University and founder of the OnlineJournalismBlog, thinks the new approach does go beyond traditional methods; it’s a form of entrepreneurial journalism ‘that seeks to find new business models for journalism, rather than existing freelance journalism models,’ he said. “That could be anything from new forms of advertising, public funds, or platforms like iPhone apps etc.”

    Join the debate and send your own examples, in the comments, or through Twitter (via @journalismnews):

    • How is the new journalistic entrepreneurship different from freelancing of present / yore?
    • Are journalism schools the right places to develop these skills? Or would students be better off in business school?

    Entrepreneurship will be one of the topics tackled at our news:rewired conference on 14 January 2010. See http://newsrewired.com for more details. Tickets on sale now.

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    November 26 2009

    13:31
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