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March 29 2011


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:


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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