Good journalism AND good capitalism

Can a good journalist be a good capitalist? It’s a question that was posed miles away but influenced a dynamic discussion about journalism startups at last night’s #Newsnext meetup in Seattle, co-sponsored by ONA and SPJ.

On display were GeekWire and Xconomy, two startups I have written about before, which are thriving using different approaches to the seemingly same problem/opportunity. Xconomy is a local/national, operating with small staffs in a handful of cities covering technology with an emphasis on biotech, clean tech and other more “industrial” segments. GeekWire is only operating in Seattle with two journalists, one biz dev person and a handful of part-timers and freelancers. Its focus is driven by the journo-founders, Todd Bishop and John Cook, and their proven track record for covering  consumer technology topics that are important to Seattle: Microsoft, Amazon and the vibrant venture-funded and increasingly mobile startup companies that dot the landscape here. (Full disclosure: In my role at KING 5-TV, I brokered a content partnership with GeekWire.)

Frank Catalano, a digital consultant and former broadcast journalist, moderated, drawing salient observations from Curt Woodward, a writer for Xconomy, and Rebecca Lovell, Chief Business Officer for GeekWire. Among the best insights:

  • 30% of GeekWire traffic is international. Traffic growth has been “stunning,” according to Lovell.
  • The top two revenue sources at Xconomy are sponsorships/underwriting and events. It is not a CPM-based business model, which according to Woodward, allows journalists to feel they have to chase “clickbait.”
  • Lovell, who has an MBA and is the former executive director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, said she worries about feeding John’s and Todd’s families and is constantly aware of the company’s burn rate. One piece of advice she offered other startups: “Hire slow and fire fast.”
  • Both startups are thinking beyond content in searching for ways to serve their communities – and make money. Events are the top example, here. As Lovell tweeted later, “there’s a big difference between creating value and making $. focus on the 1st, the 2nd follows.”

Catalano  ended the session perfectly, drawing on an essay he wrote some 20 years ago, titled: “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Airwaves.”

Basically, thinking about the issues in 1992 and comparing them to the issues of 2012 … even though the form may change, there will always be people driven by curiosity who will want to know more about what’s going on, and have a passion for explaining it to others.

And people who want to receive that explanation, creating a market that can support innovative startups like Xconomy and GeekWire (among many others).


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