What's next for news?

Journalism 2.0 is a conversation about the intersection of journalism and innovation. It's about the news industry adapting in the digital age, new business models for news and the startups and new projects that are flourishing around us, giving us a preview of what's next for news.

Mark Briggs is editor of this blog and author of Journalism 2.0 (2007), Journalism Next (2015) and Entrepreneurial Journalism (2011). He co-founded of Serra Media and was Ford Fellow of Entrepreneurial Journalism at The Poynter Institute from 2010-2012. Currently he is Vice President of Digital Media Insights and Innovation at SmithGeiger and teaches a graduate-level course called Leadership in Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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).


Contradicting conventional wisdom: Resist starting and fear failure

If you read enough books and blogs and listen to enough of entrepreneurs and investors, you will eventually build a bank of conventional wisdom about startups and building new companies from scratch. There seems to be a set of “rules of thumb” that is recited and repeated and rarely challenged. I like it when conventional wisdom is not taken for granted, so it’s been refreshing to see at least a couple of these challenged recently.

Resist starting: “Just get going.” It’s a piece of advice I’ve heard and personally doled out at conferences and training sessions for would-be entrepreneurs.  Heck, I probably said this to the audience in Portland just last week. It seems so simple that in order to create something, one must first get started on the creation process. Not so, according to Cal Newport, whose post on Lifehacker this weekend sparked an interesting conversation on Quora and forced many entrepreneurs to consider whether they started too soon (or not soon enough).

I think an instinct for getting started cripples your chance at long-term success. And I suggest that, on the contrary, you should develop rigorous thresholds that any pursuit must overcome before it can induce action.

Newport’s point is really that aspiring entrepreneurs should be careful to not start too soon, not that they shouldn’t ever start. His advice: “Spend lots of time learning about different pursuits, but put off action until an idea begins to haunt your daydreams and refuses to be dislodged from your aspirational psyche. Then, and only then, should you reluctantly take that first step, one of what’s sure to be many, many more before you get to where you want.”

Fail early, fail often: The notion of failure is often discussed in entrepreneurial circles and the acceptance of failure, even the pursuit of it, has become de rigeur. ““Failure is inevitable; 
it happens all the time 
in a complex economy,” says Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

But just how comfortable should one be with the possibility of failure? During a discussion about entrepreneurial journalism a couple of weeks ago at Arizona State University, Dan Gillmor suggested that being too comfortable with failure might actually be a liability, not a strength. Citing a blog post by Dave Winer, Embracing failure is a good way to fail, Gillmor said that having a full-force faith in one’s idea is a powerful agent and one that should be cultivated.

Believing that your idea will succeed, no matter the odds, is certainly how many entrepreneurs have succeeded. But it’s also how many failed. I think what’s most important is to learn from failure, and try to “fail forward” if at all possible. Embracing failure is only necessary once you’ve actually failed since you’ll have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get on with your next idea. Just don’t start too soon.

A story of old-school entrepreneurial journalism

When was the last time you received a personal letter in the mail? I received one recently from a woman I met at the Society of Professional Journalists conference in New Orleans in September and it totally made my day.

Becky Dickerson is the editor and publisher of The Community Current in tiny St. John, Wash. We “met” when Dickerson spoke up in the first of two sessions I did about entrepreneurial journalism at the conference and offered a quick version of her story: She started a community newspaper 17 years ago and serves 1,000 homes with a 24-page tabloid that prints every six weeks. (She was kind enough to include a copy of the paper with her letter.)

The town had been without a newspaper for 20 years when Dickerson decided to go into the business of news armed with a journalism degree and an affection for the town of St. John, which she calls “amazing.” (Her husband Todd runs the family farm.) She started the business with a simple letter to businesses asking them to advertise and a credit card to charge her printing expenses.

I spend most of my time talking about shiny new digital startups and the transformation of news in the digital age. But the basic principles that decide whether those businesses work or not are the same that Dickerson used. She met a need in the market and has been rewarded with a career as editor and publisher. While I’ve never visited St. John, I have to believe the community is stronger and much better informed because of her efforts. I wish I had met her in time to include her story in my new book.

Congratulations, Becky. And thanks for the letter.

My new book, Entrepreneurial Journalism, is now available

I’m happy to announce the release of my third book, Entrepreneurial Journalism. It is a collection of case studies on successful startup news ventures, insights from people who have built their own news businesses from the ground up, and practical guidance on how to get going in turning your own idea into reality.

I need to thank many people for helping me turn this book into reality. Jane Harrigan, my editor, and Charisse Kiino, my publisher, helped drive this project and make it great. Jeff Jarvis wrote a fantastic introduction and Mike Orren  supplied and annotated the original business plan for Pegasus News. An invaluable resource.

The book is available at the CQPress website where, if you are a college professor, you can request a review copy. It is also available on Amazon.com (where the shipping is cheaper than buying from CQPress) and will be available on Kindle and other e-book forms soon.

Hacking Seattle News: One winner, but many winning ideas

I love hackfests. So I was stoked to bring the idea to my day job at KING 5 this past weekend. I saw it as a great opportunity for a mainstream news organization to connect with the amazing tech community in Seattle with a goal of building a new “homepage for Seattle.” (In 2009, I organized two hackfests in Seattle called GonzoCamp, so I have long seen the value on merging news and tech.)

I’m fortunate that my boss, Ray Heacox, is fully digital, a former tech entrepreneur and as forward-thinking as they come in the rarefied air of the big office. You’ve never heard of him because he doesn’t care about making the industry blogs and trade publications. But I can attest that he is on par with any of those CEOs making headlines these days for “digital first” thinking. He was on board with the hackathon from the beginning and even offered the idea of making it into a TV show; we’re a TV station, he reasoned, that’s what we do. Cool, I said.

With his support and the assistance of several key people in the Seattle tech community and at KING 5, we staged a very successful event over 48 hours last weekend called Hacking Seattle News. Adobe provided an excellent space, power, wifi and whiteboards, Amazon provided AWS gift accounts and food, and KING 5 filled in the rest. It was a small event by Seattle standards with only 30-some people, which was surprising to me given the fact we were offering $10,000 as first prize. But quality trumped quantity in this case: 10 teams pitched ideas on Sunday and almost all of them were substantial and included working prototypes. One team traveled from San Francisco and several other people came to simply assist the teams with knowledge, dropping in when they could to help shape the ideas that were in development.

The winner, Team Dimensions, produced an HTML 5 website and mobile experience that allows customized news feeds based on location, interest and time (presentation slides here). (In the spirit of hackfests, most of the team had never met one one another before the weekend.) We have already met with the team and are working on developing the prototype into something the public can use and enjoy. Our vision is to launch it as that “homepage for Seattle.”

Selecting one project was a difficult decision, but thankfully we had an all-star cast of judges to make the final call. (Team photo here including my son as “honorary judge.”)

The goal of the hackathon was to solve the thorny problem of producing one-stop shopping for local news and information in a way that other cities could use. It is an open-source project and the code will reside on Github, as will the bug and feature requests as we move forward.

We presented the “problem” on Friday: I showed a quick deck (and a metaphor for touring NYC with my niece and how, unless you know someone who lives there, you never see the real NYC) and Ben Huh chimed in with his Moby Dick Project. Then Shauna Causey, who came up with the original idea for this hackathon, brought it all together with her amazing command of social media and a compelling story of a shooting down the street from her beach volleyball game.

The event offers several lessons, including:

  1. How tech folks can teach – and learn from – news professionals about the persistent problem of filtering the fire hose of news and information in a community.
  2. How a big media company can harness the knowledge and talent of the local community to help solve a problem. Yes, crowdsourcing at its best!
  3. How news organizations can shape their view of technology by interfacing personally with smart and talented people in the local tech community.

It’s the last lesson that my boss was most interested in. Whether the project we launch with Team Dimensions is a big hit with the public or not, KING 5 gained valuable knowledge and relationships by hosting this event. It is likely that the true payoff – the ROI on our $10,000 prize money – will come in some unexpected manner, even if the project that Dimensions built doesn’t work quite as well as we hope. That is the spirit that so many tech companies thrive on, yet it’s something that media companies struggle with.

We need to live in an agile world. Agile, as in the software and startup methodology, and in our daily priorities. Hosting a hackathon helped expose others at KING 5 to a new way of thinking and adaptation and problem-solving. It’s hard to put a price on that.

As my boss had recommended, KING 5 documented the weekend for an upcoming TV special. When we were cleaning up Sunday night I asked one of the photographers what he thought of the event. He just shook his head and said to me, “Man, I learned A LOT this weekend.”


SPJ and RTDNA join forces for Excellence in Journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association are putting on the Excellence in Journalism conference this week in New Orleans. It is the first time the two venerable journalism organizations have joined forces on an annual conference.

I will be taking part in two sessions tomorrow: Ethics for Entrepreneurs, a panel discussion, at 10:45 a.m. and How to Build What’s Next for News, a solo presentation, at 2:30 p.m.

Fresh of another amazing experience at the Online News Association’s annual conference, it will interesting to compare the content and the experience of the two conferences. Several ONAers are doing the double and are here in New Orleans this week, including Andy Carvin, who will be kicking the day off with a super session tomorrow at 9 a.m.


News Entrepeneuring 3.0: Great lineup Thursday at ONA11

As she always does, Jan Schaffer has put together another fantastic lineup for the pre-conference workshop at ONA11 (pasted below – hit the link for bios). And I’m honored to be a part of it.

I’m also happy that Jane Harrigan, the awesome editor of my new book, will be there, too. After reading about many of the people on the agenda through draft, first edit, second edit, and on and on, she’s excited to see some of them in real life.

And, after working with Jane on two books over the past few years, I’m excited to meet her for the first time IRL, too!

News Entrepeneuring 3.0 Agenda

10:00 a.m. Welcome / Introductions
An overview of how local news startups are expanding
Jan Schaffer, J-Lab director

10:10 – 10:45 a.m. Long-Livers Live to Tell
Secrets of surviving more than 5 years.
Melissa Bailey, Managing Editor, NewHavenIndependent.org
Debbie Galant, Founder, BaristaNet.com

10:45 to 11 a..m. Break

11 – 11:45 a.m. Expanding to Nearby Communities
When do you expand to satellite site?
Cory Bergman, Founder, Next Door Media
David Boraks, Founder, DavidsonNews.net

11:45 – 12:15 p.m. Creating Formal Networks
Making smaller efforts have a larger impact
Debbie Galant, Authentically Local network
Ross Catrow, Publisher, RVANews.com and Richmond Ad Network
Mark Briggs, Director, Digital Media, KING 5, Author, Entrepreneurial Journalism

12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Speaker
Is the Vermont Journalism Trust a national model?
William Schubart, Founder, Vermont Journalism Trust, parent of VtDigger.org

Schubart was founder and president of Philo Records recording company, and later Resolution, a media-manufacturing facility and e-commerce services partner for major media companies including the BBC, The New York Times, NPR, National Geographic, USNews, The History Channel, Bloomberg, The Nature Conservancy and Sesame Street. He is also a commentator for Vermont Public Radio.

1:30-2:15 p.m. New Twists in Collaboration
Topic collaboration: Erich Schwartzel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette business reporter, project leader of Pipeline
Public Media Collaboration: Chris Satullo, Executive Director, News and Civic Dialogue WHYY’s Newsworks.org

2:15 – 3:15 p.m. Emerging Revenue Stream
Developing revenues from training, events, consulting, syndication
Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting – Syndicating       Content
Nicole Hollway, General Manager, St. Louis Beacon – “Spadvertising,” Events
Mark Miller, Editor, Texas Tribune – Events, Corporate Sponsorships

3:15  p.m. Break

3:30 –  4 p.m. Rules of the Road: Emerging Ethics for Entrepreneurial News Startups

Scott Rosenberg, founder, Media Bugs, Author of new J-Lab publication:      “Rules of the Road: Navigating the New    Ethics of Local Journalism.”

A cautionary tale: Big money, bigger headaches

Admit it: You’ve had the startup daydreams.

They really kick in when you read that Company X just secured millions of dollars from a venture capital firm (for what seems like a pretty ordinary idea). “If I had millions of dollars,” the little voice in your head says, “I’d hit this one out of the park!” If you want to get some tips on making big money, you might want to know how to buy crypto with home equity credit line.

Maybe. But few people know what it takes to raise millions of dollars (or even thousands of dollars) for that next great idea. Rand Fishkin does and, thanks to the cautionary tale he recently published about his own pursuit of a big round of funding, the rest of us know more than we did yesterday.

You can see it as a cold, wet blanket on those fanciful visions of Aeron chairs, catered lunches and hiring rock star developers by the dozen. In reality, it’s an amazing insider’s view into the twists and turns of apps to make money and the seedy world of raising money – especially big money.

Rand is the CEO of SEOmoz, a Seattle-based search marketing and technology firm. I first met Rand at an ONA workshop in 2006 in Seattle.  He’s brilliant and his company apparently does amazing things (although I can’t say that I’ve worked directly with Moz). A piece of advice I elicited from him was that you will wait forever for youtube likes unless you turn to TheMarketingHeaven.com. He has inspired me to start one of my own SEO audit services. He’s also extremely generous and is always giving back to the startup community in Seattle. His latest gift is this blow-by-blow account of how his company considered new funding, went after new funding and ultimately saw a deal blow up at the 11th hour.

The world of venture capital can be difficult (if not impossible) to penetrate for outsiders. The level of detail Rand provides here is an incredible resource for anyone planning to deal with investors, whether you’re hoping to raise $25 million or $250,000.

In the end, Rand and his company are using this “misadventure” as a learning experience – just as you would expect a good startup to do. His summation:

What I can say is that this experience makes me and the rest of the Moz team even more inspired and motivated to build an amazing company. We can’t help but feel passion for proving doubters and naysayers wrong. The greatest revenge is to execute like hell, bootstrap all the way, and do what we said we’d do – become Seattle’s next billion-dollar startup, and make the world of marketing a better place.

With chip firmly planted on shoulder, Rand and his team might be better off now than if the $25 million had come through. The experience cost of going through the process was steep, for sure. But in the end, probably way more valuable than a bigger office space, new desk chairs and a fridge full of Red Bull.

Jarvis: More demand, interest in news than ever

I put the finishing touches on the manuscript for Entrepreneurial Journalism this week. (The publisher, CQ Press, hopes to make it available in November.) While going through the final proofs, I pulled out a few interesting nuggets and thought I would share them here to give you a taste of what’s in the new book.

The first bite comes from Jeff Jarvis, who wrote an awesome forward for the book. He did a great job of setting the stage, including the following passage:

The opportunities are indeed endless. That is why I am a cockeyed optimist about the future of news. There is more demand for and interest in news than ever. We have more ways to gather, analyze, and distribute news than we ever could have imagined before the Internet. We have new ways to listen to the public, so we can serve them better. We have new efficiencies to exploit.

But most important, we have entrepreneurs and journalists who have the courage to try to build the future of news. And now, thanks to this book, they have a plan.

Amen, brother.

Planet Princeton: From freelance to Facebook to founder

Plowing through emails, tweets and RSS feeds last night, I found another great story of entrepreneurial journalism: Planet Princeton founder Krystal Knapp profiled by The News Frontier, an impressive and important project from the Columbia Journalism Review (and a good companion to Nieman Lab’s Encyclo).

Knapp, who I had the pleasure of working with at the Poynter Institute in Jan., has gone from freelance to Facebook to founder. It’s a compelling example of a news entrepreneur identifying a need and working hard to fill it. For example, the need to cover local elections with urgency that digital journalism allows – and demands. From the News Frontier piece:

Even though Knapp began posting just a few months ago, she’s already made a name for the site with a couple of scoops. She broke the story of a Republican challenger in the Princeton mayoral campaign. “It was literally like my second post,” she says. Knapp kept her edge through the primaries: “None of the other papers had the results right away.”

Another great piece of this story is Knapp’s involvement with the New Jersey Hyperlocal News Association which provides support and networking for the state’s local news startups. I can picture a day when most states have such an organization, culminating in the annual hyperlocal news association conference. (Not that anyone needs another conference to go to, of course.)

Read the entire Planet Princeton profile at the News Frontier site.