Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Thoughts from the media bootstrapping frontier

The new sports site launch I’ve been working on has been delayed and has garnered most of my time in recent weeks, but I am hopeful it will be up and running in the very near future.

I’ve been very busy from the content creation and strategy angle, blending together with newspaper-style reporting, blogging, the employment of social media and multimedia components and SEO. I’ve also been working on e-mail marketing and busieness model ideas, and planning out the next phases of where we want to go after the launch.

Now it’s down to a Web developer and my business partner giving it the look and functionality we’ve been planning for months.

Taking such a long break from posting here is not what I anticipated, but I’ve been finding some good links to keep me focused on my primary task, and I thought I’d share them here while I’ve got a brief break in my schedule:

Liberate Your Life: Put Yourself on Auto-Response:

“Putting yourself on auto-response means silencing your practical mind, in the face of the seemingly unpractical and ridiculous ideas. Faced with liberating your life, instead of thinking ‘I don’t know where to start,’ your auto-response becomes ‘I’ll figure it out.’ ”

I haven’t worried about plunging into something — the deep end — for a couple of years. But it’s especially important to think this way when you’re outside of an institution that is the embodiment of reticence and caution.

Every day as I work on my project, I tell myself over and over, “Nobody’s doing anything quite like this.” There is no other template except to carry on.

random thoughts on being an entrepreneur:

“Once you become an entrepreneur, you find the company of non-entrepreneurs a lot harder to be around. You’ve seen things they haven’t; the wavelengths alter, it’s that simple.”

I’m not quite there — not yet. I still think of myself as a “bootstrapper,” but the entrepreneurial mindset is starting to take hold. Surrounding myself with self-directed people has been indispensable for me as I slog along, getting the concept for this site into the shape we have in mind.

(via Darren Rowse)

New media? I’ve worked 38 years in the newspaper business:

“I am not a new-media person dumping on old media. I am an old-media person who wants to look at the present and the future through clear eyes, not through a lens of nostalgia.”

This was written by veteran newspaper editor Steve Buttry right before he left newspapers to plunge into the world of online journalism. Upon his move, Buttry’s wife, a journalist in her own right, penned this exquisite tribute to him, including this painful summation of a stagnant industry that has created a large and growing diaspora:

“Did it ever occur to you that even the most deathless love could wear out?”

“The people who run newspapers and those who work for them are engaged in useless foreplay. They cling tightly, trying again and again to make the way they’ve always done it still work, but the passion is gone. They talk change: tearing down silos, building audience and monetizing content. But talk is their only capability. They eye non-profit status with government subsidies like it’s Viagra for print. They tussle through regrouping, ‘right-sizing,’ and stripping down to ‘lean and mean.’ They reorganize, then reorganize again, then grope their way back to same old position that no longer works. The wretched gyrations are hideously frustrating for the poor souls involved, and sadly fruitless. They give birth to nothing new. The newspaper business is an aging, impotent beast, bringing down a lot of good journalists who are tangled in its foundering arms.”

It’s been a year and a half since I left my newspaper, and those words and phrases are still chilling to hear. “Resizing” was the term that accompanied my buyout offer, and it left me numb.

This piece caught me off-guard emotionally, because I don’t dwell on these thoughts and experiences all that much any more. They serve as a reminder of why I wanted to forge a new identity for myself as a journalist. It’s being carved out, gradually but surely, with nothing but renewed passion as my guide.

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A little media blogging on the fly . . .

I do want to return to blogging a bit more substantively about many of the topics I’m linking to below. But I’m trying to launch a site and grapple with some serious server meltdown issues that are preventing this from happening. The life of a Web entrepreneur is a glamorous one, I tell you. What I offer here I do so without comment or elaboration — for now:

Newspapers Not Evolving Enough for Digital Demand:

“I have wanted to work for a forward-leaning digital company for a long time. Part of this is recognition that newspapers have limited resources, they are saddled with legitimate legacy businesses that they have to focus on first. I am a digital guy and the digital world is evolving rapidly. I don’t want to have to wait for the traditional news industry to catch up.”

We Need ‘Philosophy of Journalism:”

“Every journalism student should be required to take a course in ‘Philosophy of Journalism,’ to develop the intellectual instincts and reflexes that will make the approach to truth of both practices a permanent part of his or her intellectual makeup. Imagine a world in which every column about the Obama administration’s battle with Fox News came with profound context about the large issues involved. A sweet, rather than tweet, thought.”

Does Political Journalism Focus on the Trivial?

“In the 60s journalism was a craft, not a profession, and more identified with ordinary people. Now, we’ve lost some of our idealism. The media and politicians are going down together in terms of cynicism.”

‘The Daily Show’ crew serious about media criticism:

“Too often, King said, journalists’ political coverage — and that of media critics — ends up being sanitized and nothing but a perfunctory he said/she said exchange. ‘If you were going to talk about whether the earth is flat, and 99 percent of scientists are saying it’s round, and 1 percent are saying it’s flat, you wouldn’t bring on the 1 percent guy. That viewpoint is factually inaccurate and they shouldn’t bring him on just to give the illusion of balance.’ “

Fertile Ground for Startups:

“Startups are playing an increasingly important role in American business, and they may play a central role in any recovery. As of the end of 2008, companies infused with venture capital were responsible for generating 12 million jobs and 20% of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a recent survey published by the National Venture Capital Assn.”

The War for the Web:

“It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.”

Caught in the pinch of health care reform

Read (and listen to) this former newspaper journalist’s account of trying to nail down adequate, affordable health insurance for her family as a freelance writer and editor, and keep in mind that she used to cover this issue for the Chicago Tribune:

“I understood how health insurance worked, or at least I thought I did. So, leaving the Tribune and finding myself sort of cast adrift in the sea to get my own health insurance . . . “

“It was a real eye opener for me about how difficult it is to figure out. I thought I understood the language, [but] I would read these policies and not understand. It really made my heart go out to people who have no health insurance who get stuck trying to find this on their own.”

Is this any way to spark entrepreneurship, self-employment and small business activity? The national unemployment rate is nearing 10 percent, and it’s barely enough to get the president to utter the “e” word. His political opponents — including my congressman — barely match that lip service and offer few workable alternatives. Meanwhile, here’s Richards again:

“What if I lose the policy?. . . Finding this policy was a huge deal for me. Being able to have my entire family covered was a huge weight on my mind. The idea that we might get sick and they might cancel us, just like if you have a bad car accident and the auto insurance company will cancel you, the idea that that could happen with our health insurance is really terrifying, because what are you supposed to do then?”

Anyone who continues to insist that any move away from the status quo amounts to “European socialism” that would undermine the mythology of “rugged individualism” ought to be disabused of this rhetoric. The perpetually aggrieved Tea Party crowd sucks up so much media oxygen about health care and anything else it’s upset about — which is everything.

But middle-class people with middle-class values who need to be served by reform are part of no influential political constituency. They would be required to have coverage under most of the proposals floating in Congress, although it may not be more affordable than it is now. (In fact, the process could very well produce a magnificent debacle.) Yet they soldier on quietly.

They’re too busy trying to make a living, and scrambling to pay for health insurance, to protest.

In the interests of full disclosure — and to prevent any future long reach from Big Brother — I accepted no swag for writing this post. But if you want to toss some my way . . .

Ruminations on losing a grip on the future

A few links I’ve been reading about the Web, journalism, entrepreneurship and work, with my commentary on each. It’s good to step away occasionally from the gauntlet of deadlines I’ve got over the next few weeks.

If I seem overly blue today, I’m just dismayed by some of the activities coming out of Washington that will have a very profound impact on so many aspects of our lives. At a pivotal time — with recession, wars and technological and generational change transforming American society — elected officials are determined that the interests of those who finance their political careers, and not the public interest, will be served above all. Or they’re pandering to full-throated populist cries to reclaim the country for self-professed “real Americans” resolutely moored to a mythical past.

The bright future that so many envision with the advent of the Web and a new class of entrepreneurship is at stake, and it’s on the verge of being squandered.

And it’s been raining unremittingly for the last week in Atlanta, with very little end in sight. I have forgotten what the sunshine looks like.

FCC Chairman Proposes ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules:

“This is not about government regulation of the Internet. We will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity, and entrepreneurial activity.”

While I am very pleased to see this happening, my quick reading is that the Obama Administration is making only modest changes. Will they really be effective against the likes of AT & T, Comcast and Time Warner? Or will corporatist claims of “big government” cause a similar pushback that’s taking place on the health care reform front? As a budding Web entrepreneur looking at some unappealing health insurance options, my belief in the “change” agenda is not all that strong right now.

As someone quietly hopeful of more enlightened government policy on a topic that’s so important to the future of commerce and free expression, I’m getting tired of settling for whatever can be negotiated. The roaring partisans who don’t even wield power have the upper hand because they shout the loudest.

The Story Behind the Story:

“In this post-journalistic world, the model for all national debate becomes the trial, where adversaries face off, representing opposing points of view. We accept the harshness of this process because the consequences in a courtroom are so stark; trials are about assigning guilt or responsibility for harm. There is very little wiggle room in such a confrontation, very little room for compromise—only innocence or degrees of guilt or responsibility. But isn’t this model unduly harsh for political debate? Isn’t there, in fact, middle ground in most public disputes? Isn’t the art of politics finding that middle ground, weighing the public good against factional priorities? Without journalism, the public good is viewed only through a partisan lens, and politics becomes blood sport.”

Mark Bowden’s treatise in The Atlantic certainly reflects the weariness many feel about the highly polarized nature of politics in Washington, and the media beast that ravenously feasts on such unrelenting acrimony. No neutrality here. Web mavens have been shouting at old print hacks like me to ditch bland objectivity, and they are right to make this complaint — to a degree.

But I’m afraid that hard-edged, partisan, highly opinionated media will grow wildly, because that “middle ground” is vanishing faster than we imagine. If a viable conservative alternative to the Huffington Post ever emerges, then Bowden’s doomsday scenario will gain even more traction.

MSNBC is veering closer to being the same shrill, unyielding “news” outlet for liberals that Fox News is for conservatives (as entertaining as both are, in terms of sheer preposterous bombast). This is is not good news, of course, for the fate of the news. “Blood sport” is alive and well. It will comprise the future of media, and a healthy portion of we now call journalism.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s Startup Advice:

“People are chasing cash, not happiness. When you chase money, you’re going to lose. You’re just going to. Even if you get the money, you’re not going to be happy.”

This is the very chatty Internet wine entrepreneur who’s made a mint doing what he loves, and he’s a prime testament to the “follow your passions” school. For all of his insights and energy, however, I find the message stale. Not every “passion” or niche is potentially as lucrative as what he does. And there are a lot of bandwagon-jumpers, such as all those professing to be social media experts, who tend to reach for the shiny new viral career thing.

Still, I do follow his advice because I am one of those “passion” people. I am simply not happy if I cannot delve deep down into that niche that I love the most, as small as it is. I just wish Vaynerchuk and others would admit that one’s chances of enjoying his success are limited if his wisdom is heeded to the letter. What is missing from these peppy pronouncements is the admission that folks have to pay the bills, regardless of their passions.

The Happiest Occupations:

“The findings, psychologists say, reflect the importance of being free to choose the work you do and how you do it, the way you manage your time, and the way you respond to adversity. Regardless of occupational field, the survey suggests that seeking out enjoyable work and finding a way to do it on your own terms, with some control over both the process and the outcome, is likely for most people to fuel satisfaction and contentment.”

A riff on the same theme as above. I do find myself encouraged by these findings, but with so many people unemployed and scrambling to provide for their families, working “on your own terms” isn’t a very practical consideration right now.

Working Class Zero:

“Where was the Tea Party movement when the tax burden was shifted from the high end to the middle? Where were the patriots when Wall Street, backed in Congress by Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, rewrote securities laws so that the wonder boys of Lehman and A.I.G. could reduce home mortgages to poker chips at a trillion-dollar table?”

I’m not making any partisan claims here — neither major party offers much for anyone claiming to be an independent — but I’m fed up with all the ranting and raving about government spending and “socialism” that’s been dominating the political debate. This did not begin on Jan. 20, 2009. Or on Jan. 20, 2001, for that matter.

After reading James Stewart’s harrowing account of last September’s bailout crisis — we came closer to the brink of financial catastrophe than I ever realized — I cannot believe we have a political class, and a citizenry, still dug into the same entrenched positions, still making the same tired arguments.

Republicans decry big government when they did little to stop it as a Congressional majority, and with a president of their own party in office. They play to a Tea Party crowd that likes to draw Hitler mustaches on Obama faces when not Photoshopping him as a witch doctor, insisting he was born in Kenya and claiming he’s a Muslim.

Democrats refuse to make serious spending cuts to repair the financial system and economy and back up their costly health reform promises. They play to a union constituency that represents only a small percentage of American workers while paying lip service to entrepreneurs and small business owners who don’t appear to be any better off under health care mandates that could very well punish them more than help.

At least the majority is trying to govern, as opposed to those who obstinately want to block anything from taking place.

But this is no way to take a big step toward grabbing hold of the future. It is a guarantee of fumbling it away.

Readings: News entrepreneurs, the security of freelancing and taming digital distractions

What follows are some links rattling around in my brain, and between the sofa cushions, as I battle to meet a major project deadline and get a better handle on this scattershot life on the Web I’ve been leading. It’s been a romp this week, and by no means is Friday the end of my work week. But hey, I’m not complaining. The joy of deep immersion in the work I love has me getting the same adrenaline rush of breaking news hitting my old newsroom.

If you’ve got some time this weekend, these pieces are well worth your perusal. The first link is the second installment in Michael Massing’s gargantuan examination of the vastly changing news industry for The New York Review of Books (here’s Part I). The following delves into online news ventures and startups trying to replace the journalism that’s disappearing from newspapers:

A New Horizon for the News: “What we do have is a tremendous increase in enthusiasm and initiative that, in the age of the Internet, counts for more than transmitters and printing presses. The retreat of the giant corporations and conglomerates is creating the opportunity for fresh structures to emerge. It remains to be seen whether foundations, wealthy donors, and news consumers will step forward to support them. . . .The opening won’t last forever. Lurking in the wings is a potential new class of media giants. Google, Yahoo, MSNBC, and AOL, all have vast resources that could finance a new oligopolistic push on the Web.”

How journalists can become successful news entrepreneurs: “Great reporters are resourceful. They don’t take no for an answer. If one official won’t answer a question, they’ll go find a document or dig a little more until the official feels compelled to answer. What ever it takes to get the story. No wall is too high or too thick once a good reporter sets his or her mind to reporting a particular story. That drive is the first pre-requisite to being an entrepreneur.”

Can Anybody Pull Off Long Form on the Web? “Salon also thinks that its content—mostly long-form, originally reported stories about politics, entertainment, technology and other topics—is just too costly given the level of interest from advertisers. It believes that advertisers will be more excited by shorter, more real-time pieces.”

Steering Clear of Writers Mills: “For those who feel the need to write something, anything, start a blog. Create a newsletter. Put together a fanzine. Just do something that belongs to you, so that should something come of it, you’re the one benefiting. Let the big time investors do their own work for a change.”

10 Reasons Why Freelancing is the Best Job Security: “Freelancers get exposed to a diverse assortment of ideas, business models, workflow processes, and technologies. This helps you to stay fresh and on the cutting-edge of the best practices in your field.”

50 things that are being killed by the internet: “When was the last time you spent an hour mulling the world out a window, or rereading a favourite book? The internet’s draw on our attention is relentless and increasingly difficult to resist.” (the ones that hit home for me are nos. 9, 12, 14, 21, 27, 29 and 50)

The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions: “Emailing, writing, tweeting, designing, browsing, taking calls, Skyping, Facebooking, RSS Feeding – all blurred into a single technological trance. I seem to switch randomly from one to the other. But actually is there a subtle hierarchy in this cloud? Do I prefer some distractions over others? I think so.” (via Bert DuMars)

Finding a comfort zone for personal branding

After long being in a profession that stressed humility if not virtual anonymity, I’m finding that the necessity of this age — individuals constantly marketing and “branding” themselves — is taking some getting used to.

But I was encouraged last night while watching the debut of a national cable program hosted by a former colleague, someone who’s been able to blend the personal “brand” he has developed out of the beat he’s long cultivated as a journalist. He’s done plenty of TV work before, but this show has his name on it, and now he’s sitting in the captain’s seat. He’s offered his opinions on programs and in blogs in the past, but is opening up more in this new role.

This is an example that has helped me get more comfortable with stepping out from behind the shadows of my old newspaper byline, establishing my own name, and upgrading my expertise. For a long-time print journalist, adopting a personal public relations plan is an acquired habit.

Public relations executive Jeremy Porter poses the essential question: “What can you do that nobody else is doing?” as a focal point for his approach:

“The best way you can position yourself as an expert is to share your knowledge and help others. If you give your ideas away for free, you’ll reach a lot more people – and they’ll start to think of you as the expert in your particular niche. Always be asking yourself, ‘What do I know that would help this person? How can I help them get ahead or improve the performance of their programs?’ It might be as simple as making an introduction for them to somebody in your network they want to meet. Pay it forward and hope for the best.”

A challenge I find with a wealth of experience is to avoid dwelling on that background and being too settled in the present. The simple act of labeling what it is that you do should always be cast with the future in mind:

“If you want to be able to make money doing what you love, you have to (and I repeat) have a future plan or destination. Whether you’re a consultant, entrepreneur, you’re currently employed or you’ve been laid off, the same idea applies: position yourself today to become a player in that area tomorrow.”

Some post-Labor Day ideas on labor

I like to start each week with some positive, upbeat thoughts not only about the work I’ve got on my agenda, but also to stay sharp on the challenges of the changing nature of work, career and the creative impulses. Here are a few items that have been on my mind in recent days:

Lessons from the Great Recession: “Instead of relying on the onetime holy grail of employment—a good-paying job with full benefits—workers may find themselves becoming microentrepreneurs, especially those in creative businesses.”

Sole proprietors account for $1.3 trillion in revenue: “Given these numbers, it’s hard to believe we are often asked if sole proprietors play an important role in the U.S. economy.”

Slaves of the Bonus Culture: “The old class-defined distinctions between those who earn salaries and those who earn wages is thus breaking down. So we encounter the paradox that while everyone today is in some degree professional, that very specialisation combining skill and integrity is breaking down in another sense, especially among the managerial classes. It appears that among many of the richer and more powerful figures, only a kind of special wage, or inducement or incentive, called a bonus, can draw the best out of them.”

•  Work for Passion, Not Money: “You need to understand that your job isn’t just a mindless routine you go through everyday of your life, it’s to contribute – and if you don’t feel happy contributing in a particular field, do something you actually enjoy and are enthusiastic about.” (via Liz Greene)

Real Change, Not Spare Change: “We also need to put people to work building community organizations, and writing plays and making art. The artist’s paycheck is every bit as important as the banker’s paycheck or the auto worker’s paycheck.”

Self promotion and making money in the new digital economy: “In an age in which the old cultural gatekeepers are being swept away, the most pressing challenge of creative artists is to build their own brands. And it’s the Internet which provides creative talent with easy-to-use and cheap tools for their self-promotion.”

Why I Love the Humor of the Web: “As digital matures — and we all agree it is maturing — I hope it doesn’t turn sour and stuffy, like direct marketing traditionally has been (“customer relationship management,” “test-and-learn”), or haughty (“Manifesto”), ephemeral (“Whassup?”) and delayed, like advertising.”