#MuckedUp chat Tuesday: digital entrepreneurship and journalism startups

Jan 09, 2014
#MuckedUp chat Tuesday: digital entrepreneurship and journalism startups

There's never been as much content at our fingertips, and in front of our eyeballs, in all of recorded history as there is right now. This very second—as I'm typing these keys. And it keeps growing. By the time you read this, there will be even more. Today's journalism is like an avalanche of content that seems never ending.

But not everyone is embracing this culture of churnalism. There seems to be two breeds of journalist today. The first could be called content farmers, those burdened or blessed, depending on opinion, to pump and pimp out their publishing on what appears like a never ending, 24-hour cycle. Always on, always chasing a story, always exhausted and overburdened. Some enjoy the attention and adrenaline of forever being on deadline. Others feel continually stressed to the point where last year the good-old newspaper reporter was voted the worst job in a survey conducted by CareerCast (it ranks high again this year, although not no. 1). Chances are if you're like me, at some point during your career you felt a combination of both of these feelings, maybe even at the same time. This path isn't easy, and for many it can lead to cynicism and burn out. And if you're feeling that way, it may be time to look for a new path.

One direction is the "Type B" journalist. The entrepreneurial journo, often known for working on passion projects, reporting on less-covered topics and beats, and depending on status and demand, being self-employed, running their own journalistic business or freelancing for multiple publications. 

Journalism startups are the shining beacon here, the target of a growing segment of talented, ambitious content creators. Like all startups, of the biggest challenges to realizing those ideas is money.

There are as many methods to raise funds as there are types of ventures. Some, like Paul Carr's NSFW Corp have failed revenue wise, but succeeded journalistically, specializing in covering long-form investigative pieces. On the other end of the spectrum, where money is not an issue, there's the Pierre Omidyar-Glenn Greenwald projectFirst Look Media. In many ways it's a dream team situation, mixing Omidyar, a cause-driven billionaire, with a real muckraking journalist in Greenwald. Time will tell if Greenwald's news team can deliver the same groundbreaking work he's been known for, but based on the group they're assembling, and the healthy capital, things look promising. 

It's impossible to put a number on how many journalism-centric startups are out there, but new crops keep sprouting up thanks to the green thumb support of academia and generous fellowships. And this isn't just happening here in the U.S. 

Almost a year to the day, a report titled Chasing Sustainability on the Net looked at the varying business models of 69 digital journalism startups in 10 nations. Startup money comes from a variety of sources—whether advertising, selling technology, content syndication or subscriptions. Much like the media itself, there is no one right model, no holy grail from which we can all drink from. But, what is more positive, is that these ventures exist and keep popping up, signaling both a demand from the public for specialized niche and under-represented content, and a healthy entrepreneurial population willing to to take the plunge.


Their conclusion: "Unlike [traditional news outlets], these online publications are not generalists but specialists. They do one or two things exceptionally well and leave the rest to others. It remains to be seen if there is still room for traditional media that tries to bundle 'all the news that's fit to print' on a single website, newspaper, or newscast. Based on our research, the new publishers are not finding sustainability with [that model]." Chasing Sustainability on the Net

Following that model of specialized content is a new project headed by Josh Gross, who has covered mixed martial arts for the past decade for the likes of Sports Illustrated and ESPN. Now Gross has decided to go in a different direction and write about the city he lives in, Los Angeles, specifically its surprisingly underreported Downtown. In recent years this urban core has undergone a cultural explosion, attracting both big business, real estate development and a core of young professionals to an area once considered unsafe, unhip, and dirty. Gross will be our special guest this week, sharing the early successes and failures of his print and web magazine DWNLA, which stands for "Doing What's Needed," and documents a changing Downtown L.A. by covering Downtown stories.

Gross calls this endeavor very much a passion project, and right now it's supported by local advertisers. His editorial team is working on the second issue, incorporating QR codes into print editions which he hopes will lead readers down a rabbit hole of exclusive web content. It's a lot of work, he admits, and Gross says they're still working on perfecting DWNLA's financial model. The key at this stage is "understand your project, know what you're trying to accomplish and try and create a financial model" tailored to your niche, he says. 

To speak with Gross and other like-minded journos, join me this Tuesday, January 14 at 8 EST. See you then. 


About the author

Recent Bylines @BW @NYTimes @WashingtonPost @BBC @CNTraveler @NewScientist @VanityFair @Climate

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