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The difference between topical journalism and advocacy

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Advocates give a shit. Journalists can’t afford to.

As the editor of a topical startup, I’m easily mistaken for an advocate on behalf of my audience. It’s true, there’s a strong resemblance: like an advocate, I start my day with the assumption that my audience deserves happiness and prosperity.

But this is the same assumption that starts the day for every media outlet in the world.

Here’s the difference between advocacy and journalism: Before doing anything, an advocate asks himself or herself: “What effect will this have?”

That’s the one question a journalist should almost never ask. There’s no quicker way to stifle an interesting or useful idea.

Two early lessons from a nonprofit’s first grant

Friday, June 17th, 2011

The 72 bus near the 82nd Avenue MAX stopI’m sort of bursting with pride that the nonprofit I manage (which also, for that matter, publishes this blog) has landed its first private grant.

It’s small: just $5,000. We’re far from Success. But this is a success. It’s a start. And that, I’ve been learning, is the way nonprofits get built.

This situation is too new, and I’m too close to it, to draw many useful lessons from this. But here are a couple:

  • We teamed up. This wouldn’t have happened without the support of a partner. As I wrote last year, entrepreneurial journalists aren’t just picking a niche to serve their advertisers or their audience. They’re also doing it because every niche already has institutions in it. Blessedly, we’ve found several institutions that we admire and admire us back. One of them suggested this collaboration.
  • We aimed low. Last year, we applied unsuccessfully for a $25,000 startup grant from Knight. Though I sometimes dream about how easy this would have all been if we’d landed that, in retrospect I wouldn’t have awarded it to me, either. Whatever his journalism experience, an inexperienced business manager needs to learn to walk before he learns to run. Funders, I think, know this well.

By the way, this means we’re hiring.

Why I don’t care about pageviews

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

eyeballPageviews don’t make money. Brands make money.

I’ve been doing my own thing for exactly 11 months. This does not make me a moneymaking expert. But I’m as certain as I get that I’m right on this one.

First, two points of information:

  1. Yes, pageviews and uniques matter to advertisers. I’m saying they’re not the main decision driver.
  2. Yes, a few people make money on traffic alone, or something close to it. I’m saying that for those of us at content companies, as opposed to technology companies — which includes almost everybody here at the local level — traffic for traffic’s sake is a sucker’s game.

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Relevance is mandatory, so pick a niche

Friday, July 31st, 2009

First in a series.

Here’s one of my four core principles for today’s media market: these days, relevance is mandatory.

I’m not talking about some of your content. I’m talking about all of your content.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

Yesterday, distribution costs were high, which made information scarce. The only way to distribute information was to spend lots of capital on a printing press or a broadcast tower. The only way to make this investment pay off was to make everyone interested in your content.

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Disprove this

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Here’s a brief proposition I’d be curious to see contradicted:

The common factor among all profitable journalism startups in the last seven years is not Web distribution, user interaction, worse content, better content, more content, less content, paid content or free content. The common factor is a narrow audience.