Journalism isn’t just about storytelling, sourcing, shooting photos, etc. - it’s also about entrepreneuralism. With that in mind, four leaders of companies with journalism roots spoke to the Journalism Interactive crowd Saturday.
The panelists were Warren Webster, the president of AOL’s Patch, Evan Ratliff, founder and editor of The Atavist, Burt Herman, CEO and co-founder of Storify and Edouard Lambelet, the co-founder of paper.li.
Patch has taken hyperlocal journalism to cities all across the country, The Atavist creates long-form nonfiction (longer than a magazine but shorter than a book) and licenses the content out. The Atavist also has an iPad app to publish the content with rich media. Storify gathers social content to be packaged on websites and paper.li lets anyone set up an online “newspaper” using social media curation.
Robert Hernandez, a journalism professor at USC and co-founder of #wjchat, moderated the panel.
Hernandez asked how their backgrounds helped and hurt their positions as entreprenuers.
Lambelet: “My problem is that I don’t have any background (in journalism). This has helped me a lot.” He said he’s “not a techie” and had worked in the opera business, among other things. He said this has helped him because he is open-minded, and he sees his products from the point-of-view of a consumer of content.
Herman (a former foreign correspondent for AP): “My experience was dropping into Afghanistan after Sept. 11,” he said. “That kind of training is great for being able to adapt quickly, learn quickly.” He said journalism is good for “simplifying things for a big audience.” He said it hurt him in that he had “immediate satisfaction” as a reporter - his byline showed up right away. Development is not like that. “It takes a while, and there isn’t a set process.” He said the world of a startup takes time, and you have to be patient.
Ratliff (a former freelance writer): “Being a freelance writer is like running a business,” he said. “In one sense, that is entrepreneurial, and that was helpful.” He said people have asked him “why are you bothering to sell content, why don’t you sell this …” but being a content producer, he knew what was important and worth doing. He said not having an entrepreneurial background did hurt him when it comes to understanding finances and running a business.
Webster: (a former publisher with Gannett): “I started seeing a big disconnect between people who are creating the content and the business of journalism.” He said that you don’t have to take everything as gospel. He said it’s easy to get stuck into believing that things are always done a certain way.
Hernandez pointed out that there were no females on the panel, and he asked them what they want to see to get more diversity in entrepreneurial journalism.
Warren, of AOL’s Patch.com, mentioned some entrepreneurs he looks up to, and didn’t name Arianna Huffington (someone in the audience pointed it out). With a laugh, Warren said, “If you’re watching, Arianna, you’re doing a great job.”
Ratliff says his company hasn’t published any female writers, and he wants to change that.
Herman said diversity is a problem in the tech community. “It starts with education,” he said. “People in the Bay Area are dying to hire anybody” when it comes to computer engineers. “Those people go on to start companies, but it has to start with education.”
Lambelet called one of his employees “a girl,” which drew snickers from the crowd. “I’d love to have more girls on the team,” he said. Hernandez pointed out that English is not Lambelet’s first language (it’s French), and reminded him that we call them “women.” “Women, of course!” Lambelet said.
Warren said every time he goes up into his engineering room, he would say “this is why no woman would want to work here. It’s kinda gross.”
An audience member asked the panel what they wished they had learned in journalism school. Warren said management and entrepreneurial journalism, and he wished he were a little more tech savvy.
"Sometimes you have to be happy in your own ignorance and go out and start something crazy," Warren said.
Herman said the “sacred wall” between journalism and business sides hurts innovation. “I would have liked to know how the business side worked.” He said “not every journalist has to be a rock-star programmer,” but journalists do need to “speak the language.”
An audience member asked whether editing is going by the wayside because of curation. Herman said they’re really the same thing, and he dislikes the buzz word “curation” because it implies it is something new when in fact editors have done this type of work for a long time.
Hernandez asked about information required from users.
Warren said: “Patch doesn’t ask for a lot of information form users.” He said over time, they’ll use user data to target content to users, but at this time they aren’t fragmenting the content.
Asked what they see in the future:
Warren: “I think we will have shaken out all of the noise. The good companies that are dealing with journalism will make access to journalism easier.” He said people will realize that you need humans to help you sift through all the information. “The method for getting information to you will become much more easy as we figure out how best to use mobile devices.”
Ratliff: “In terms of long narrative journalism, I think there has been a revival of that. What I see is that the large organizations will continue doing it, and the smaller outfits like us” will continue to progress. “Individual authors will pursue their own ventures.”
Herman: He said the distinction of what makes a media company will continue to blur. “Is Apple a media company?” he asked, also pointing out that YouTube could be considered a media company. He said the trend will be more and more individual brands.
Lambelet: “One major new thing is the interaction between journalists” and his or her audience. He pointed out that the Huffington Post expects its journalists to not just be writers but also community managers. “The relationship between the journalist and the readers will evolve.”
- Robert Quigley