Highs and lows: Finding Future Tides, a new maritime media venture

“You’re Invited to Join the Journalism Creators Program”

I read and reread that subject line and the following acceptance email at a pub in Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal, part of the Port of Seattle and home to the North Pacific fishing fleet.

It was February 2021, and in a short-lived moment between shutdowns due to the pandemic, my partner Andrew and I were grabbing beers. Our walk in the park had turned into scouting out the 107-year old ship supply building at Fishermen’s Terminal slated to be transformed into the Port’s Maritime Innovation Center.

The 107-year old Seattle Ship Supply building in February 2021. (Cara Kuhlman Photo)

Since I’d first heard about it, the Maritime Innovation Center project fascinated me, in part, because it indicated a vision for the region’s maritime future, rather than its past.

It also reflected an intersection of my experience as an avid sailor and writer, who previously worked in the maritime industry and spent the past five years at GeekWire, an independent news site covering the region’s booming tech industry. Maybe like the ship supply building, maritime innovation is my future too.

I decided to explore that idea through the Newmark J-School’s Spring 2021 Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program. A 100-day online program with 19 other aspiring media entrepreneurs from around the world.

What exactly is “maritime innovation”? I define it as the rethinking of how we work, play and treat our waterways. More specifically, it’s considered the application of advanced technologies to the maritime sector.

In the U.S., traditional nautical charts (raster charts) are being sunset in favor of electronic navigation charts. The historic transition reflects the broad use of electronics for navigation, chart production and corrections. (Cara Kuhlman Photo)

New technologies have always played an important role in maritime history. Developments in boat building and operations have transformed the transport of passengers and commerce; defined local and global economies, and greatly expanded exploration.

However, the spread of potentially impactful technologies can be curtailed by public policy and perception. There are also traditional technologies and systems still in practice today, often because they work well and are reliable.

What are the decisions being made today that will define the future of the Pacific Northwest maritime community? Who are all the stakeholders? What do all these people using the same waterways know or don’t know about one another? What innovations from elsewhere around the world could be utilized here?

According to a recent report, the Seattle region’s population boom has put additional pressure on the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population. Can technology allow for better co-habitation?

This is the intersection that Future Tides will cover. Future Tides is a new media venture to inform the recreational and professional mariners sharing Washington State’s waterways about maritime innovations and technology.

Starting with a weekly newsletter, Future Tides will expand through community input and curiosity. Future Tides will serve the Pacific Northwest maritime community by facilitating a conversation about the possibilities and challenges we face through aggregated and original coverage, audience questions, and research guides.

As the 100-day program came to an end, I identified some important founding principles for Future Tides.

Now, after the 100 day program, I’m sitting at home on my sailboat, reflecting on the highs and lows that brought me here. I’ve spent hours on video calls, completing readings and online lessons; all while wrestling with my project and my purpose. While I’ve pretty much sat in the same seat, I’ve come a long way.

〰️ Lows

  1. Losing my confidence. — I believe I heard almost every one of my colleagues express doubt and uncertainty over these past 100 days and I was right there with them. Should I even be here? Is this more than I am capable of? How will I ever make this a reality?
  2. Struggling to articulate my vision. — As a bevy of thoughts and lessons learned swirled in my head, I became less articulate about my project. I couldn’t settle on a name. The lack of socializing throughout the pandemic didn’t help. Thanks to my mentor Jan Schaffer for always listening.
  3. Feeling overwhelmed about what’s next. — This is another step I feel like we are taking on together as a cohort: the next 100 days. Now we apply everything we’ve learned and navigate the unknowns. One thing that always helps me when I feel overwhelmed, though: make a list.

〰️ Highs

  1. Participating in this cohort of international journalists. — My colleagues have been encouraging, enthusiastic, and broadened my perspective through the diversity of their cultures and experiences. With their support, I’ve regained my confidence and enjoyed their companionship beyond my expectations.
  2. Discovering my “unfair advantage.” — What do I bring to this project that is not easily bought or copied? My first answer was my maritime and media experience but I came to realize my “unfair advantage” also includes all that I’ve learned, almost begrudgingly, about technology and business through GeekWire.
  3. Recognizing the power of niche. — My major mid-program meltdown came when I realized, “my project is not niche enough.” Especially not for a sustainable micro-venture. Committing to a niche ensures that I will have direction when I feel lost and am serving my target community.

What’s next?

A few boat projects and then putting my learnings to work. First on the list: Listening through my community survey and informational interviews.

See the latest and subscribe at carakuhlman.com/future-tides to receive the Future Tides newsletter when it launches.

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Cara Kuhlman

Writer, problem solver and an avid sailor | Geeking out at work with @geekwire | Plotting how to combine maritime and media at EJCP @newmarkjschool