Succeeding As An Entrepreneurial Journalist

Define Your Product, Refine Your Service

Journalists, reporters, editors and many media types do not see themselves as much more. They source, report, write, send copy to the desk or a specific editor and it’s on to the next one, unless questions arise in any copy.

For journalism to survive and remain sustainable in our big, bold digital world, the process cannot continue to end the way it still does for so many. Today, listening to and learning from any reactions and subsequent actions taken on what was delivered are just as important as all the legwork involved in getting the work published or produced.

So what happens next? Your op-ed, video or captivating narrative has been published and made the rounds. Switching gears from a service mindset to a product management mindset is what should come next. Because in a world in which we are all striving to be recognized, liked and followed, honing in on what is happening may not be the easiest, but it’s a must.

So What’s Your Product?

The 2017 cohort of Tow-Knight Fellows, of which I am proudly a member of, has had an exciting few months working towards an answer and trying to create sustainable solutions to keep our journalism alive and to ultimately thrive. Rafat Ali, Founder and CEO of Skift, very explicitly told us to look within ourselves and really determine if we have the “chops” to do so. Why? Because “media is a long game,” he says. And he should know. An engineer turned media operator now running a must-read for the travel and hospitality industry has gone global, is publishing and distributing a beautiful print publication twice a year (yes, print!) and is pointedly focused on his audience. He and the team at Skift “care about those who care about us,” he says.

Well said, and Ali makes perfect sense. Why try to please everyone? Why try to service everyone? Skift is a multi-product brand that Ali is refining every day, and in turn servicing an industry. My conversations have revealed that Skift is a must-read, and Ali is well known to pick up on the newest trends, distill them and present them in multiple formats to his audience. This is, in my opinion, a service.

The fellowship has emboldened my colleagues and I. It has offered exposure that even seasoned journalists embedded in a major market (c’est moi) would not have easily had access to in today’s media environment. We’ve learned to listen, to engage, to define and refine, and then some. We are all now building, designing and asking questions as if we are engineers and designers, instead of people with a love of—and passion for— storytelling.

Emerging Market Media is moving ahead with a clearer mission on what my team and I believe is a more sustainable path. Page views mean nothing, community does. Clicks mean nothing, action taken on your product does. If your product is a website or newsletter, than yes, you will garner the views and clicks, but then what? It is at this juncture in which the “service” hat must go on and the work begin.

My team and I are asking the questions, defining and refining our strategy, and establishing a roadmap almost on a weekly basis — a sort of lifecycle for not only our brand, but all our current and upcoming offerings. Be it a podcast or industry event, knowing who you are servicing and how to keep them engaged is one method we know we need to hone in on and perfect in order for our our MVP(s) to survive.

In short, the customer journey is what will guide us. We expect to win some or lose some and it is this process that will make us more sustainable. Agility and a lean mindset open to testing and failing is what we have adopted. This is not us tossing things out at our demographic to see what sticks; it is continually engaging with them to see what is sustainable.

Parting Words

There is no professional fellowship like a Tow-Knight Fellowship. The intimacy and intensity of the program, coupled with more than a dozen perspectives from around the world, all collaborating in a media hotspot (New York City) is priceless. A price cannot be placed on the attention and guidance we have received since the year began. And our combined experiences has led us to where we all our today. We’ve talked strategy with McKinsey and experienced 3D holographic technology with The Looking Glass Factory. We’ve spent a morning with the publisher of Mother Jones and have been expertly guided by successful business development and tech sector professionals that many of us had never imagined we would ever meet or be exposed to.

I look forward to remaining in touch with my cohort long after we’ve said our goodbyes. It is truly up to us save to not only save journalism, but to bring new ideas, new thinking and new rules of engagement to industry tables. Media is very much indeed a “long game.”

PHOTO/IMAGE CREDIT: Martin Eriksson, MindTheProduct; Product Management Roles Briefly Explained, Brainmates Pty. Limited (SlideShare).