Editia at the Walkleys

The October-November edition of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s Walkley Magazine features a two-page feature by Editia Founder + Publisher Charlotte Harper entitled Rise of the journopreneur.

Continuing that theme, Charlotte joined a panel at the 2012 Walkeys Conference in Canberra yesterday called Maverick to mainstream: successful start-ups. The session looked at “the secrets of successful media ventures from some of the industry’s sharpest entrepreneurs, while learning effective ways to overcome the many challenges of a competitive marketplace of ideas”.

Chaired by James Kirby, who together with fellow shareholders Alan Kohler, Stephen Bartholomeusz and Robert Gottliebsen recently sold Australian Independent Business Media to News Ltd for some $30 million, the panel featured John Griffiths, Editor and Founder, RiotACT; Leonard Witt, US journalist, scholar and blogger; and Jane Nicholls, CEO, The Global Mail.

Each spoke for seven minutes about their background and start-up experiences. Here is part of Charlotte’s presentation, including several paragraphs that didn’t make the cut:

If you’d like to run your own start-up but have no idea where to start, try working for another small business first. As publisher of Management Today, I work for Canberra start-up MSA Media. Run by former News Ltd journalists Gerard McManus and Tom Skotnicki, MSA pitched against ACP and Pacific for the Management Today contract and won.

I run a team of young writers there and it’s a hotbed of creative ideas, some of which are on track for 2013 launch. Working with Tom and Gerard is like undertaking a journalist’s apprenticeship in small business management.

Being involved with online publishing since 1997, I’ve worked on numerous such in-house launches. Intrapreneurship is a great way to learn project management skills.

While blogging and social media smarts are essential, these will come more easily to journalists than competitor analysis, business plan writing, bookkeeping, design and contract negotiation. I recommend Xero for bookkeeping and befriending a contracts expert or lawyer as well as a graphic designer.

Other factors to consider are insurance (professional indemnity, public liability, workers compensation) and ergonomics for occupational health and safety – including your own.

Take small business courses run by local/state government business development arms; attend industry events, courses and conferences related to your idea; read books like Ian Benjamin’s Consulting, Contracting and Freelancing, John English’s How to Organise and Operate a Small Business in Australia and Entrepreneurial Journalism: How to Build What’s Next for News by Mark Briggs and visit websites like Startup Smart, Mashable and Flying Solo.

Learn from the mistakes of others, and most importantly, your own.

In launching Editia, I’ve discovered that most things cost 20% more than you budget for and take twice as long as you expect.

I’ve also learnt that it’s possible to be too cutting edge. Nearly half the people I talked to about crowdfunding in promoting our first book had never heard of the concept. We needed to explain what it was before we could begin to convert them into customers.

Another hitch was the many requests for a PDF or physical proof review copy from those who found ePub and browser-based versions beyond them. We will cater to this in future.

A big lesson was that ebook distribution is not yet ready for our fast turnaround needs. We went direct to Amazon and Apple and the book was live within hours. For other retailers, we used a specialist distributor with mixed results. From here on, we will only deal direct.

More positively, I am inspired daily by the success of journalist-driven ventures like Wendy Harmer’s the Hoopla, Mia Freedman’s Mama Mia, Amanda Gome’s last launch for Private Media, Women’s Agenda, and Tim Burrowes’ Mumbrella.

Australian university journalism schools should be inviting entrepreneurs like these to present guest lectures on their experiences, and indeed offering entire postgraduate entrepreneurial journalism courses, perhaps in partnership with TAFE, for journalists with a few years’ experience.

Some of my UC students already have plans for subscription blogs and YouTube channels of their own – I believe that even at the undergraduate level, we should be helping them develop these plans rather than dwelling on how legacy media organisations operate.

If I were in a position to, I’d be heading to the US in 2013 to attend the City University of New York’s 15-week entrepreneurial journalism course, which is designed for mid-career journalists. Students develop a start-up project and work with Big Apple start-ups like the Atavist and FourSquare. One student raised $50,000 via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to get his project, Narrative.ly, off the ground this year.

Despite all the doom and gloom in mainstream media, digital technologies provide real opportunities for journalists to build their own profiles and create the stories that they want to publish or broadcast globally – wherever they are, whatever their means and no matter how many babies and children are sharing the home office.