Entrepreneurial Journalism: How to go it alone and launch your dream digital project

By Paul Marsden | 17th Feb 2017

There has never been a better time to be a digitally savvy journalist.

There are a lot of journalists with years of experience working on newspapers out there, just as there are plenty with that level of experience of broadcasting. But how many reporters are experts at producing truly digital journalism? Not that many.

The desire for new skills was clear in the leaked New York Times innovation report, which argued: “To help change the culture we need better digital talent”. But the fact that so few people are experts in digital storytelling is great for anyone just breaking into the industry.

Technology has levelled the playing field. Most people now have experience of producing their own media on a regular basis, a task that was much harder two decades ago when you had to find an alternative printing press or a broadcaster that would let you have a go.

A thriving hyperlocal scene

The availability of low-cost platforms has allowed hyperlocals to flourish. They are grassroots journalism at its finest. They exist because residents are naturally curious about the events happening in the areas they spend their lives in. They want to know why a housing development is being proposed at the back of their house, why the council is digging up the main road again and why the local school has failed its latest inspection.

The 2015 UK General Election provided a platform for hyperlocals to demonstrate their increasing value to their audiences. They became integral to the constituency campaigns by providing a range of in-depth analysis, demanding more access to candidates and involving readers in their coverage.

During the campaign, The Lincolnite took the bold step of jointly broadcasting a public debate with candidates in Lincoln’s marginal constituency seat, alongside running separate live stream one-on-one interviews that involved reader’s crowdsourced questions.

On Election Day hyperlocals used a variety of innovative tools and techniques to keep voters informed. They ran all night live blogs, live streamed declarations and a few grabbed the first interview with their new MPs. The standard of overall coverage received praise from the traditional media with David Higgerson, digital publishing director at Trinity Mirror Regionals, noting hyperlocals had a “very good general election.”

A perfect breeding ground to launch your own platform

The liberation, experimentation, and no degree of chaos, the internet has introduced into journalism has wreaked havoc with some of the longest standing newsgroups across the world. It has left well resourced but often slow to adapt legacy (pre-internet) publishers slugging it out on a complex battlefield full of hyperlocal and specialist bloggers.

Not all of this chaos is welcome. The fact that eyeballs equal advertising revenue led to the surge of “fake news” that helped get a volatile reality TV star elected as the US President.

But the biggest sustained challenge to the establishment is coming from insurgent digital-only ventures, which have adopted innovative business models. Two of the market leaders in this area, Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post, have succeeded due to focusing on viral growth. Therefore a key aspect of this book investigates how you can be successful in drawing-up a plan on a shoestring to attract your target audience.

The modern media landscape is tailor-made for inventive journalists, primarily because technology means publishers are continually evolving their approaches. A change of approach in Silicon Valley increasingly leaves newsrooms reeling while they figure out how to rebuild their methods of working. But now, more than ever, it’s about making the right choices, knowing when to stick or twist when technological innovations occur.

Journalists have the opportunity to tell stories in more ways than ever before. You’ve got more tools at your disposal, across any kind of format. The difficulty comes in the fact you have to choose your way of doing it, this involves developing your own path – not only when it comes to producing the content, but distributing it, building an audience and developing a business model around it. Yes, it turns out that to survive you need to generate revenue.

There are more options than there ever have been; this means there are different ways to be successful. Is it easy? Definitely not. But this book is a step-by-step guide to help you plan to be sustainable and take advantage of the best low-cost tools available. The hard graft – well, that is up to you.

Paul Marsden (@TerrierHack) is a Lecturer in Journalism at Leeds Trinity University. He sporadically blogs about start-up journalism at startupjournalism.co.uk.

His book, ‘Entrepreneurial Journalism: How to go it alone and launch your dream digital project’ is published by Routledge and is available now from Routledge, Amazon and the Telegraph Bookshop


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