Monday, October 31, 2011

Evan Ratliff: "You're Supporting the Authors by Buying Stories."

Evan Ratliff was a long-form, narrative-style magazine writer who increasingly was assigned shorter and shorter stories.

"That was really frustrating to me," he said in class last week.

He knew there were people out there who wanted to read longer stories. So he developed an idea for an Internet product that did long-form journalism. He applied for a grant ... but he was rejected.

Then one day, he was talking to one of his editors at Wired magazine who said, "Why don't we just start it?"

They spent one year developing the product, working with a friend with technical skills and forming partnerships with a number of organizations.

In January, they launched The Atavist, a multimedia storytelling service that features long-form non-fiction work that is shorter than book length but longer than mags usually run. It works best on an iPad but stories are also available as singles from Amazon.

Most of their titles are available for $1.99 or $2.99, and the multimedia versions have maps, videos, music, art, graphics and other features.

Their writers, for the most part, are freelancers (except Ratliff) who receive an up-front payment and then receive half the sales revenue. In theory, a writer who pushes a story to a wider audience can reap a healthy profit.

"We didn't have any idea what we were doing when we started," Ratliff said. "And we still don't, to a large extent."

Their main goal when they started the venture was simply to continue operating. They now have six people on staff. One of their stories sold more than 40,000 copies, though most average around 10,000 copies.

It's a magazine approach with book publishing sensibilities. Authors pitch stories. They are vetted, selected and assigned. Stories are fact-checked and edited. And the revenue is generated by sales rather than advertising.

"You're supporting the authors by buying stories," Ratliff said.

Here are a few other details that stood out for me:

• They did no market research prior to launching.
• What they offer as a product is not available elsewhere, Ratliff claims. They provide "deeply reported, gripping" stories that fall between books and mags.
• They look for stories that are full of action. They've documented the Egyptian revolution, the story of Manute Bol, the disappearance of a Hollywood producer, and the search for a tree kangaroo in Papua, New Guinea. ("What I really like," Ratliff said, "are mystery stories.")
• They would consider video-heavy stories or anything, really. "There are no rules to it," Ratliff said.
• They are working on a graphic novel with animated panels.
• They aren't really in competition with magazines. "Magazines offer a different proposition, an ethos," Ratliff said. "When you buy a magazine, you're buying a collection of ideas."
• Rather, they are creating books for the short-attention span generation, a one-hour read that will only cost you $2.

• When they launched, they told all their media friends and they received coverage from many news outlets, including the New York Times, New York Observer, Gizmodo and Business Week.
• They developed a content management system that they also sell as a product of The Atavist.
• In the future, they may consider a print anthology of the year's stories. But for now, they are branding themselves as a digital innovation in storytelling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Joe Sixpack: The Modern Journalist (and Ultimate Lesson in Branding).

Don Russell writes about beer. He runs a beer festival. He writes books about beer. And he makes appearances where he teaches people about beer.

"My life is drinking beer," said Russell, who also goes by the name Joe Sixpack. "It's as good as it sounds."

He launched his career in beer in 1996 with a regular beer column in the Philadelphia Daily News, where he served as a general assignment reporter. His column was popular and then, he stumbled across a story that launched him to beer stardom: he discovered that the vendors at Veteran's Stadium (RIP) were shorting fans beer. Rather than filling cups, the vendors were stopping short. Extrapolated over the course of a season, the lost beer added up to big money.

Russell's story was a front page package, and it lead to an investigation by Philadelphia's City Council (seriously). Russell was proven to be right, the vendors were punished and beer prices at the stadium were reduced. That lead to Russell getting a standing ovation from Phillies fans on opening day in 1999 (seriously).

After taking a buyout from the Daily News in 2005, Russell went in the Joe Sixpack business full-time.

"It's the best job in the world," he said. "Brewers send free beer to my home."

He still writes the column for the Daily News, who officially licensed the name "Joe Sixpack." While the column and other freelance writing is the root of Russell's living, he does numerous things based upon the expertise he developed in the beer world. He writes books about beer. He hosts beer tastings. He is launching a beer tasting/ journalism education program for attorneys. And he runs Philly Beer Week, a citywide event celebrating, well, beer.

Simply put, he is Joe Sixpack, the brand.

"I drink beer recreationally and I drink beer professionally," Russell offered. "The lines are definitely blurred."

Here are a few other things that stood out for me:

• Everything he does is built around and/ or connected to his Joe Sixpack brand.
• He tried selling T-shirts. They didn't sell.
• The wall between the business side and the editorial side of journalism is eroding.
• He occasionally writes about people he works with on his various projects, and that could lead to conflicts of interest. But he is transparent with his work, mollifying potential critics.
• He does not blog. He did for a short time but it did not last. "It took too much time and there wasn't enough money," he explained.
• He doesn't tweet either.
• He might create his own Joe Sixpack beer someday. But he's not going to launch Joe Sixpack's Bar & Grill. That would be too much work.
• He writes about mass produced beers, as well as craft beers.

He attributes the success of his column and brand to two things: 1. everyone drinks beer and 2. the voice in his stories and columns is not that of a beer snob. He reports and presents facts.

"I'm not a critic or an expert," he said. "I'm a beer drinker."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jenee Chizick: "Where's Your Real Love, What's Your Passion?"

Jenee Chizick worked in the media for ten years before launching Motivos magazine.

She met with numerous business people and learned from numerous magazine publishers before venturing on her own.

"You have to find your own path," she said, "but learn from other people."

She recognized that the Latino population was/ is growing in the United States and that there are few Latinos in newsrooms. She did focus groups and surveys. She read books about starting a small business.

Ultimately, she saw an opportunity.

She created a bilingual magazine for young people who otherwise have no voice in their communities.

"Motivos is for kids who don't know what they want or can do," Chizick said.

She started it locally as she has a base of workers, advertisers and readers here. It is now delivered to 24 states and Puerto Rico. And she covered her costs from the very beginning.

The magazine relies upon advertising for the bulk of their revenue but there are secrets she wouldn't share. She did reveal that she sells the magazines in bulk to some schools who then distribute the mags to their students. They also run some sponsored articles, positive stories that are paid for by advertisers (and labeled as such).

When she set up her business plan, she asked herself, "Who wants to reach the audience I'm reaching?"

She generates a lot of revenue from universities who use Motivos as a recruiting tool.

Her writers are her readers, so there is a community that is built, and they are engaged.

The magazine has an altruistic mission of helping young Latinos find a path in life but the magazine is a for profit operation. Chizick seems to think she can balance those two ideals.

"Where's your real love," she asked. "What's your passion? Just do it."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What's The Next Step for Tek Lado?

Tek Lado started out as a print magazine geared toward the Latin-American geeks of Philadelphia. No other outlets were serving that demographic with information about technology, video games and related stuff. It was printed in English and Spanish, with 40,000 copies dropped around the city and region.

It lasted for only two issues.

There were numerous problems, said Liz Spikol, the editor and now co-owner. For one, the company that owned the magazine lost faith (and perhaps had financial trouble). They had difficulty getting advertisers.

Tek Lado continued, however, as an online product. It is getting a lot of hits but they aren't generating a lot of revenue.

Though they still aim to serve Latinos online, the site is not bilingual. They have done stories targeting Latino audiences but those are not the posts that get a lot of page hits. So, now they do more general technology stories to draw as many eyes as possible.

Tek Lado's competition these days is more likely tech sites like Gizmodo than websites targeting Hispanic people.

Advertising is their primary revenue generating source. But the national advertisers are more likely to advertise with the Gizmodo's of the world. And the local advertisers probably don't see a benefit in advertising before a national/ international audience.

So what can Liz and the Tek Lado team do? Here are a few questions:

• Should they be a local or national/ international product?
• Regardless of scope, how can they be different from existing operations? Think about Gizmodo nationally and TechnicallyPhilly or Geekadelphia locally.
• Should they target a Latino audience or a general tech loving audience?
• If they target a Hispanic crowd, should they be bilingual?
• Should they be online or in print?

We can learn from their shortcomings, ongoing as they may be. It starts by defining their niche. What should it be - in terms of content and audience?

How else can they generate revenue beyond advertising?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Journalists Actually Get Paid To Create Content?

Advertising has been the primary source of revenue for journalists since the mid-1800's. But that model is quickly eroding as advertisers are losing confidence in legacy-journalism (is the advertising effective as audiences demassify, etc).

Over the last two years, several newspapers and web operations have started asking readers to pay to see content online. eMedia looked at the best practices of a few and came up with interesting findings:

- Traffic will drop after the paywall is implemented.
- That's not necessarily a bad thing. Paid subscriptions may be worth more than high page view numbers.
- Advertising rates behind a paywall could remain steady despite the decreased traffic. The paying audience could have greater value.
- Having strong content is essential. You need the audience feel as though they are getting their money's worth.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Philly a Hotbed of Journalistic Activity? Sort of.

Things are brewing in Philadelphia, a city where the dominant local TV newscast featured smiley cartoon clouds until a few years ago and the two main daily newspapers are owned by one company.

Here are just a few things that have happened over the past few months:

• The Inquirer, Daily News and are under new ownership, and they have big plans.

• Larry Platt, the former Philadelphia Magazine editor, will soon become the editor of the Daily News.

• The William Penn Foundation has given a grant of $2.4 million to Temple University to incubate a networked journalism project (full disclosure: I am part of the Temple team working on the project).

• J-Lab doled out $5,000 awards to 14 Philly collaborative journalism projects. The awards were funded by the William Penn Foundation.

• The Journal Register company has big plans to launch a hyperlocal news portal in the region.

• WHYY launched Newsworks, a hyperlocal/ arts/ public affairs journalism site that has partner news organizations around the region.

• has set up hyperlocal news outlets around the city and region.

• Fox29 changed their news format to be more like cable-news, featuring lots of commentary.

• Most of the local broadcast outlets have begun airing live newscasts at 4:30 am (Fox29 starts at 4:25 am).

• Rumors persist that ESPN will set up shop in Philadelphia (as it did in Chicago and elsewhere).

• The word on the street is that the New York Times wants to set up a regional hub in Philadelphia, as it did in San Francisco and elsewhere.

• Philly-based Comcast, which recently received FCC approval to acquire NBC Universal, is reportedly creating an interactive, web-friendly cable box that includes news options.

• Temple University launched a television station that will broadcast news, as well as other regular programming.

• Several other journalistic outlets have popped up: Flying Kite, Philly Sports Daily and Tek Lado, among others.

• Personally, I am working with a group of people to create a quarterly, print local-music magazine that will debut in March, with 10,000 copies distributed around the city.

What happens next is as uncertain as ever. But Philadelphia is in play.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

BucksMontStyle: a Community-Building Resource for Suburban Moms.

This post comes from Temple University journalism student Julie Achilles:

When the recession hit in early 2009, Jessica Cohen found herself like many other freelance writers: jobless.

Cohen had made a living for years by freelancing full-time in Manhattan, working for a parenting magazine and doing demographic and advertising research.

When the slow dribble of work came to a halt, Cohen, now a Bucks County resident and mother of two, realized she was only half-heartedly sending out resumes for a new career.

She decided to turn her attention to a personal project, a website she envisioned as a niche resource for local mothers seeking advice, news and information on family-friendly events.

“I think I can do this,” Cohen said, remembering her moment of enlightenment. “I didn’t sleep for five days, learning how to create a host and talking to web designers.”

By the following week, an alpha version of was up and running. Cohen started the solo project by working 40 to 50 hours on the website, writing articles and lifting content from free resources online.

“I wasn’t a person who had a plan,” she said, admitting that her start-up involved some trial and error. “I wasn’t an entrepreneur.”

But she used the project as a learning experience, expanding her journalistic skill set to include business and website management.

Despite her background in magazines, Cohen never considered starting one. She said she preferred the web for its ability to be updated and changed frequently.

And the relatively low overhead didn’t hurt either.

Cohen’s start-up only cost between $3,000 and $4,000, a price that a magazine could easily have doubled or even tripled.

She also considered the fact that her target audience of young moms and professional women are good recommenders, always on-the-go and increasingly tech-savvy. A website would be ideal.

She began to develop partnerships with women in her targeted demographic – a demographic that she, as a new mom, was conveniently in as well.

One place she started was the Women’s Business Forum (WBF) of Bucks County, a free networking group and incubator for local businesses.

Cohen met Kristie Finnan, a fellow Bucks County mom and children’s book author, at a WBF Ideas Expo in the spring of 2009, soon after BucksMontMom had launched.

The two shared a similar interest in building a resource for mothers in the community, and rather than compete, decided to partner up, split the work in half, and reach a broader audience.

Together, they began to build a brand, Company Mom LLC, which encompassed a few different projects, including BucksMontMom and Finnan’s lifestyle and money-saving site, Suburbia Style.

“We complement each other very well,” Cohen said, describing the dynamic.

Although both women do everything from writing stories to advertising, Cohen and her husband concentrate on the business and marketing side of the website, while Finnan develops a good deal of the content.

Finnan has also been a source of confidence for Cohen, who admittedly finds it challenging to self-promote on a regular basis.

“It’s not in my second nature to self-promote, and it almost seems like I’m being egotistical,” Cohen said. “When I worked for a corporation it wasn’t a problem!”

“But if you don’t pat yourself on the back, no one else will,” added Finnan.

During the summer, Cohen and Finnan started a new branding campaign and renamed the site By doing so, they worked at the opportunity to expand content and appeal to a broader audience of families, and not just new moms.

“We wanted a site we could grow with,” Finnan said. “We’re young moms now but our kids
are going to get older.”

The site now offers local news and weather feeds that update each day, in addition to a packed events calendar, and new articles that Cohen and Finnan write at least twice a week.

A recently posted consumer news article takes a look at ways to avoid “pinkwashing” during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and suggests which campaign items to purchase that will make a valuable impact in the community.

An article written in early September brings up the important topic of sex predators living near school bus stops and whether or not Megan’s Law has taken enough effect in local communities.

Over the summer, a series of stories focused specifically on local “mom-preneurs,” highlighting their growing businesses in the area.

If you’re a parent living in the Greater Philadelphia area, Cohen makes sure there’s an article to pique your interest.

Pat Achilles, a Bucks County freelance illustrator and patron of Cohen’s site, said she especially likes the tab offering advice from local experts on a variety of subjects from child care, to home office organization, to real estate.

“I haven’t seen that resource offered anywhere else,” Achilles said.

As a children’s book artist, Achilles said she is also impressed with the reviews section of BucksMontStyle.

“I’d certainly appreciate a review by someone in my age group, local authors and moms who can give you that camaraderie, who have the same interests as you.”

All active members of the WBF, Cohen, Finnan and Achilles have seen positive growth in their businesses by offering short elevator pitches at the beginning of every monthly meeting.

Through continued networking, Cohen and Finnan have also met with small business owners in the community to learn about their target markets, missions and the kind of partnerships they’d like to form.

These local partnerships turned into advertising dollars a few months after the website first launched. Initially, Cohen said the money “trickled in,” and was slow to pay back the start-up of the business.

Today, advertising dollars not only cover the cost of the website but also provide a small profit for Cohen and Finnan.

Yet they said the project’s main goal isn’t strictly about money. According to Cohen, BucksMontMom was originally more of a learning experiment, and if it happened to make money, then it would be all the more successful.

BucksMontStyle currently offers a variety of advertising options including a premium leaderboard on the site, sidebar buttons, category sponsorship, off-site opportunities, event promotions or inclusion under the “local expert” or “house party and vendor listing” tabs.

“The actual layout of the ads on the site is nice,” Achilles said, considering taking out an ad of her own to promote her illustration business. “They aren’t overpowering, and I do think users would be compelled to click.”

Although advertising is increasing, Cohen said she wants to stay local and find creative ways to get moms and businesses on board.

Sending out frequent updates via social media has proven to be one of the most popular tactics. BucksMontStyle has 194 “likes” on Facebook, and a solid patronage of 798 followers on Twitter.

Recently, BucksMontStyle also partnered up with NBC 10’s Tracy Davidson to offer “Mom Saving Tips,” on the newscast’s consumer segment every Wednesday.

One of Cohen’s most important missions is aligning BucksMontStyle with local non-profit organizations to get the word out and support a good cause by offering a portion of each event’s proceeds to charity.

A “Pay it Forward,” tab on her site offers a lengthy list of these local groups, many of which she’s worked with herself.

One recent fundraising event offered advice and networking opportunities for unemployed women looking to re-enter the workforce.

Another ongoing BucksMontStyle-sponsored promotion asks readers to donate their unused coupons to American troops at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where families can use them to purchase goods at the Commissaries and Post Exchanges.

Even fun events have a purpose in expanding business.

To meet her readership and work to maintain existing relationships, Cohen hosted the first annual Girl’s Night Out in September at Wellness Solution Centers in Newtown, Pa. The evening offered free giveaways, hors d’oeuvres, wine and a chat with local female physicians.

Personal gatherings like these help Cohen overcome one of her biggest business hurdles.

“The challenge is getting people to access the site repeatedly,” she said, indicating that the more women who become involved off the site will continue to sign on.

Today, BucksMontStyle continues to grow from the passion and dedication of both women.
Since starting, Cohen has been forced to scale down her work time on the website, but still puts in about 25 hours a week.

On a daily basis she can be found writing new posts, pitching proposals for potential clients, attending meetings and editing comments on the site.
Likewise, Finnan said she blogs well into the night after putting her three kids to bed.

“I’ve met some amazing local business owners and I’ve learned a ton,” Cohen said. “When you’re self-taught, you can really see your progress and see it come together.”

Friday, December 31, 2010

Flying Kite: Good News, and Promoting the Region's Growth?

This post comes from recent Temple graduate Zack Shapiro:

Flying Kite might be Philly’s newest online magazine. Having launched about two months ago, it has a lot of space to make a name for itself or fall flat on its face. After taking a close look at it, either one is very possible.

Every week, Flying Kite sends a kind of e-magazine to its email list that includes links to the week’s stories packaged into a slickly designed little page. The content focuses on hip, young people who do exciting, innovative things. The tone is relaxed, sounding more like a blog than some kind of hard-nosed journalism. Sounds good, right?

It’s hard to tell.

Flying Kite gives off the veneer of a hot new entrepreneurial product, but really it’s just the latest in a string of locally focused online magazines run by a much larger media company. Things get a little strange after a look at the publication’s institution-focused, business-centric financial model. Is it worth taking seriously on its own, or is it just an attempt at pseudo-local journalism looking to make a quick buck?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell.

Flying Kite is ultimately at the behest of the shadowy Issue Media Group, a company based out of Michigan that is trying to climb to invent itself as some kind of mogul of the Internet media. Their business model is based on sprouting numerous online magazines in big-ish cities around the country and trying to tap into the readership of businesses and young professionals. They already have 13 other publications, mostly based in Michigan and Ohio, and claim to be growing – something of course that is uncommon for media these days.

The “official niche” that the whole group is tapping into is something called the "New Economy." This is a highly vague term, but roughly translates to mean people and institutions that are moving regions forward. Again, also vague. “Forward” can mean a lot of things, but again in this case it roughly translates to economic development and entrepreneurial ideas. In short: They write about the people and institutions that are doing smart business and having innovative ideas. Most commonly this means new businesses opening up, citizens groups that are bringing about change or companies that are expanding operations or developing new products.

Joe Petrucci (left), the managing editor of Flying Kite, summed up the mission more concisely, “The mission, I'd say, is to be a publication that people within the region and outside the region can learn about the influencers who are shaping the region's future and to provide a database of growing companies, interesting places to live, work and play, and growing sectors/industries.”

Joe is one of the five people on Flying Kite’s editorial staff. Other than him, it is run by publisher Michelle Freeman, ad man Jon Hermann, photographer Michael Persico and news editor John Steele. Between them, they produce nearly all the content.

The lot of them work as freelancers for IMG. There is no Flying Kite office or headquarters and they all work from home. When I spoke to Petrucci on the phone, he missed my first call at 2:30 pm because he was distracted washing a sink full of dishes. Everybody who works for any of IMG’s local publications signs a freelancing contract. Flying Kite is edited by a freelance managing editor, supported by a freelance business manager and published by a freelance publisher. Talk about decentralized.

Petrucci himself got his start working in broadcast a radio announcer. Sometime after that he switched to newspapers and worked there for about a decade. Afterward, he left that and tried his hand at working public relations. Right now he’s working for IMG in two capacities: He manages Flying Kite as well as another IMG publication called Keystone Edge. He’s not so much an entrepreneur as he just found an enterprising job at a time when traditional jobs are thin. He also plays accordion and ukulele, so if the Flying Kite thing goes sour there’s always that I guess.

On the ground level at Flying Kite, IMG is the ultimate end of the chain of command, but it is hard to tell whether they are benevolent or malevolent corporate overlords. My general rule of thumb is that if the company’s name in no way describes what it is they actually do, then there is a high chance that it is evil. Of course I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but lacking solid data its best sometimes to go on intuition. It is rather obvious; however, that IMG has little interest in the actual content that is produced. Instead its goal seems to be to accumulate as many publications as possible and getting cash from local institutions (but more on that later).

Petrucci said that they mostly stay off his back and let him have free reign. There are some guidelines and the basic business model to stick to, but nobody gets to review or censor content. Like most publications, Flying Kite finds itself sandwiched between the wants of its corporate overlords and its advertisers. Go figure.

As for the actual content, it’s kind of scatterbrained. It jumps from local arts events to business openings to science research to boring official business news. Sure, it fits into the concept of the New Economy, but who the hell wants to read it?

That might be my biggest issue with the site; and in the future, that might be the reason Flying Kite – and the rest of the IMG magazines – fail to take off. Who wants to read about somebody getting funding to install the city with wireless energy monitoring at the same time they read about somebody opening a punk rock vegan pizzeria? The magazine runs very interesting stories, but I doubt there are very many people who would be interested in more than one or two in each issue. There’s definitely a niche within the New Economy, but it’s a broad and strange niche that I don’t think has many devotees. Except, of course, the people that they’re writing about.

Petruccci even said it himself, “Our typical reader is very likely someone we'd like to write about.”

People love it when other people write good things about them. They’ll read it once, twice, a million times and then print it out and send it to their family. They’ll hang it on the fridge or in their stores and show it to everyone who talks to them. It’s like physical paper proof that you’re an awesome person. What better way to make money, then, than to write about people who are making money themselves. They have money, they’ll share the story with their friends that have money, and maybe they’ll give the paper money so they might get something nice written about them too.

And that’s another issue with the site. It’s all good news. Every story is about some upstart who is opening up a new store or planning some big event, there’s nothing negative or investigative about it. If you’re looking to find out how much it’ll cost taxpayers for Entrepreneur X to install a wireless energy monitoring infrastructure into the city, you’ve come to the wrong magazine. The stories write about innovation, growth and little else. Flying Kite never writes directly about its advertisers, but it seems entirely focused on promoting the region’s growth. And that brings us to the ethical conflict of the day.

Flying Kite – and all of IMG – operates under an unusual business model. Instead of promoting the area and recruiting local businesses to support its mission with advertising dollars, it recruits institutional supporters ahead of time and promotes the things they’re similarly interested in. They pump money into the site to function as partners and in turn get their logos placed next to related articles and at the bottom of each page. Right now, Flying Kite is working with groups like the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the University of Pennsylvania, PATCO, PNC Bank, the Delaware River Port Authority, and others in the same vein.

When it comes to content choice, there is enormous potential for a conflict of interest. What prevents Flying Kite from serving as a PR agency for its financial investors? Not much. After all, the partners are paying for something. Since most of them are themselves nonprofits – or at the very least are not businesses -- then the promotion has to do good to something other than the organization itself.

It could just be a common mission though. Who said that journalism has to be opposed to the will of the economic top? Can’t some people get together to write a magazine that promotes an area and get support from people who support the same mission? It’s not like other outlets – like NPR and PBS – aren’t supported directly be people who support their mission. The mission in question here may be different, but who’s to say it isn’t a worthwhile one?

Petrucci defends the model, saying that the partners enter with the understanding that Flying Kite will write on subjects they’ll like yet maintain full editorial control over what goes to print.

“There is certainly potential for conflict, and having worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade, it is something not lost on me as managing editor. It is my job to make sure we do not compromise our journalistic integrity, and I can honestly say our partners have been very hands-off when it comes to Flying Kite. It is made abundantly clear to them when they are engaged as partners that while we will write about the things that are important to them and their stakeholders, it is by no means a "pay to play" arrangement. While we certainly accept their ideas and feedback, we do not allow any of our funders to review, edit or censor content. That said, we do tend to focus on positive, solution-oriented ideas and stories.”

Reaching out to the other side of the galaxy, some others haven’t been so supportive of the business model. In a quoted interview (which was quoted from a quote and etc), Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute’s Ethics Group said that “…Simply going to a government official and saying, ‘Hey, we need money,’ that creates a quid pro quo. Who knows what the unspoken expectations are?”

Institutional donors aren’t anything new though, and even if content is somewhat influenced, is that really such a bad thing? If Flying Kite already has a mission, hasn’t it already sacrificed its journalistic integrity? Couldn’t it just go shamelessly forward and do as much good as it can? These questions would have been shot down a decade ago, but in today’s journalism environment it’s something to seriously consider.

Flying Kite is growing, but we’ll have to wait and see if the City grows along with it.

* The image of Joe Petrucci comes from the Flying Kite site.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 Building a Better Site in Hopes of Selling it.

The following post comes from Temple student Andrew Lecointe:

Many athletes in the four major sports make the transition from athlete to television analyst seem so simple. When we tune into ESPN, most of the analysts are retired players talking about their respective sport. Whether these athletes are deserving of analyst gigs is another topic for another day. The case could be made that some of them don’t. For instance, Keyshawn Johnson went through his whole career running his mouth and bad-mouthing coaches. Now, he’s an analyst criticizing people who bad-mouth their coaches. What a shame! Deion Sanders left CBS to join the NFL Network because they wouldn’t pay him $2 million a year, instead offering $1.3 million, as if he hadn’t made enough money already. Garry Cobb, on the other hand, takes his journalistic endeavors far beyond the Keyshawn Johnsons and the Deion Sanders, who are analysts on major networks.

Cobb is a former NFL star, playing 10 seasons at the linebacker position for several teams throughout his career. Cobb started out as a star linebacker for the USC Trojans back in the 1970s, where he won a national title with Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Marcus Allen, Anthony Munoz, and Ronnie Lott. From 1979 to 1989 in the NFL, Cobb played for the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. He was traded from the Lions to the Eagles for Wilbert Montgomery, who was a beloved running back in Philadelphia. Cobb played on a defensive unit on the Eagles that would include the late Hall-of-Famer Reggie White and the late Jerome Brown. His brief stint with the Cowboys also saw him play with Hall-of-Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.

After retirement, Cobb entered the journalism industry, telling me he had gigs on Philadelphia’s CBS3 for sports and worked for Philadelphia’s radio station WIP, in which he still works for actually. Cobb has a daily morning show on WIP. Cobb played for the Eagles for three seasons, but has remained in Philadelphia for the most part after retirement and stays involved with the Eagles, whether it’s being a fan or providing honest commentary. In 2006, Cobb decided to launch his own site, which would be devoted to everything involving the Eagles. Cobb didn’t exactly know how it was going to turn out when he decided to start writing content on the site. All he knew was his interest in the Eagles were enough to draw him into creating the site.

In addition to Cobb, there are six writers who contribute to the site. Cobb tells me that the site is still growing, and he always has new visions for his site. While the site was supposed to be about the Eagles, it expanded into a site that covered the three other major sports in the city, in addition to high school and college sports. If you took a look at the site however, there are many determining factors that indicate the site is mainly about the Eagles. First and foremost, the logo of the website is a “G” in a football. Of course, the “G” represents Garry, but the logo looks like the logo of the Green Bay Packers. While I noticed this, I didn’t ask Garry if there were any legal aspects in regard to the logo. Also, the stories on the main page of the site seem to be mostly about the Eagles. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much coverage of the 76ers, even though the basketball season is underway and the 76ers seem to be struggling right now.

When Cobb spoke to me, he told me his goal was building the site into being a better site, in hopes of selling it. That was the most interesting aspect of the conversation for numerous reasons. For one, Cobb has only had the site for four years. He hasn’t had the site long enough to establish it as a well recognized site. Also, he has a ton of content on his site, particularly about the Eagles, so it would seem that he needs another platform to write and express his opinions about them. However, this is a business decision that he can benefit from. While he told me he plans to sell the site, he didn’t tell me what would happen to the other writers, including his son. The site looks well enough to sell right now, depending on the buyer. It also helps that Cobb has legitimate advertisers on his site.

The exposure and advertisements Cobb gets for his website is different than most entrepreneurial journalists. Cobb has had the benefit of playing a solid ten seasons in the NFL. He also transitioned into the media world after retirement, so that became another benefit for him. The spaces on the site are filled for the most part, so it certainly isn’t an amateur website. The advertisements he has on his site are prominent advertisers as well. Cobb was able to get Chase Freedom to advertise on his site, which brings in big bucks, in exchange for an event in which Chase Freedom wanted him to be a part of. He also has Yardbarker advertise on his site, which is affiliated with Fox Sports website. James Dillion, a business student, said what Cobb mentioned to me also; he benefits from being a former pro football player.

Dillion states that it’s hard to get advertisers as big as Chase on a site with Cobb for several reasons. For one, Cobb’s site isn’t marketed as much as the major sites on national levels like ESPN’s website and others. With that being said however, Cobb gets a lot of traffic. Cobb said he averages about 60,000 visitors per month, and in the past month, he got an astounding 2.3 million hits. When asked why that was so, the answer was simple. “It’s football season,” Cobb quickly answers. He says he gets the most visitors and comments during football season and the months of March, when it starts becoming clear who college prospects will become high draft picks, and in April, when the draft actually occurs. The other months, which coincides with baseball, basketball and hockey seasons, don’t get anywhere close to the amount of traffic generated during football season.

Another reason for the amount of hits on the site is promotion. Cobb makes sure he promotes his site at events and other appearances he makes. He’s well known in the city because of his playing days and his media work after his career. He promotes his site on his morning show as well, so that is another reason for the amount of traffic. Cobb also said he hopes to include guest writers to his site in the near future, to add the voices of the fans in Philadelphia. He also wants to get into technology more, getting the IPhone involved, in addition to Facebook and You Tube. His ultimate goal is to generate a lot of activity on the site, to keep visitors to the site on a daily basis and for the site to ultimately be the site for news and opinions of Philly sports fans.

The main competitors of are the,, the 700 level, and Cobb told me that he has a big vision for his site because he has seen the others blossom into a much bigger site. For instance, he says when he started back in 2006, looked closer to an amateur site than it does now. Four years later, is the primary source of news for Philadelphians, while the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are having a hard time selling hard copies of their newspapers. If you look at the site today, there is constant activity. The latest news and breaking news are being posted every half-hour to an hour, which makes it reliable for visitors every day. Cobb wants to generate that kind of activity where an abundance of visitors to his site will be a constant.

One thing Cobb would like to improve personally are the comments that are put by people. Most big websites like ESPN have comment sections at the end of each page and people write ridiculous and abusive comments on the page. Cobb says he has seen those comments, sometimes racial, on his site as well. His articles are basically raw with opinions, as he stated, and he says he has received negative criticism quite often. He doesn’t mind it, however, because he simply stated, “That comes with the territory.” When it’s all said and done, Cobb has a unique product in which he has a deep passion for. While he may rely on his fame a little bit for help with his product, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s done a great job with the site. It has a ton of content, and Cobb is still learning how to make it better, so I’d expect that it will only get better with more knowledge.

* Both images come from

Friday, November 12, 2010

News Challenge: $5 Million for Your Idea?

The Knight Foundation, in conjunction with Google, is giving away $5 million to people with ideas that will digitally inform communities.

The ground rules are very simple. Your project must:

1) Use digital, open-source technology.
2) Distribute news in the public interest.
3) Fit into one of four categories.

The categories are:

1) Mobile.
2) Authenticity.
3) Sustainability.
4) Community.

The deadline for applications is December 1, 2010. To learn more, click here. For specific questions, try here. To learn about what has been funded in the past, click here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Miller: "You Learn Things Quickly When You do a Start-up. Or You Fail."

The Philadelphia Sports Daily wants to serve the obsessed Philly sports fan who is killing time at work.

Their audience watched the game (live or on television), said John Miller, a former broadcast journalist, longtime PR handler and the host of the pre and post-game Eagles shows on WYSP.

Their audience knows the scores and stats. What PSD provides is the off-the-field stuff.

"Games are almost incidental," Miller said. "Games are mile markers along the way."

Miller wants to have a staff of 20 at some point, and he aspires to cover more than just the pro teams. At this point, however, there are really only 2 people working on the site steadily, with two others contributing frequently and a handful of others helping out. They post around 15 stories per day, mostly in just text or podcast. At this point, there is no video and images are not given large display.

They have spent very little promoting the site. Instead, they leak info to other sites via email, text, facebook or whatever and then hope that those other sites send them traffic.

One of Miller's "writers" is Eagles rookie Nate Allen. Allen receives payment for his column, which is actually dictated to PSD's Eagles beat writer. Stephen Whyno is the editor of the site. Stephen A. Smith serves as a columnist.

Miller considered using gambling as a revenue stream for the site. He also thought about ads from gentlemen's clubs. Instead, he's looking at several different streams:

• Traditional advertising.
• Premium memberships, where members will be given access to events and speakers.
• He's negotiating a deal with a legacy media operation for content.
• He's negotiating a deal with Chickie's & Pete's to do content for their site.
• Sponsored content (like Nate Allen's Rookie Diary).
• Ticket re-selling.

Among the challenges he has faced:

• Many of the pro teams will not give his staff press credentials as PSD is considered an "unafilliated website."
• Finding the right people who handle advertising at companies has been difficult.
• The investment community doesn't understand content, he said.
• The legacy media companies he has spoken with want his content for free.

In the future, he wants the site to include video. And good video, not like the talking-head reporters appearing on ("Those videos look like hostage tapes," Miller said). He wants to change the overall appearance of the site so that it looks more like Politico. And they may try to get more user-generated content.

Miller thinks that the media market here can support numerous sites covering sports. And he thinks that his site will do well because it's not hampered by bureaucracy. They can change quickly as needed.

"You learn things quickly when you do a start-up," Miller said. "Or you fail."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Greg Osberg: "It's Going to Take a Couple of Years to Achieve This Miracle."

Greg Osberg, the new CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and, is a local guy from Paoli.

That, he said, was overshadowed during the recent bankruptcy hearings in which a team of local owners lost control of the media company.

Osberg was hired by the new ownership group, Credit Suisse and Angelo Gordon. He has big plans for the company, including:

• Launching a media incubator inside the Inquirer building, where small media companies can exist rent-free.
• Forming content partnerships with universities and niche websites.
• Restructuring the advertising sales teams so that ad reps sell print, online and apps at the same time.
• He already moved into the building, meaning that staffers are now unionized (they previously were not, and they were housed several blocks away).
• Every editorial staffer has to think multimedia, all the time, he said.
• He wants reporters acting as pundits on TV, thus promoting the brand.
• He wants to financially reward anyone on staff who develops innovative efficiencies.

It will be a difficult transition. He said that the papers had lost 25 percent of their readership over the past five years, and 50 percent of the advertising dollars has disappeared as well.

"That's a significant percentage of your business going away," he said last week while visiting Temple University for a Philadelphia Initiative for Journalistic Innovation event.

Rather than use wire coverage or focus heavily on national or international news, the papers and website will concentrate on information not found anywhere else, Osberg said. And there will likely be a paywall established next year.

"We need to figure how to bring commerce back to our brands," he said.

He doesn't have a business model yet, he admitted. He said that building audience should build value, bringing profitability.

"It's going to take a couple of years to achieve this miracle," he said.

He later confessed, "I have no idea if it's going to work or not."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Neil Harner: "When You Run a Niche Publication, You Got to be Part of the Scene."

Neil Harner and a few friends were hanging out at a bar in Germantown, having a few beers, when they realized that the existing beer magazines didn't serve the Philadelphia region at all. The existing mags mostly catered to beer snobs and they highlighted beers you couldn't find in the area.

That night, in March 2009, Harner and his buddies hatched a plan to launch a beer magazine specifically focused on the Greater Philadelphia region. By June of that year, Philly Beer Scene magazine was on the streets and full of advertisements. They earned enough revenue to cover their costs and over the past 18 months, the magazine has been produced bi-monthly, usually making a profit.

"We are just a few people who love beer," Harner said yesterday in class.

Harner and his crew do not have formal journalism backgrounds (except for executive editor Alicia Eichelman who graduated from Temple's journalism program in May). Harner's background is in design and marketing, specifically online. He runs Inverse Paradox, a company that designs websites and print publications, as well as offers other services. His firm used to design Bucks and Montgomery Living magazines.

He credits the success of Philly Beer Scene to the fact that his crew is a part of the local craft beer community.

"When you run a niche publication, you got to be part of the scene," he said. "That's an idea that's been lost in business in general. Personal relationships have been lost over the years."

Some of the mag staffers visit bars every day (tough job, eh?). They are constantly networking, attending beer events and just listening to what people are saying.

The small team writes all the stories (with the help of freelancers). They contract photographers. They design the mag themselves, sell their own ads and then personally distribute 20,000 copies of the mag to hundreds of locations around the region.

Despite being an online guru, Harner started the mag in print because he believes that print is a tangible product. It's also a catalyst to send people to the website where the greater community can live and communicate.

He had a few suggestions for people starting their own publications:

- Put together a media kit that represents the magazine.
- You want to look professional. Potential advertisers and/ or partners want to see something that will inspire confidence in you.
- If you don't have partners with complementing skill sets, find them. You need a core group of people who bring different abilities to the table - designers, journalists, sales people, people who understand the business side.
- Go to places where like-minded people will be. For instance, Harner and his crew surfed beer message boards prior to launching, learning about the community and dropping hints that the mag was coming. They also attended craft beer events all over the place.
- Stay connected to the community.
- Set goals, benchmarks for success.

Here are a few other things he said that I found interesting:

- They have their editorial calendar mapped out for the next two years.
- They have a plan for growth - expanding the magazine, gaining national advertisers and possible franchising of the magazine.
- He would accept advertisements from massive beer companies like Budweiser, despite Budweiser being the complete opposite of what his magazine represents. "They'd only be helping me to win," Harner said. "There's no way you could pay me to drink it though."
- Everyone who contributes to the magazine gets paid (except for those who offer to work for free).
- The magazine experimented with using sex appeal to reach their audience. It was rejected. Harner and his team recognized that their audience is not the "sex sells" crowd.
- If they use sex appeal, they try to do it with class, like the Vargas-style, pin-up girl look in the cover at the top of the post.
- They are honest but not necessarily critical in their magazine. "We tell people what to drink, not what not to drink," Harner said.

Harner also mentioned that he met Alicia Eichelman while she was working on a story for a Temple journalism class. She then interned with the magazine. During her senior year, she was hired in a lesser position. After graduating, she was elevated to the top job.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is Your Product Arts-Based? If So, You Could Find Funds.

The Knight Foundation has a call for arts-related ideas ... and they are giving away $9 million. The guidelines are super-loose:

1. The idea is about arts.
2. The project takes place in or benefits Philadelphia.
3. You find other funding to match the Knight Foundation grant.

All you have to do for step one is generate an idea in 150-words or fewer.

The deadline for applications is November 1st. Get cracking!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ryan Donnell: "As a Small Business, You Are Constantly Being Pulled in Different Directions."

Ryan Donnell worked as a staff photographer at the Arlington Morning News before becoming a freelancer. He joined a photo collective for a while but that didn't really work out. Now, he's a full-time freelancer shooting images for editorial, corporate and commercial clients.

"It's kind of awesome," he said. "I get to do everything. I love it."

He later said that if a staff photo job opened up, and it paid what he makes as a freelancer, he'd jump at the offer.

What's the major difference? As a freelancer, Ryan is a small business and he is personally responsible for everything involved in that business: soliciting work, marketing/ promotion, creating estimates and invoices, accounting, web management, equipment maintenance, scheduling, etc.

"As a small business, you are constantly being pulled in different directions," he said.

Staff shooters work under strict deadlines and the competition - internally and externally - can be fierce. Staffers will shoot multiple assignments per day - Ryan said he frequently did five per day.

Now, he usually only shoots images once, twice maybe three days per week, he said. The rest of the time is spent on back-end stuff, like billing and drumming up new work.

Here are his keys to success:

- Your website is your most important marketing tool.
- Have a tight portfolio online with categories broken down for different types of clients.
- Blog. Join social networks. Showcase your work.
- Learn the language of the business you are entering.
- When you begin as a freelancer (regardless of medium), you may have to primarily produce work that the client wants.
- As you progress, you can develop your particular style and market that.
- Develop discipline - establish a work schedule that gives you a routine.
- "When you don't have work, keep moving,"he said. "Keep doing something. Whatever you are passionate about. Do it."
- Send email blasts highlighting your work. Don't get depressed when 15 out of 500 people actually read the email and check out your work.
- Take advantage of organizations that help your business, like the National Press Photographers Association.
- Get a good accountant.
- Study your contracts to make sure you understand usage and ownership of the product.
- Every contract is negotiable.
- Don't be afraid to turn down work. Your time has value. Don't undercut yourself.
- Work seven days per week.

"Running a successful business doesn't mean you make good pictures," Ryan said. "And taking good pictures doesn't make you a successful business. You need to do both."

(The image of Ryan and his dog, Hank, comes from Ryan's site).