Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

Journalism students and even older journalists struggling for work are being encouraged to get entrepreneurial and launch their own startups.

And damn straight too – let’s hope more of them take the leap and start launching products. I’m sure the most popular ideas for news businesses in someway mimic the mainstream media – for example an online magazine, hyperlocal website or production company.

All businesses with potential, but there are traps to fall into too. Here are some ideas (I came up with) which will never even get off the ground…and why.

1. Twat!: The risque new music magazine for young people in London

Twat! Magazine is a montly print magazine and website for young people in London that “really gets under the skin of culture” and “isn’t afraid to offend”. It features interviews “with upcoming artists the other magazines haven’t even heard of” and crazy mental features.

It won’t work. Why?

Referring to my Journalism Startup checklist it fails on the first four questions: it is not a new idea, and most importantly it does not have a defined target audience. Who are “young people in London?”. As it happens they’re incredibly diverse from postcode gang members to city bankers. None of them can identify with the ‘lifestyle’ the magazine is trying to sell and therefore have no reason to pick it up.

It’s not a new idea, because pubs, bars and student unions are flooded with “edgy, cool, underground” magazines all the time, usually made by Magazine Publishing students. Going for print alongside web brings in large overheads – and bootstrapping becomes harder.

2. WorldTV: a video website that showcases the best films about “the issues which matter.”

This website pays to licence video journalism pieces from around the world and put them into one place. They’re after films about “under-reported” issues for example Darfur, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  It will also allow users to upload their own video which gets voted on by other users. The site will have an “international feel” and be for people who “really care about politics”.

It won’t work. Why?

It’s a noble idea – but why would you want to visit this site? Again, WorldTV suffers from a poor grasp of a well-defined target audience. It is probably aiming for young people around the world, but again they are incredibly diverse. No-one will feel a need to register and therefore hopes of building an active community will fall through. The films themselves are likely to be long, worthy affairs and bore most people after two minutes.

The site wants to pay for video commissions, and so will need to cough up cash to video journalists. It may get some venture capital at first, but the rates will steadily slip from $800 to $500 to $200, to nothing.  Viewing figures will be low: creating something worthwhile and expecting the masses to come is a poor business model.

3. DoleItOut: a multimedia magazine for unemployed people in Birmingham

DoleItOut is a regularly updated multimedia website for people out of work in the Birmingham area of the UK. As well as feature interviews and interactives about life on the dole, it also has plenty of video advice guides on how to find work, video diaries and an active forum. Plans are underway to develop an iPhone app.

It won’t work. Why?

Hurrah! Finally an idea with a well defined target audience! Problem is they’re a bad target audience for running a business. Why? Because they got no money. If the editors of DoleItOut were hoping their readers would pay a minimal subscription they’d be wrong. Advertising is possible, but you’ll be left selling ads for evil loan sharks and 1000% loans. And what unemployed person can afford an iPhone app?

The idea also struggles with question 13 of the startup checklist – it doesn’t really scale. Although it’s good to be geo-specific, are there really enough unemployed people in Birmingham?

Too many news startup ideas fail because they take an upside down approach. Journalists think of a product and then decide who to make it for.  Instead you need to define your audience first – and then ask “what do they need?”.

Have you checked out the News Startup Checklist yet?

Photo Credit: Curious_Zed on Flickr

17 Responses

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  1. Hank Motts said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Yeah, i recently came across your blog and have been reading along..

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  2. Stevie Roley said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Great idea this, it’s all so pretty. Can’t wait to see what you write about. Go for it!

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  3. Kenny Terault said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Nice article, i was thinking about you the other day.

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  4. Edmundo Schuerholz said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Its really nice, i need some time to think about this. I used google translator can you enlighten me please?

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  5. Spencer Helems said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Good job, i’m glad you’re enjoying it. I have just got interested in blogging and hopefully i am able to do so

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  6. Jacquelyne Begeman said, on February 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Love your blog, see you then. Can’t wait to see what you write about. Go for it!

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  7. […] Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why) Adam Westbrook Good read on how difficult it is to start new news businesses. (tags: Media&Journalism journalismbusinessmodels) […]

  8. links for 2010-02-12 | Joanna Geary said, on February 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    […] Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why) "Too many news startup ideas fail because they take an upside down approach. Journalists think of a product and then decide who to make it for. Instead you need to define your audience first – and then ask “what do they need?”." (tags: business journalism) […]

  9. Micheline Stretch said, on February 16, 2010 at 3:48 am

    Metwell a management consulting firm from Atlanta and New York said that clients are now using their service to steer the launch of new products, improve visibility, manage and acquire new customers, sell products and advance their market standing. Many of their clients find they get better results with outsourcing traditional in-house functions.

  10. paulbalcerak said, on February 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Great post. Journalism students, especially, need to have this stuff shoved in their faces early on.

    These “big concept” ideas (“issues which matter,” etc.) really don’t have any legs. Success in modern journalism is dependent on knowing your audience (which, on another topic, is a great reason to be involved in social media).

  11. telefonia celular sony ericsson said, on February 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

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  12. Nickoli said, on February 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    You seemed to miss an obvious type of advertisement for DoleItOut to carry: job advertisements. I’m also pretty sure it could be made to scale to cover other areas as well – it could easily be followed by DoleItOut Manchester, for example.

  13. […] Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why) […]

  14. Satin Panties · said, on November 14, 2010 at 11:46 am

    google translator is great but sometimes there are so many errors on the translation *’~

  15. reading test said, on July 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Nice one! It’s really interesting to crawl the internet and to see how many people are writing about Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why) Adam Westbrook :: online video & entrepreneurial journalism.

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