Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

myNewsBiz 2011: what does it tell us about entrepreneurship?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 24, 2011

So the winners of myNewsBiz have been announced and that wraps up the pilot of our entrepreneurial journalism competition for this year.

The two winning ideas reflected the breadth of entries we received. The winner, Visualist, an idea by City University students Nick Petrie and Ben Whitelaw (of Wannabe Hacks fame) aims to provide journalists in smaller newsrooms with the skills and tools to do data journalism. The judges felt it brought something new to journalism, and targeted a very popular area in journalism today.

The runner up idea was a great idea for a magazine, called Relish, submitted by four students at Kingston University, London. The judges loved the name, but also the fact that it targeted a clear, new and gadget hungry audience – men who like cooking.

Read more about the entries and the judges’ comments here. And there’s more coverage on journalism.co.uk.

What did we learn?

All that’s left to do is give the two winners their £1000 and £500 respectively to spend getting their business ideas off the ground. We announced the competition last November and we wanted to achieve two things (as well as give out cash to good business ideas):

  • we wanted to get more journalism students actively thinking about how business/enterprise works
  • and I personally wanted a snapshot of how the next generation of journalists perceive entrepreneurship, after lots of talk on both sides of the Atlantic.

We achieved the first measure, and then some. As well as a series of online training videos, I visited lots of universities to talk about entrepreneurial journalism and promote the competition. Even those who did not win benefitted from the process of idea generation and asking themselves important business questions, like what is their USP and what are their revenue streams.

And there were some excellent ideas submitted, with a variety of products and services. Among those that the judges highly commended were:

  • a magazine aimed at students
  • Plastik magazine, already doing well in South Wales
  • a magazine for young lesbians
  • an online CV service for journalists

Many of the entries though (understandably!) showed little or no knowledge of what makes a good business idea. Those that scored badly did not have a clear target market identified, or any concept of how or where revenue would be made. Only a small handful of entries had really considered the figures, and were able to say “we’d need to sell 5,000 copies to break even.”

Interestingly (from my perspective, anyway) none of the entries really investigated the potential of launching an intentionally small company with low overheads and exploiting lots of free tools; the majority of entries pitched mainstream-style products (printed magazines) despite the high costs and risks associated with that. Similarly, all but two ideas were for products (even though the idea the judges liked best is a service business).

Five big mistakes lots of first-time entrepreneurs made:

.01 no clear market: lots of entries did not really know who they were trying to target with their idea; great businesses (including publishers) work when they help a specific – easily identifiable – group of people with a specific problem.

.02 choosing a market with little money: those that did know who their audience were had chosen markets where not much money flows – so there was limited chance to sell products, events or services to your audience. By contrast, the judge’s second-favourite entry has a gadget hungry market who are interested in buying.

.03 pitching a product with little value: another common problem was to pitch something that the world doesn’t need. This included blogs, podcasts or magazines that talked about general areas like music, film or sport but didn’t offer anything useful. You have to make peoples’ lives better if they (or advertisers) will part with their cash.

.04 spending money badly: most people did not have a good idea of how they would spend the £1,000 if they won it, often wanting to spend large chunks on posters, clothing or stationary. This can happen to experienced entrepreneurs too though!

.05 their idea doesn’t replicate or scale: finally, the judges were most keen on business ideas that had the potential to grow, or be replicated elsewhere. Too many of the pitches were reliant on the passion/work of one person.

Some interesting early reflections then, which I will delve into in more detail as part of research I am carrying out for Kingston University this year. Clearly, interest in entrepreneurship is yet to grow beyond a small number; the vast majority of student journalists & graduates would rather pursue the traditional path to work.

I believe though that competitions like this are vital if more students are to equip themselves with entrepreneurial skills. I’m undecided about running it again next year, although if we did, we would look for sponsors to get involved. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then please do get in touch. 

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Five reasons to enter myNewsBiz

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 4, 2011

The countdown to the closing of entries to myNewsBiz has begun – there’s now just four days left to enter your business idea with the chance of winning £1000.

The competition is open to:

  • any student studying at a UK university
  • any recent gradate from a UK university (summer 2010)

Five reasons to enter myNewsBiz – now!

.01 You’ll get feedback from four of the UK’s most experienced journalist-entrepreneurs: have you seen our panel of judges? We’ve got a group of journalists with decades of collective experience starting businesses. They know what makes a good business, and they’ll be able to give you some sharp feedback on your idea.

.02 It’s a reason to start thinking… use myNewsBiz as an excuse to sit down with a pen, and draw up some business ideas. You just won’t do it otherwise, will you? If you don’t know where to start, the application form gets you asking all the right questions.

.03 .…and a reason to start doing but more importantly, this is a unique opportunity to actually turn an idea – a vague, scribbled down apparition – into something real, something tangible. Your idea for a hyperlocal website means jack until you publish your first article on the completed website.

.04 It’ll make you more employable yes, you heard right! Never mind being an entrepreneur for the rest of your life. Drawing up a business idea, entering myNewsBiz, and making it a reality, will actually make you more employable. Why? Because there are plenty of other journalism students & graduates like you. Very few have used their initiative to start a magazine, design an iPhone app or start a photojournalism business on the side. This initiative is rare, and therefore valuable.

.05 It’s free…oh and did I mention the £1000 cash prize? Yes, entry is free. Click here to get hold of a form.

We’ve already had a good chunk of applications, but there’s room for more.

If you’re a student at a UK university, or you graduated last summer you have no excuse not to enter. And you have just four days left to do it.

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The first question every entrepreneurial journalist should ask

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 21, 2011

So you want to create a news business? Awesome, you’ve arrived at just the right time.

One of the first lessons I learned was to make an important distinction early on – and I think it is the first question you should ask before you start your entrepreneurial adventure:

Are you creating a product or a service?

They are two different, but equally valid, types of business – both of which offer great opportunities for journalists. A product is something tangible – something you make and sell, which is distinct from you. A service on the other hand, is something you specifically offer yourself, in exchange for money.

Products

The world of journalism has a limited (but growing) number of products. A newspaper is a product. So is a magazine. In fact, you’ll often get the more managerial types of journalists often talking about ‘the product’.

The types of products have grown a lot in the digital age, and with that so have the opportunities. A book is a product, as is an ebook. A podcast, vodcast, blog, online magazine, smartphone app are also products. A TV programme is a product. A hyperlocal website is a product, so is a DVD, event and photobook.

In short, it is something you create and then try to make money from. And the people who buy your product are customers, or readers, or viewers.

When we think of business and enterprise, products are probably the first things that come to mind. The Dyson, the Macbook, the Prius: they’re all products. But, according to journalist and entrepreneur Nick Saalfeld, the service sector accounts for more than 70% of the UK economy, and in terms of the work and opportunities around, it’s a lot more varied.

Services

A service is a skill or craft you offer to someone, in exchange for money. Often, but not always, you charge for your time.

This is the most natural type of business for journalists, because essentially it is doing anything freelance: a copy writer, photojournalist, video journalist, blogger, infographic designer, SEO bod, sub-editor…they are all services.

You as the service provider are intricately bound to the success of the business. The people who pay for your service are clients.

Now you might say because of that, entrepreneurial journalism has been around for a long time. But it’s not quite like that. You see, only recently have people started to create full businesses out of their services – packaging their services into products.

For example, take this video production company in the US, called TVKevin. They are a service business: people hire them to make short films about their company or business etc. But take a look at their website, and you can see how they have packaged their service into products: they offer something called BizShorts, and something else called MyStory.

Scale it up, and throw in some hardcore journalism, and you have MediaStorm, one of the most successful multimedia production companies out there. They offer a service to clients: high quality multimedia documentaries; but they package their services into product type solutions: films, audio slideshows and infographics. MediaStorm also have a lot of by-products: training, DVDs, and even t-shirts.

So which should you do?

Before you start thinking of business ideas, or even if you already have one, you should work out whether you are offering a product or a service. Knowing this early on saves any confusion later on. And there’s nothing to say you can’t do both, or be clever and mix them up like TVKevin & MediaStorm.

To find out about the pros and cons of both Products and Services head on to myNewsBiz, where there’s more training in entrepreneurial journalism in video.

Five things that make a great news business idea

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 31, 2011

Entries for myNewsBiz, the student journalism enterprise competition are open and we are starting to get early entries through.

If you haven’t heard of it, myNewsBiz is open to any undergraduate or postgraduate journalism student at a UK university. There’s a prize of £1000 for the best new idea for a journalism business, be it a product, like a magazine, or a service. A runner up gets £500.

But what makes a good business idea?

That’s a difficult question, if you’ve never thought about starting a business until now. If you don’t know where to begin, here are five different starting places for your search for that winning business idea.

.01 Fill a gap

Any concept (entrepreneurial or otherwise) has to service a need that a large enough group of people have, in order to survive and thrive. So a good place to start is to ask ‘is there a product or service which is not being provided right now?

Murdoch’s much anticipated iPad only newspaper The Daily can be viewed in these terms. The iPad’s been around for just over a year, and yes, there are plenty of magazines and publishers with their own iPad apps…but there is no single dedicated iPad news product. It’s a gap. And News International appear to be trying to fill it.

.02 Scratch an itch

Image credit: corrieb on Flickr

Great business ideas ‘scratch an itch’, by which we mean solving a problem that a group of people have. The best place to identify an itch is on your own body. What’s bugging you right now? What do you see which can be done faster? Cheaper? More accurately? More locally or more beautifully?

TheBusinessDesk, a successful online news startup in the UK, clearly scratched an itch its founders had: there was no good source for regional business & finance news. They scratched their own itch, and in doing so created a thriving business.

Scratching your own itch has a big advantage: because it’s your itch, you are best placed to tell whether your solution is scratching it properly.

.03 Improve something

If that doesn’t work, why not try improving on someone else’s idea?

There are plenty of magazines, websites, services we all use which get us grumbling. “This coverage stinks!” “Their infographics are rubbish” “They could have done that website so much better!”

If there’s something out there which is not up to scratch – make your own, improved, version.

That’s part of the thinking behind studio .fu, my online video production company. There are lots of independent video producers out there, but I could see lots of things they were doing wrong.

I improved their offering by just focusing on online video, and by steering clear of an office or (any) staff, I can offer the same thing at a much more affordable rate.

.04 Begin with you

Instead of looking for a business idea straight away, start with you and your strengths and passions.

What do you love doing? If you could wake up tomorrow morning and commit one act of journalism, what would it be? Designing? Writing? Data interrogation?

Once you’ve identified that, you want to wrap a business around it. Look for markets for your passion, and build a business from there. This philosophy sums up the approach taken in my book Next Generation Journalist, which starts with a look at your real interests.

After all, there’s no point in pursuing a business idea you’re not interested in, just because it looks like a workable idea. I have a brilliant idea for an environmentally friendly kettle. But am I going to make it? No. Because manufacturing, retail and, err, kettles, don’t do it for me right now.

.05 Start making something – right now

Image credit: David Haygarth on Flickr

Finally, once you’ve got an idea – or maybe if you still don’t – start creating, right away.

Ideas are one-a-penny, but they don’t count for anything until you’ve turned it into something tangible. So if you’ve got an idea for an online magazine, get the webspace and domain, upload a WordPress theme and get creating.

Why? Because you’ll only know if your idea is any good once it’s real.

If you don’t have an idea yet, then start creating anyway. Whatever it is you feel like. If you think you’d like to start a business making infographics but aren’t sure what gap it would fill or itch it would scratch, keep going. Start designing infographics and put them online. See what the feedback is. Are people biting? This way you can develop your business idea organically.

Only once you’re making something can you know whether it’s got legs.

Remember the deadline for entries for myNewsBiz is the 1st of April 2011 – so you’ve still got plenty of time to put something together.

And in February we’re publishing awesome interviews with some of the top journalist-entrepreneurs out there, packed with advice on how to get your news business off the ground!