Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Laid off? What are you going to do about it?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 9, 2010

Image credit: swanksalot on Flickr

New research by the University of  Central Lancashire on job opportunities for journalists, released this week, makes grim  – if predictable – reading.

Laid Off (pdf), a survey conducted by Francois Nel, in partnership with journalism.co.uk concluded that there are now between 30%-40% fewer jobs available for journalists than there were in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolling on journalism courses has gone up – it is currently at its highest number and its highest proportion of all undergrad courses.

It was figures like this which prompted me to write Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism in 2010, a downloadable e-book with advice on looking for opportunities among the bad news.

Chapter 7 of this week’s report asks “what are journalists doing next?” – and this is what makes the grimmest reading. Of all the 134 respondents, 23% had found full time work again, 42% were still looking. Of those who’d found more work, the majority were freelancing.

The one phrase that doesn’t appear at all is ‘starting my own business‘ or ‘becoming an entrepreneur‘. Not one of the respondents had any intention, it seemed, of using their journalism skills to plug an information gap and provide a new product or service to an audience. (It may have been that they were not asked about this either).

Thing is, the more I look around, the more I see there being a real need for people like this. The number of niches out there, and verticals within those niches, is almost countless. And if anything, it’s becoming cheaper and faster to do it than ever before. Rarely easier, but cheaper and faster.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the majority of people in the world are happy just to observe and let others take the lead. There’s a shortage of people who see opportunity where everyone else sees a threat; willing to take the initiative, to enthusiastically accept responsibility for solving a problem which isn’t necessarily their’s to solve. “Initiative is a rare skill” Godin says, “and therefore a valuable one.”

David Parkin could have been like the majority of journalists, when he left the Yorkshire Post in 2007. He could have gone into education, or PR, or maybe tried to get a job at a national newspaper. Instead he decided to become a leader to a community, to create something new and take responsibility for a problem. He founded thebusinessdesk.com, a unique news service for regional businesses in central and North West England.

This week, thebusinessdesk.com signed on its 50,000th subscriber and David is now in charge of a thriving, and growing, company.

Sadly, just one or two laid off journalists might read this, and be inspired to launch their own business. The majority though, will look at whether thebusinessdesk.com is hiring.

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How to make a niche work for you

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

You’ll hear me gabber on about a niche all the time these days. Thing is, a niche is one of the keys to unlocking all the money locked in the future of journalism. Niche is the future.

Forget broadcasting to the many – think connecting with the few.

It’s not quite as simple as ‘choose a niche and they shall come’ sadly. You have to choose it wisely, and choose one where there is palpable demand for your news product or service.

On today’s Next Generation Journalist post on journalism.co.uk, I pitch aggregating content as a great way to found a business. Here’s an example of how that could work.

A local hero

Last week I was invited to speak at Press Gazette’s Local Heroes Conference at Kingston University in London, where  I am also Journalist-in-Residence.

One of the most inspiring speakers there was David Parkin – a man who took the plunge and launched into a niche product. Guess what? He’s making it work.

He founded TheBusinessDesk.com, a regional website aggregating and creating financial news. Think the Financial Times, but on a regional scale.

  • new angle on a successful business model – check
  • well defined target market – check

Currently running in Birmingham, Yorkshire and Liverpool (note, not London), the Business Desk hires 10 journalists.

  • a small, nimble operation – check!

It is supported through several means. Firstly, advertising around articles on the website. Because of theBusinessDesk’s niche audience, and its rather well off niche audience, these are advertisers willing to part with some cash. Then there’s the daily mailing list of business news, aggregated by the site, sent to 37,000 subscribers. This too is sponsored. If you knew your brand could reach 37,000 business people in their inbox every morning, you’d cough up some cash right? Thirdly, there’s the events which are organised for the community.

  • multiple revenue streams – check!
  • no total dependence on ad revenue – check!

The Business Desk has also recently launched an iPhone app for its subscribers too. It’s free, but supported by advertising.

  • entering a major new market – check!

David Parkin, quite humbly, revealed the company expects to turnover £1million this year. Impressive.

Now I don’t know anything about the company’s running costs, but I do know how inexpensive a website and mailing list is. And I can imagine 10 staff aren’t costing a huge amount of money.

David Parkin has made the niche model work. Now apply it to the hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of other niches out there – and you’re in business. If you want to get it right, get your hands on the ebook – out on Thursday 20th May.