It’s the Execution, stupid

(Please note that this is a general introduction and self-directed call to arms…subsequent posts will typically be briefer and centered around a single, targeted topic.)

I’ve decided to start with what I will call Confessions, though that makes it sounds both holier and sexier, and more revealing than it is…and I refer to both the letter and spirit of sam lessin’s non-disclosure disclaimer for all his blog posts. I am “…writing with an open audience in mind but ultimately as a format to clarify my own thinking, I almost never disclose conflicts of interest… and the views expressed might not actually be my personal beliefs, but rather what I choose to represent as my personal beliefs in this format (the medium is the message).”

Still, I thought it best to start with these three (3) would-be confessions, sacred or otherwise, to help give some context for where I’m coming from, and clues to how this thing might actually function…

CONFESSION NO. 1.…Until now, I have actively and sometimes arrogantly avoided blogs. I have never been a regular visitor to them, though after my recent arrival on twitter, I’m getting directed to far more posts that I actually read…and I had never seriously considered starting a blog of my own. This despite the fact that I did have two brief experiences on the platform, both for my msm employer, my own daily entry during  coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II and election of Benedict XVI; and then my pitching in to a staff blog at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. In each case, I found the experiment both generally fun and professionally worthwhile. But while my participation made sense at the moment, in each case I was simply responding to a specific news event and staff assignment from my superiors, rather than a bottom-up, self-inspired effort to have my say. Once the finite news rationale was over, I was happy to return to focusing exclusively on traditional article-form, professionally edited journalism. For me, and here’s the old media arrogance in a nutshell, open-ended blogs were either the look-what-i-can-do platform of those who couldn’t find work as a full-time reporter, or the ramblings of full-time reporters who didn’t think they needed an editor. And the pay sucked. Well, look who’s down on his knees in front of the electronic altar now? MSMS (mainstream media snob) has had his full-time employee status yanked away, which new-media avatars will smirk is the only real reason why I’ve arrived here now. That is in fact mostly true, and also a convenient lead-in to my next confession.

CONFESSION NO. 2.….I’m doing this as a means to an end. So far at least, I continue to believe that blogging in itself is neither what I want to do, nor the right vehicle through which to direct my professional energy. As a hobby? Or a way to keep loved ones informed of my life? No thanks. My old style journalist tendency is to hedge my own opinions and weigh both sides, keep the reporter out of the story in other words. I also consistently and obsessively self edit my writing, publishing traits that seem far from both the spirit and utility of blogs. (I do see that the very format itself is constantly evolving, into something both more targeted and more vast, altered by both technological advances and the crisis in traditional publishing industry….what once seemed a rolling manifesto, in other words, now is simply one of many digital platforms) With all THIS hedging and hawing, the fact is that I am actually here, online, (sort of) rambling. For free. And yes, I am utterly convinced that my future must be found in digital form. And now more specifically, to that end I’d mentioned. While I have continued writing articles for other outlets, I have been consumed for the past six months by a project for a news website that I want to launch. This is in fact what I feel equipped to do, and where I want to devote my professional energy. And within this context, I have finally/hopefully figured out enough about the new ways of communicating and the troubles of the traditional news format that I know that A. whatever the final product, the substantive input and encouragement I can get electronically/targeted/random from anyone willing to pitch in will make it better. B. this website cannot be launched without maximizing the methods for getting the word out on the web. C. maybe in the midst of my huffing and puffing to get this thing to lift-off stage, others who want to do something similar can learn from my mistakes, and find some comfort and solidarity in what is necessarily a lonely process.

CONFESSION NO. 3….I am going to generally play by the blogging ground rules of laying it all out there, aware that the benefits of exposure generally outweigh the risk of either embarrassment or robbery. But as disclaimed (or not) above, I am not going to tell ALL, reveal every single conversation, or even (for now, at least) precisely define just what the project is. I have my basic idea/formula/business model that to a certain degree I still think is worth protecting. Hopefully sooner rather than later, the thing will take shape and get closer to a full fledged launch in which I will have everything to gain by megaphoning exactly what I am doing every waking hour.Clearly news is viewed as anything but a hot investment opportunity right now, no matter how good your idea might be. The more hands on deck, the better – both for the single project I hope to launch, and the bigger challenge of getting reliable and readable news and journalism back on its feet. In that spirit, I will be as open as possible in this space. And if in fact you want to know more about my website-to-be, and even get involved with your own sweat, know-how and/or cold hard cash, please do contact me directly at with “news launch diary” in the subject header of the email.

A BRIEF HISTORY. The concept at the core of my project has been kicking around for the past eight years in my head, and in conversations with a colleague in Italy where I lived for a decade until moving to Paris in 2008. Initially it was going to be an internationally distributed print product. So much for that. In the first half of 2009, the writing was on the wall (and everywhere else) that the career I had built as a MSM foreign correspondent was going nowhere fast, and it was time to pull that ever pregnant idea off the shelf, and get it up on the web. Seemed pretty straightforward: I’d put together a business plan, bring it to a publisher I knew who (fortunately for him) earns his real money in another sector, and we’d get the thing online by Jan. 1, 2010. Hah!! The money needed for the major launch would not be peanuts, and the publisher was (wisely) cautious, though not dismissive either. Back to the drawing board, revise the business plan, dig deeper into the world of online entrepreneurship, seed money, angel investors, a trip to New York to talk to people on the front line of both new media and good old fashioned journalism. In early December, I immersed myself in two days at the Leweb convention for online entrepreneurship in Paris, where everyone was younger and richer than me, and no one was talking about the news business. It was yet another education, and kick in the ass. It was also clear that I needed to get a prototype URL online, and maybe (though maybe not?) even begin to produce content in a skeletal version of what I hoped to build. Now that the prototype is on the drawing board, it felt like the time had arrived to start documenting what I am doing/experiencing/feeling/screwing up in a public forum.

A PLAN OF ACTION After six months of preliminary work and consultations, News Launch Diary is the first truly concrete step in this project. It is, however, not the project itself. Let me be clear if it is not already: this blog is not what I am launching, and is set to expire (or at least transform radically) the moment this thing is either up and running or dead and buried. (Working titles for my next blog: How to spend my money and manipulate the news cycle….or Why I should’ve taken that job in p.r.). The approach is meant to be both practical and fact-based, almost like an organic/electronic business plan that evolves online. I’m sure it’s been done before, and I would love to get references to similar efforts that are worth looking at. Again, this is in many ways a new world for me. And my perspective is necessarily that of a traditional news media veteran trying to launch something online. My knowledge and skills of both technology and the business world are scant, and overcoming these shortcomings will certainly be a recurring theme (and hopefully relevant to both news people like me trying to break into online entrepreneurship, and the biz and tech people who will be working with us). The focus will be on the actual nuts-and-bolts of this particular project, aiming to offer a kind of case study while bigger brains (and bucks) work on the broader question of journalism’s future. With that said, I will inevitably be riffing here and there on some of the industry wide developments, particularly as they relate to my project. And though I will try to keep my professional composure, and generally stick to the facts, I also see this as an opportunity to share with others what it FEELS like to do what I am doing. But with that said, the most important kernel of wisdom I’ve picked up in these past months about the life of a startup is something I learned long ago in my past-and-future job as journalist: It’s about the execution.…



Filed under branding, business model, entrepreneurship, journalism, new media, old media

12 responses to “It’s the Execution, stupid

  1. james

    Hey Jeff,
    Looking forward to reading more of this. First question: what did the people at Leweb talk about when they weren’t talking about news? The model that both repels and fascinates me is the one, which we once discussed, where you basically put up stupid pictures of cats, let people write even stupider captions for them, and collect major bucks in advertisers. That site pulls in something like 27 million pageviews a month, as I understand it.

    Anyway, good luck, buddy.

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  3. Ruth

    Jeff – Bravo! I can’t wait to read everything to come!

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