Building an Online Audience (Nearly) from Scratch. Can An Old Media Veteran Bring His Readers With Him?

My world news website is literally still just a project on paper — or more precisely, Powerpoint. From what I’ve learned about all this technology stuff, websites on paper, uh, don’t work so good. The live prototype is still a week or two away, and the beta version wont’ be ready for a bunch of months. At least.  None of this, however, prevents me from starting…that is, trying to build an audience. Or at least a pre-audience.

It’s all part of that evil-but-necessary bit of New Media verbiage: personal branding. The frontiers of the world of journalism are now equal parts barrier-free and mind-spinningly fragmented, where everything is possible and nothing is a sure thing. In the face of this, how YOU get it done becomes ever more important. On some basic level, this has always been the case in journalism, and any profession, really. Do good work, and get recognized for it. What’s different now is that the promoting yourself and producing something for public consumption become one in the same. And so the pro forma act of attaching my byline to my copy transforms into attaching my name to everything I do professionally (and for others, well beyond the professional.)

And so the seeds of the audience is born, even if you’re not sure what your product is, or have not yet figured out how to produce it. Facebook friends, Twitter followers, email lists, etc are the first step. The good news for those of us coming from the world of full-time, branded media is that you are actually not starting from pure scratch. Anytime I tweet something, link something, and generally show up in some digital room with my nametag on, whatever I’m writing or shilling or, like here, thinking aloud, is traceable back to that old fashioned byline and where it’s been residing over the years.

There is no denying that it is a head start if you are looking to create something new. Beyond the actual experience I have acquired from it, the MSM brand is that first small step toward building your personal brand: doors and emails get opened, introductions get made, and maybe even rambling blog posts get read.

Still, this edge has a tiny shelf life. No one – I repeat, not a friggin’ soul – is going to become a customer of the content that I hope to produce/edit on my website because of my work with Time or the AP or whomever. (Likewise, a potential investor who might agree to meet with me, will not be reaching for his checkbook because of what I’ve done in the past) The project quite simply must stand on its own. In fact, for some, the new enterprise must actually overcome the old-school origins of its founder.

In the end, those of us veterans/victims of the crumbling state of MSM have two distinct choices: either see our past as a building block and calling card for the future. Or see the future as simply the thing that is killing some idealized notion of the past. After some real resistance, I have wholeheartedly embraced the former approach. Even with all the uncertainty, that very change in mentality feels like real progress. And some serious fun.

But back to the practical challenge of finding an audience. I wrote last week about my mini project-inside-the-bigger-project, While U Slept, a bundled aggregation of the Big 5 latest headlines/links that I put together here in the European time zone, aimed at early morning readers/bloggers wanting to know what news has actually broken since they logged off and unplugged the night before. I have been vigilant about getting it posted by 1 p.m (7 a.m EST). every day, six days a week. I’m establishing a method for scanning the news sources, making it the most relevant and timely mix it can be. And several colleagues have sent real encouragement. But let me assure you fine readers: it has most definitely NOT caught on like wildfire. My 3!? email subscribers get it first. My 160 Twitter followers get it 60 seconds later, followed by my 307 Facebook friends. And how many click through? What is my most trafficked day? A grand total of 56!? The daily average is at a whopping 23 hits…

I wasn’t so naïve to expect anything different. And I do have a plan..to aim high (future post about this concept). Perhaps it could make a good fit in a smart, heavily trafficked home on the web. Andrew Sullivan? Talking Points Memo? Slate? Or some other New Media outlet that still sees the MSM – and The News itself — as relevant, and a good starting point for the day. All suggestions are most welcome! For now, I am continuing to refine the process and story selection and timing. But when the moment comes to try to find the right home — to try to multiply my audience — you can bet that I will present myself with Old Media credentials in hand, and all the oxygen of the New Media in my blood.

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4 Comments

Filed under branding, entrepreneurship, journalism, new media, old media, social media, The Big 5 (Top Overnight Stories), Top Headlines, world news

4 responses to “Building an Online Audience (Nearly) from Scratch. Can An Old Media Veteran Bring His Readers With Him?

  1. Yes, after 20 years of journalism at newspapers, I agree: in the ancient world, and in the Internet new world, the personal branding is a critical clue! Best regards.

  2. I sent your post to someone who might have an interest in that little product from Europe. So if you get an offer, remember who’s got your back. Or maybe it’s your front.

  3. Pingback: Straddling Old and New Media, Searching for the Speed of Traffic « News Launch Diary

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