Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Prototype is Done. Now What? Newsman Must Become Salesman

For about six weeks late last year, I was wavering over a single question: Prototype or No Prototype?Several smart people told me there was no need: if you’ve got a business plan (I did), and can describe your offering in two sentences or less (I could), a prototype would be a waste of time and money. Investors and partners would join in on the merits of the idea and my own professional stock.

If your news venture is a one-man or one-woman blog, or other solo operation, you don’t have this dilemma. you just build the thing and get to work. But my thing, if done correctly, needs some personpower, and thus some funding. So another way of posing the same question was Pause for Prototype or Forge Ahead with Fundraising?

I chose the former, and was lucky enough to find Annie and Gianluca, a kick ass Danish-Italian designer/programmer team in Rome. Jumping into the prototype adventure meant having to resist calling up potential funders and partners who I stumbled on in the meantime, as I wanted to wait to show (off!) the prototype before they gave their thumbs up or down. But I can hardly call these past three-plus months a “delay.” First is the prototype itself, which not only will pitch the project better than my words or any powerpoint presentation could, but will also be the actual building block (in both design and functionality) from which the actual site can launch. My new biz-tech partner Jed (more to come on him soon!) just confirmed that.

But just as importantly, as I look back to January, I know that the DNA of the project has continued to evolve in the right direction, in part because of the sweat we have put into this mini project within the project. This is that fantastic new verb I first learned at LeWeb back in December: bootstrapping. Any American, would-be startup dude or otherwise, knows immediately what this means.

So what now? Well, er, umm…it’s showtime. I’ve been pitching the project in one form or another, to all sorts of folk for almost a year. But the pitch was always open-ended: What do you think? What’s your advice? Now it’s: Please join us…

Here are quick thoughts for three different categories of folk I hope to meet, which no doubt will change once we begin…

MEDIA PARTNERS: I am solving a problem for them. I understand their predicament. I know their needs and their audience. The fundamental challenge will be to get some form of commitment — even if I involves no real time or money right now — from an industry in total crisis.

FUNDERS: There will be two types of potential funders: those interested in the journalism for the journalism’s sake, and those who want to see real return on their investment. Our pitch may be tweaked to some degree depending on who we have in front of us, but ultimately we must show that our project is both a response to the crisis in the news business…and something more than just a purely journalistic endeavor. I guess we call it: New Media. There is also always going to be crossover: even the lets-save-journalism types don’t want to throw their money away, and the most bottom-line investor won’t be talking with us if he/she doesnt have at least some interest in where the news business is heading.

HOME RUN: Before I really knew anything about all of this….like 10 months ago…I had an idea for a website. (It’s the same idea I still have, which I hopefully can share in this space in the not-so-distant future). I also thought I knew how to get it launched–and more specifically who would fund it. It was one deep-pocketed European industrialist I knew from my past life. He sent me back to the drawing board, which of course was the best thing that could have happened to me. Who knows? Maybe we will get another shot at a single solution that could leap frog the months/years of seed money, scraping by, etc… The “Walk-off home run” is what Jed calls it. But I know that if that were to happen (which I am certainly NOT counting on) Mr. Deep Pockets will be investing not only in the idea, not only in my journalistic experience and Jed’s business acumen, but in the grit and agility and waste-free, open-minded approach of two hungry, New Media Bootstrappers. How’s that for a pitch…?


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Dream Scenario: Twitter, iPad, & My News Biz Ambitions

Lots to wrap your head around these days if you want to be part of the future of news. Through the hail, I see the same three blinking lights ahead that other lonesome hacks and big-time news execs must see: Twitter, iPad and Pay Walls. Or put another way: Mobile Feed, Lean-Back News and MoneyMoneyMoney.

For months, these little blips of the future have been ricocheting off my would-be world news project, and ricocheting off each other. Time to allow the damn light to shine! to imagine how it might all actually work out for the best. Of course it won’t — never does — and even if the future is brighter, it’s still a moving target. But hashing it out here, with the information we have to work with, will help prepare for the changes to come. Also let’s this poor slug stop for a moment to dream the dream…


I never liked the experience of getting my news from websites and blogs. I LOVE Twitter. My “brother-in-law” said he could see i had become possessed when i used my hands to mimic the upward flow/downward scroll of the feed. Twitter has finally created the right channel to get digital news into the light, vertical format that it was made to inhabit. The gentle passing stream has replaced the bang-you-up chase, run-you-over wave–the constant risk of DROWNING — that was “surfing the web.” Ahhhh. much better now, thank you. Twitter will be the way we consume news when we are mobile, that is to say both literally/physically on the go with our smart phones, and moving through our work day and socializing at our desks. Some media companies, news suppliers seem to think that Twitter is a play area/gossip zone, and put up only or mostly their most glib offerings. They are wrong. This is the future of keeping people truly informed! It has the potential to create something for journalism that is like the radio and daily newspaper melded into one.

Verdict for me/mine: Very good news, especially from the git-go. My project aims to be smart, world news that plugged in people across the globe will want a crack at seeing. Twitter is the obvious and open place where I can go to deliver it..

ps: The recent uptick in talk of Twitter applications, aimed at developers, is also a call out to journalists to develop “news applications” for twitter, including the human kind of application. HuffPost is taking it on before the rest of the pack, and will benefit no matter how it turns out. here’s my first tiny, one-man crack at it.


I come most recently from the world of glossy newsweeklies. My web-only project (more details to come. I promise) was actually born from a weekly product. It is high-end, not mass market. It is journalism, in the classic sense. Seeing various news and magazine demos of iPad apps makes you see that there is a way to get people — and advertisers — to commit to, and pay for, quality content. Long and not-so-long form.  We don’t know if it will be the savior of news business, but it reminds us that we are searching for a way — a platform, device, what have you — to use the best technology and ideas out there that actually help us separate from the above sensation of being mobile: on the go, or at our desks.

Verdict for me/mine

I am tempted to return to my old idea of getting LOTS of funding up front, and quickly build my product around a tablet application. That would, however, probably be VERY stupid. In the meantime…sticking with premise of this post, to dream of glory…I can see my brand on iPad as the future flagship of the whole damn thing, something to work toward…where its true value (in every sense) is realized.


None of the above fantasies can truly come to life if we don’t find ways to get cash for what we produce. Last week we heard on the iPad subscription front, this week on Twitter ads front.And of course, something is tipping us toward a general acceptance that it shouldnt and wont all be FREE. This is of course just a start. But it helps to envision how the ecosystem, and our habits, as both users and consumers, might evolve.

Verdict for me/mine

OK…Here’s my business model/dream scenario, circa Jan. 2012: My product has taken off from a modest start, in large part because my unique professional content stands out in the twitter (and other social media) stream. People love the stories, we’re timely and lively and the brand is catching, the output is growing. A small team of web developers and multimedia producers have just helped launch the iPad application.Some of our most loyal readers have quickly signed up for a yearly 50-week subscription at 70 bucks. Those of them who have already been web subscribers ($35) get the first six months free on iPAD. My content online and on Twitter is metered, but more and more people are just making us one of their dozen or so paid outlets. Oh by the way, I happen to also have a growing syndication business with some of the top US newspapers, who have pay walls of their own and want some exclusive foreign news. Indeed the whole industry has largely bounced back as Twitter and tablets have helped people find their sweet spot for both staying informed in real-time and remembering how to savor old-style serendipity. Satisfied, well-served customers are typically paying customers.

As for me, I am proud of my 15 employees, and am actually turning a healthy profit. Google wants to talk exit strategies. Hey, I even got invited to some seminar at the University of Missouri to schmooze with Jeff Jarvis and David Carr. But I decline! I have no time….If your memory serves you well, I am finally taking a week off all to myself…to go follow Dylan in friggin’ Japan!!!

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Ten Things or People Slowing Down My News Startup Launch

As I’ve described before, this would-be enterprise is not only an adventure in navigating the changing state of the news business, but the state of my own professional evolution (or lack thereof) as well. A wayward marksman and his moving target. With that in mind, momentum is key. Moving forward is not an optional. Peer News editor John Temple recently talked about that urgency of wanting to get up and running asap what you can already (more or less) envision in the very first week of operations. My target right now is just getting to that first week, and the desire to see something live is no less real. But when you’re still working mostly solo — and juggling other balls — the urgency can sometimes be hit and miss. The past week or two it’s been more miss than hit.

My big news, which would potentially be much more significant than the current slow down, is that have found a biz-tech partner who is ready to try to raise money and launch the thing with me. Yes!! There will be more on him in the coming days. For now, though, I am facing a mini brick wall. Here’s a quick rundown of the top 10 bricks in that wall…

1. Pope Benedict XVI

2. Attention Deficit Disorder

3.Howard Chua-Eoan, Time news director

4. Annie’s (designer of prototype) two young kids

5.   Overconfidence (convinced no one else is out there working on the same product)

6. Lack of Confidence (convinced no one else is out there working on the same product…for a damn good reason!)

7. My two young kids

8. Knowing that the next step is actually asking people for money

9.  Anxiety about having all my ducks lined up before starting to call (and call back) all the contacts on my list of potential funders/partners/mentors.

10. Distracted by ideas for OTHER startups (some not related at all to news business!?)


Filed under business model, entrepreneurship, funding, journalism, new media, prototype, social media

The Bishop of Rome, a Monk in Cupertino & My iPad Prayer for News

I have been consumed…again….still…with Vatican reporting for my MSM outlet. I have much I would like to cover in this space, and some real progress to recount, but alas, you readers are NOT my paying customers. Yet!? I will be brief here, as my juggling act continues…

Of course sharing worldwide headlines with the priest sex abuse crisis has been the launch of the iPad: the Bishop of Rome and the Monk of Cupertino, if I may….So those rare moments that I am not meeting with Church officials and pondering the meaning of Good Friday for both a secular Jewish Vaticanista and the Holy Father himself, some scattered thoughts of what this would-be revolutionary digital device means for my would-be digital world news project. I had already given a first crack at trying to think through what the iPad could change for this old media guy trying to launch himself in new media: business model, presentation of content, as a tool for actually producing the content. Those questions still stand. But my project has evolved, and more folk have gotten their claws (and more) on the iPad…and I’ve got one big clear thought (and mostly hope!?) about not only what the iPad will and won’t bring, but about the future of the news business in general.

Here goes: so we have all listened to and participated in the neverending heeing/hawing about how digital is ruining the news business and our esteemed profession (HACKS!!), with its flattening everything, the decline in quality and controls, the short attention span, the thirst for gossip, the end of reading. This may all be true, and it may get worse. Or it may not. Indeed, though habits will certainly change, we cannot be sure that it will be linear. That is, attention spans have probably been getting shorter for years thanks to everything from the automobile to tv and video games to microwave ovens, and certainly the internet…but that doesn’t mean, it couldn’t somehow reverse itself after some behavioral or technological tipping point has been reached. It is for just this reason that the iPad is the first gadget that appeals to me, an utterly non-gadget kinda dude who nonetheless grew up a tv addict and is now constantly attached to the internet/blackberry. It could give me digital and all that means aesthetically/experientially, and at the same time help me to lean back, take a bit more time….unplug? For this, it could truly be revolutionary for the platform-formerly-known-as-print-media.

I want my digital project to be driven by the written word (and photography). I’d be happy to have video, but don’t want to have to have video, as people who supposedly know tell you before you even open your biz plan or prototype. Part of me would like to go straight to the tablet, as I’d fantasized about here once. But the web is so many things to many people, the net (on the net) must be cast wide. But right here is the point where I wanted to arrive: we don’t know where people’s habits will wind up, both in terms of consuming and in terms of paying… but we do know this singular fact about what the internet means for the business model, and it is not on the revenue side, but the cost side: one day, every/any producer of news and information will have the option of COMPLETELY ELIMINATING the enormous burden of paying for printing and physical delivery. GONE. period. This we know. That is good news…and the iPad, even for those of us yet to touch it, helps us imagine how we will get there.

And so in this moment of great uncertainty, let us pray for the good people of the Catholic Church, and for that turtlenecked monk of Silicon Valley.

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