Books enterprising Journalists should read

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Entrepreneurial Journalism, Mark Briggs

This book is a great primer for the topic. Briggs is an enterprising  journalist in Seattle where he co-founded the start-up, Serra Media. His other books are used as texts in several journalism courses. I like this book because it gives a lot of great examples of media sites and services that journalists have developed in the past few years. It covers both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, explains the development of business plans and encourages creative risk-taking. He and others at ONA 13 helped me with my Aha moment.

Curation Nation, Steven Rosenbaum

This was recommended to me by the CEO of a small, Ottawa tech firm. It’s written by a journalist and it’s really geared towards people in this industry. I like the history the book provides about very early developers — including the founder of Reader’s digest — a great example of curation long before the internet. Rosenbaum is also an entrepreneur (Magnify.net). His thesis is that the information available on line is developing at break-neck speed and we need people to organize and curate that info — who best to do it but journalists?

Crowdsourcing: How the Power of Crowds is Driving the Future of Business, Jeff Howe

I recently met Jeff Howe at Northeastern University in Boston where he now teaches. This long-time writer at Wired actually coined the phrase, crowdsourcing. This is a really interesting read about how harnessing the crowd has created some very innovative and successful companies and projects. It was written in 2008 so a lot has changed, but this book is still relevant.

The Innovators Dilemma, Clayton Christensen

Christensen is a business administration professor at Harvard. This is not about journalists or journalism, but there’s much to be learned about business and innovation from this book. Christensen also been quoted in important interviews and reports about how his thesis applies to the journalism industry. This author explains what disruptive technology is and how it can drastically change industries and force once stable companies to evolve or die.

What would Google do? Jeff Jarvis

Jarvis teaches Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University New York (CUNY) and writes a blog: Buzzmachine. This book was written in 2009, but again has some lasting examples of how new technology can disrupt an industry. It’s a good book on a company that’s had a massive impact on what we do.

Newsonomics, Ken Doctor

Doctor’s book  has a companion website and blog. He also files frequently for Nieman Journalism Lab. This book has something to offer to journalism students in particular with the chapter: For Journalists’ Jobs It’s Back-to-the-Future. He also talks about the pain reporters and big media needs to endure before making it to the other side.

Where Good Ideas come from, Steven Johnson

Students ask me constantly where I get my ideas. I say, often by exercising critical thinking skills, by networking, sharing and brainstorming. This book isn’t about finding journalism story ideas, rather it’s about entrepreneurship and scientific discovery. It’s about taking risk and using critical thinking to invent. Steven Johnson presents an interesting TED talks about his ideas on the development of innovation.

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Teams and Talent

tools smWhether you’re working on a class project or starting up a new company, picking the right people to be part of the team is essential for success.

“You may gel as friends, but can you work together?” asks Adam Dufresne, from Breakthrough Coach in Ottawa.

Dufresne says he learned the hard way. He quickly admits he made mistakes when it came to building his own start-ups. Now his job is coaching others.  He says people spend too much time making sure the candidate or partner has the right technical skills, without thinking about whether he or she will get along with everyone.

“Do they have the soft skills, can they communicate?”

Several senior journalism students have told me about the small enterprises they’re developing in their spare time. Some are starting blogs or news sites. They’re showing terrific initiative and passion. But often these students are working with friends that have the same skills, ideas and backgrounds. What they’re now realizing is if they’re going to take their projects to the next level, they need to invite people to the team with a diverse skill set, including coding and programming smarts.

“You need to do the same planning when it comes to talent as you do with areas such as finance,” says human resources guru, Margo Crawford, the CEO of the Business Sherpa Group.

Crawford says the entrepreneur has to define the problem his start-up is trying to solve by adding a new member to the team. And she notes in the early stages, a fledgling company doesn’t have time or money to make mistakes.

“Choose wisely.”

According to Crawford, diversity is key to a successful team. A company needs talent from different backgrounds and perspectives including culture, experience and age. But she says they also need to share a work ethic and long-term vision. And that includes money.

How are you going to pay your partners  – especially when there’s little to no start-up money nor revenue coming in?

Dufresne says you need to bring in people who are willing and able to work for next to nothing. But he says it also means you likely need to make these new members partners and define what cut they get if and when the company starts to bring in money.

“You need to deal with that upfront,” says Dufresne. “You need to work out the terms.”

What are some of the signs a team isn’t meshing?

“You need to watch for signs like, things aren’t feeling right, poor communications, or maybe productivity is affected. You have to listen to your gut,” says Crawford.

TOOLS

tools

No hammers or saws here. This is section is all about the tools aspiring freelancers/entrepreneurs need.  This post is a work in progress.

TOOL #1: PITCH PERFECT

I’ve had a number of students ask me how to pitch their ideas and stories. You need to adapt these pitch pointers to your own situation – whether you’re proposing ideas at a morning, story meeting at CBC or trying to sell a freelance article to a magazine. These guidelines are based on my own experience and research.

REFINING YOUR IDEA:

You should:

  • have more than just a concept, idea or a topic. (You need some meat on the bones)
  • have a deeper issue/character in mind (preferably, you have spoken with the character and know you can build the story around him/her)
  • have a good idea of the story arc and why it’s something people will pay attention to
  • do some research to make sure the story hasn’t already been done. (Ask the main characters/sources if this story has already been reported)
  • research, yet don’t invest too much into the story (this is a fine balance)
  • grab the editor’s attention (brief, oral pitch) or if it’s a written pitch: show your ability to write
  • practice your pitch with a friend/colleague

Know how to answer the following questions (the producer/editor may ask):

  • why should the audience care about this story?
  • how much time do you need to complete the story?
  • what kind of resources/money needed to do the story (i.e. equipment/travel)?

Pointers for Freelance pitching:

  • Network to get to know the editor/people you are pitching to — ask if you can come in for a chat/coffee to get to know what kind of stories he/she is looking for: prefer long pitches or short, by phone or by email?
  • Tell editor what your niche is, so if she’s looking for commissioned work, she knows where to go
  • Pitch multiple ideas and to multiple editors

The following information comes from Stanford University re Magazine pitching:

Journalism professor Jennifer Kahn (U.C. Berkley), a magazine feature writer, says she has 25 percent of her research and reporting done before pitching. Kahn says she does hours of research: “probably 10 one hour phone calls before I pitch a magazine story. And I probably only pitch one in five or one in ten of the stories I start researching. I know who my main character is going to be and roughly what the structure is before I pitch, and I probably have 25 percent of the reporting done before I pitch.”

She suggests sending the editor a pre-pitch email. Summarize the idea in two sentences and ask the editor to email you back if he’d like a full pitch. “Otherwise, they might dread the pitch that just shows up in the inbox unsolicited.”

“A good magazine should be a page to a page and a half. Wired requires that pitches only be one page. The first paragraph should show the magazine you can write in a compelling style. Summarize your story or use an excerpt that gives a sense of what the piece is about.

The next paragraph should be the nut graf – the “why we care about this story” The third paragraph should be another reason why we care – why this story affects people in the real world. In the fourth paragraph, give your specific plan for reporting this story. Use specific names of people you’ll interview and specific places you’ll go.

If you already have travel plans to report the story, say that here too. The final paragraph should be the kicker. Remind the editor what question you’ll be answering and why the answer is important to the magazine’s audience. At the end of their five-paragraph pitch, you may want to include a few sentences of biography and a few prominent publications you’ve contributed to before. Offer to provide references or clips, available upon request. Paste the pitch into the body of the email, rather than attaching it as a separate document.”

AVOID THE #1 NOVICE MISTAKE: NOT KNOWING THE CHARACTERS

Never pitch a story until you know who the characters are going to be and understand the arc of their story: You may not know exactly how the story ends, but you need to know the heart of the story. That’s the only way you can guarantee the piece will be interesting.

NOVICE MISTAKE #2

Don’t start your pitch with a long scene from the story…write in a compelling magazine style…in one paragraph not seven…Wait one to two weeks. And don’t resend the whole pitch each time, just remind the editor…We talked a few weeks ago about my story about…(summarize the story in one sentence.) Just wanted to check and see if you had a chance to look at it yet.”

Read successful pitches here.

Some suggested reading:

The Write Track: How to succeed as a freelance writer in Canada, by Betty Jane Wylie

The Canadian Writers Market, By Joanna Karaplis