Lessons in journalism entrepreneurship from the ONA

It is no surprise that a session on entrepreneurship at the Online News Association conference is packed.

Ann Grimes from the Graduate Program in Journalism, Stanford University starts by talking about a new capstone course that combines journalism, business and technology students.

Her twentysomething students are interested in doing their own start-ups. Her advice to budding entrepreneurs is to fail and fail fast, learn from failure, get feedback and revise your idea. But also don’t fall in love with your idea.

She has found that journalists are risk-averse and somehow the “good enough” approach of technologists is alien to the culture of journalism.

And someone is is behind one of the new journalist start-ups is Scott Lewis, CEO, Voice of San Diego.

A year ago, it was seen as an odd experiment. But now the idea of a non-profit news site has become more accepted and it has inspired more attempts at similar start-ups.

He describes the site as a public service, and wants donors and sponsors to think of Voice of San Diego as a service for the community.

Lewis says he is not pursuing page views, rather he is pursuing engagement with the city of San Diego

He explains how he started working there as a writer in 2005 before taking it over and realising just how hard to keep a business going.

He admits that he goes to bed worrying about the future of 13 people and wakes up with the same thought.

What he doesn’t want to do is lay anyone off, as this would be “a failure on my side.” His advice is to have a vision of where you want to go and don’t get hung up on the technology.

In his remarks, Om Malik, founder of GigaOm, modestly explains how his company came to be.

He says that he saw inefficient corporate structures plaguing more media companies and decided this was not how he saw his future. He didn’t want a faceless person in New York deciding his future.

Since launch from of his personal GigaOm blog, the company now has network of seven blogs with 21 people working, organises several conferences and has a business research side. The business aim is to reduce reliance on advertising.

His advice: “It looks much easier from the outside then from the inside.”

“But when the rewards come in, it is a fantastic feeling,” he says, “but 99% of your days are going to be bad.”

The competitive advantage of big media companies are traffic and their salesforce, says Om. But he sees no difference in the journalism, arguing that his writers may actually be closer to the story.

Om’s advice is not to think like a journalist, but to think like a businessperson, with business professionals in key positions in the company.

The bottom line, he says, is just do it. Stop thinking about doing, and start doing.

He explains that information is being atomised and this means that journalists have to figure out how to grab the attention of their consumers by working out how to best serve the audience.