There are many different realms. The one- or two-person hyperlocal startup. The tech company that starts with a staff of 5-10 and maybe a couple million investment. The nonprofit news outlet that has maybe 5-15 total staff and covers a region or a topic. And yes, Omidyar and his ilk, who get a lot of attention.
Freelancers are the real entrepreneurial journalists. :)
I think one piece that I don't see as much of is the one-person blog that grows — usually fairly organically, although sometimes with investment — into a small news operation.
Part of the problem is that many of those little startups rely on online advertising dollars, and that's a business that gets worse every year.
Craig, if we're talking journalists, #1 would probably be that if I create good content, the money will follow. That equation works very irregularly these days.
#2 would probably be that editorial models that worked in other media — in newspapers, say — will work just as well online. The kinds of content need to change with the medium.
#3 might be that they should spend a lot of time planning and prepping and thinking before they launch. Lots of wasted energy there. It's a very lean-startup kind of world — launch, see what works, learn from your audience, iterate, iterate, iterate. Better than 2 years of planning. Get your product in front of real humans as soon as you can.
I think you're right, DigitalDave. (And here I plead Americanness — I follow the Canadian scene, but probably not as closely as some of you.) But it doesn't seem like there have been a ton of profitable new media businesses to come out of efforts like that. Hope I'm wrong!
Let me add a #4 biggest mistake: Seeing things from journalists' point of view rather than the audience's.
If you talk to journalists, they (understandably) focus on what's been lost — the foreign bureaus that were closed, the columnists laid off, the empty cubicles. And that's very real.
But from the audience's perspective, "I couldn't find enough information today" is a relatively rare problem. They're less likely to see or feel the holes that journalists see.
That can lead to a real mismatch of business models. It's why many of the most traditionally "worthy" startups in the U.S. are nonprofits — because they're trying to fix a problem with the market, not profit within it. (Broad strokes, there.)
J-schools spent so many years producing cogs to fit into big-media machines that making the adjustment to teaching entrepreneurial behavior can be really, really hard.
There isn't the money to support a ProPublica-sized ProPublica, probably, but a downscaled one should be possible.
In-house "labs" can be problematic, I think, Craig. Can be really hard for projects to "graduate" up to being legit, in a lot of cases. Lots of potential cultural conflicts. They're great, but I guess I'm thinking more of acting more as a VC.
I think there's revenue to be gained in plenty of places: video advertising, maybe most prominently. Native will get a lot of attention this year; I'm not the biggest believer in it as a long-term driver of dollars, but I could absolutely be wrong. (Many smart people are betting otherwise.)
Events are good if you have the kind of content to support it (industry verticals, e.g.), but there will be a point when we're all evented out, I have to think.
Micropayments and microdonations have been disappointing almost every time they've been tried, unless they're tied to something emotional or concrete (like a Kickstarter, say). Easier to survive on fewer macrodonations vs. more microdonations.
On business models, I'd like to ask: where do you see opportunity right now for entrepreneurial journalists? Or, in other words: What's your best journalistic and entrepreneurial idea?
It's a lot like airline pricing. On any given plane, you have someone who waited until the last minute and bought a ticket for $89 — and you have someone who paid $1,500 for business class. Some of your customers will generate lots of money, some won't. You need to have ways to extract different kinds/levels of value all along that chain.
I'll keep my BEST idea to myself, thank you very much. :)
But I think there are plays in: high-end industry verticals, HuffPo/Gawker-style aggregation, mobile apps that build a better news experience, data/news apps...
Too bad... That said, where have you seen opportunities in the market these days?
Honestly, the best opportunities are the ones I don't know anything about, because they fill an identifiable audience need that others haven't seen yet.
If I were a fresh-out-of-j-school grad and I couldn't get a job at an established outlet, hell yeah, I'd start something. Even if it completely fails, you will learn a huge amount. And unlike before the web, startup costs are extraordinarily close to zero.
And even if it flops, you will be 1,000x more attractive to a potential employer.
Totally depends how you define "value." If it's "value" in terms of money, you can pay your rent either way.
And in lots of cases, people writing for brands can do interesting work — stuff that triggers the same happy spot in their brain that trad journalism does.