For my old friends in newspapers who worry about the future of journalism, I highly recommend spending 2½ days with a group of passionate, committed entrepreneurs who are creating a future for community and investigative journalism at sites they’ve built from the ground up.
And for my new friends in entrepreneurial journalism who worry about whether independent sites can make the turn to financial sustainability, I highly recommend spending 2½ days with that same group of publishers as they work with mentors to create a 100-day plan to kickstart their businesses.
I was in the fortunate position of seeing both the passion for journalism and the dedication to building financially solid businesses this past weekend, when we brought 32 independent publishers to work together in Los Angeles at CJET. Creating CJET, which stands for Community Journalism Executive Training, was itself an exercise in collaboration.
The Knight Foundation provided funding to organize the event and bring the publishers to Los Angeles. The Investigative News Network served as the convening organization, leveraging its connections in the field. Knight Digital Media Center brought its expertise in executive training and the facilities at USC. And Coats to Coats’ Rusty Coats, working on behalf of The Patterson Foundation, built the bulk of the program, created the business planning tools and recruited seven exceptional business mentors to work intensely with the publishers.
The goal: Explode what these publishers thought about their businesses and their financial models. Get them to explore new ideas about how to find revenue and how to keep it coming in. Confront their fears about the business side of publishing, and help them see the necessity of thinking of themselves not just as journalists but as business people.
At the end of the 2½ days – and these were long days, with 7 a.m. start times – the publishers had worked through a 100-day plan for setting revenue priorities and acting on them.
We packed a lot of living into that short time, and ran the emotional gamut from “I hate this!’’ to “ I can do this!’’ We’re still digesting the feedback from the publishers, but I can say that I’ve never seen a more positive exit survey from any seminar or training program in my life – and I’ve seen a lot of them.
We’re also still looking at the 100-day plans the publishers submitted and thinking about how we can help keep them focused and on track now that they’ve gone back to their very demanding day jobs. But the responses I heard on the last day from publishers – “Thank you for showing me I can do this,’’ “Thank you for making me think about the hard things I’ve been avoiding,’’ “ Thank you for showing me how to measure my progress’’ – have strengthened my resolve to help these publishers figure out their next steps.
Early in the session, one of the publishers asked Rusty whether what we were telling them at CJET was that if they just do all these things, they will achieve financial security. And he said no, he couldn’t say that. What we were saying through CJET is that we believe in this community, and we believe they deserve a fighting chance to figure it out.
I’m hoping CJET just made those odds a little better for them.