Jeff Jarvis on the Birth of a Magazine and How to Build a Business

By Erica Soto 

“The Entertainer, The Ultimate Entertainment Guide, Home Entertainment Choices…”

In class this week we took a stroll down memory lane with professor Jeff Jarvis as he walked us through his time at Time Inc., from his work at People to building a brand new magazine, which would eventually become Entertainment Weekly.

Entertainment Weekly was born out of a need that existed in the mid ‘80s. For the first time, audiences had an abundance of choices when it came to entertainment, and they began fragmenting. Editors were once the gateway to the public for celebrities, but that changed. PR suddenly had the power because they had access to the celebrities. This became a problem for some publishers.

However, there was a solution. Or rather, an opportunity that Jarvis discovered. The opportunity was to concentrate on the product rather than the celebrity; concentrate on the program rather than the people. A new editorial product like Entertainment Weekly would consist of reviews, some features, some news and gossip, information about new equipment, and lists.

(Jeff Jarvis alongside the very first issue of Entertainment Weekly)

Although the initial pitch for the magazine was rejected, four years later, the beginnings of Entertainment Weekly began to take shape. In class we discussed what it took to get the magazine off the ground. We discussed everything from market analysis, competition, various plans (product, revenue, marketing, ops, launch) and finally capital needs. In essence, a business plan.

We also discussed circulation, advertising and revenue.

Here’s a look at the top 12 U.S. Consumer Magazine Publishers: Circulation & Advertising Revenue.

We learned that in the end it took $200 million before Entertainment Weekly broke even.

Despite subscriber acquisition costs (the amount of marketing you need to spend in order to get a subscriber) and general business expenses,  the mass media model based on advertsing worked for magazines. However, things operate differently today.

According to Steven Gray, former managing publisher of The Christian Science Monitor, “For audience, the news model is breaking down. In the mass media era, when it cost a fortune to send information to the masses, news mattered to everybody and, therefore, was important enough to send through the tiny, costly pipe of print and broadcast. By definition, news was one-size-fits-all… But now that the information pipe has gone infinite, anybody can send anything through it. And, given these infinite information choices, a human will choose the information that matters most to her — what she likes best, is most interested in, is most directly relevant to her current needs and wants.”

In his book Geeks Bearing GiftsJarvis says, “I created the magazine Entertainment Weekly but if I had the same idea today — helping people decide how to spend their scarce time and money on entertainment — I wouldn’t start a magazine and hire critics and make content to fill pages in print or even on the web. I’d build a platform for shared opinions among like-minded souls — thriller fans over here, romantics over there — perhaps adding a critic or two as convener and curator of the best discussions.”

Jarvis also talks about the value of readers and offering rewards in the future. He suggests a “pay down” system, in which readers can pay a deposit to access content the first month, then each month after that they can earn back the fee by doing things such as coming back often to see ads, sharing demographic information, and buying products from the publisher, to name a few.

The way we consume content has changed drastically and continues to change. We were asked what a great news world would look like to us now. Some of our responses were: having less click bait (content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page) and having more control over the news we receive (being more relevant to our individual needs).

There are many ideas we can come up to improve our future news experience, but I want to go back to one of the discussions we started in class.

How can each of us either turn our community project into a business and/or profit from it? Think about your elevator pitch. What’s the problem you’re solving, and what is the value? Offer ideas to other classmates if you have suggestions.

I’m officially concluding this post by saying Entertainment Weekly was the first magazine I ever subscribed to. I was in high school and purchased the magazine from a door-to-door salesman. Here is the first issue I remember receiving.

I actually still subscribe to the magazine today. I even have proof. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this particular class discussion.

25 thoughts on “Jeff Jarvis on the Birth of a Magazine and How to Build a Business”

  1. I enjoyed Jeff’s explanation of how he pitched and launched Entertainment Weekly, because it shed light not only on the approach needed to launch a new product, but also the types of reactions you get from those you’re pitching to. I also appreciated the importance of working with someone who understands finance in order to provide projections. That’s something I, too, would need a lot of help with.

    In terms of my community project, my pitch was really just explaining my community and how it fits into the social journalism program. I’m still working on developing an idea about a final product, and I actually don’t want to discuss the initial idea outside of class yet. But I do have a basic outline for where I’m heading.

    There are a number of problems I could potentially address: the risk of deportation for dividing families; the cost and access to legal representation to prevent deportation; access to media and advocates in fighting deportations; health insurance and health care access; and access to higher education.

    All of these problems could potentially be addressed through connecting people, either to information they need or to other people who can help them. There are plenty of resources for the undocumented, but they tend to be scattered, rather than being centralized.

    In terms of making a profit, I potentially foresee a project that would function under some sort of membership or subscription model in which stakeholders could pay a fee to join and get access to site or product.

    It’s extremely important to me, however, the undocumented access the site/product for free. This community is already burdened by a host of financial costs and I believe one of the fundamental parts of serving this community is *not* to charge the immigrants themselves.

    I also see my project fitting well into Joy Mayer’s engagement types: outreach, conversation, and collaboration. I’d like my final product to bring together numerous stakeholders to allow them to communicate, share ideas, and come up with new solutions, making my product a central hub for them.

    I also see advertisers as a potential source of revenue. They could be the stakeholders themselves, and I could charge them to be “featured” or to have stand-alone ads on the site/product.

    Finally, even though Jeff doesn’t like them, I think my project could potentially get grants, especially if they’re one of several revenue sources. Given the vulnerable community and the social justice angle, I think it’s potentially this project could initially be launched with the help of a grant.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Good, and I liked how you lined up your project with Joy’s categories.

      I think you do have the type of project that could potentially get grants. But even nonprofits that get grants have to think a lot about sustainability – I used to teach in my entrepreneurial class the adage that nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model. So I think it’s good that you’ve thought through a diversified potential strategy here.

  2. It isn’t often that you find yourself holding the e-mail proposal of a now renowned magazine from 1986. Even less so that the next e-mail you find in your hands is a rejection letter of that same magazine from 1988. We all had the chance to hold both of these exchanges in class last week and it was pretty amazing. Realizing that the Entertainment Weekly pitch was at first denied is an encouraging story of success. Jeff Jarvis showed us that believing in an idea is just the first step to having that idea be put into motion.

    Since the beginning of the program (can you believe it isn’t “the beginning” anymore?) I have been worried about choosing a community and sticking with it. The main reason being: the fear of failing them. I had to be willing to inject myself into a community, gain their trust and also reciprocate when it came to helping them solve problems whenever possible. Once I began to realize that I wasn’t going to be solving all of the issues within my community in just a few weeks it became easier to look past the fear of failure and keep my expectations in check. The more I became involved in my community; the impact I could make became more and more clear. First, I just had to listen.

    In Reciprocal Journalism by Seth C. Lewis, Avery E. Holton and Mark Coddington they mention that within the digital environment they’ve discovered, “positive reciprocity—returning one favorable action for another—encourages more active discourse and participation, helping the community flourish.” They further explain that community journalism is a step ahead of creating long-lasting relationships with their communities via “two-way and multi-way forms of value exchange.”

    This again, goes back to the point that journalism can no longer be about finding sources, getting quotes and then disappearing into another story. These tactics of building trust mean that a journalist would stay involved in the community. We’re lucky we get to spend this time building our networks the right way with the people we care about.

    Watching classmates work within their own communities I can definitely see growth within the projects into something beyond just reporting stories for class. Not to say I have in-depth knowledge of what everyone is working on, I can tell that Julia is in the midst of finding out how to get through to her community as she has an idea of what’s missing. I believe her ideas will help news reporters as well as inspire them by using tools of measurement. Aaron is working with a community, in which the knowledge he’s sharing help spark discussion and awareness about the environment they’re living in.

    Right now it’s hard to see an idea for my community project becoming a business or a profit. While working with queer women and expanding their voice is important, I know I’m not the only one in the U.S./world working on this idea. I’d hope that in a few months some of my community may turn to me to strike a conversation about an issue the mainstream media isn’t covering or look to me for stories they didn’t even realize were occurring around them. Hopefully during this program I’ll discover where exactly the niche is that my community resides in and when I find out what’s missing within the community – I’ll be able to fill in that void with a business plan.

    1. Love your use of the piece by Lewis et. al. here.

      We’ll talk more in the ethics course about that issue of continuity and “parachuting in” vs developing longer lasting relationships in communities. This is always an issue in journalism programs since obviously you won’t be here forever – but we do hope some of you will be able to find ways to continue serving the communities going forward.

      There is definitely competition in this space – although probably more here in New York than in many places. Here is an example of a pub in Arkansas that’s using crowdfunding techniques. http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2015/04/06/out-in-arkansas-crowdfunding-a-new-lgbtq-publication

  3. With the vast changes in media over the past decade, the approach to entering the field of journalism has also changed. We are not simply journalists; we are inventors, entrepreneurs, and people who want to make additional change. With Professor Jarvis’s inspirational story of founding Entertainment Weekly, the class received an enlightened insight to what change looks like in its process, especially at a large corporate media company such as TIME.

    The task of developing new tools for our communities can seem overwhelming, and I’m fine-tuning my approach constantly to make the end-goal of developing a new tool more conceivable. It helped to see that a seasoned expert such as Professor Jarvis faced mounting pressure and pushback with his wanting to launch EW.

    In today’s media eco system it’s much easier than a decade ago to start a new platform or page via social media, but the competition is fierce and we must make sure our communities need/want what we provide. This is where we have to really think outside of the box. Attending a talk with Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, at the journalism school last week, I found it interesting that Holmes is attempting to move beyond writing as a medium; writing, you could argue, has brought Holmes success. Why would she want to change what has worked so well in the past?

    Holmes talked about a project in the works that focuses on national police brutality and the protestors behind the movements that she is documenting without written content. Ta-Nehisi Coates, also in the discussion at the journalism school with Holmes, expressed his view of how difficult writing can be as a process. Here two established writers were thinking aloud about how to move past written story telling: I think we as a cohort face similar challenges. To revaluate how we engage communities and what we build that is ‘outside of the box.’ Some of this process harkens back to design thinking.

    Looking forward I want to build a platform. For the social tools class this platform has been a news aggregation page for environmental-related news to show local, national and global trends. Still, I need something more unique for my community. As I continue brainstorming, I’m building inspiration from those who are also working on new platforms in North Brooklyn such as air reporting, citizen scientist projects, water testing and even a boat club in Brooklyn. We are outside the confines of a traditional structure and the freedom to invent is daunting as it is inspiring.

    1. You hit on one reason why many traditional media organizations find it hard to adapt to digital – it is very hard to change something that has worked well in the past. But the best journalists have realized that they have to. Writing is still important, and some are finding that longform works online – but most successful journalists today are combining approaches and learning new things about how to tell stories in different ways.

  4. I’ll attack this from the question you asked because it’s one I’ve often been asking myself. When I came into this program, I sort of always knew all along I was in a unique situation. I’m the only one here who’s in this or the academic profession going forward. Am I against the business angle? Absolutely not. Grades don’t keep the lights on and the heat going. But I approach engagement with my community in a slightly different way than looking at a way to drive profit.

    Looking back at Dr. Berbary’s study, I’ve probably been able to glean the most out of that class than any other I’ve had thus far in any course. In order to get to really know your community, you’ve got to study them. You need to learn about their behaviors, tendencies, and interests if you’ve got any hope of portraying them as they actually are. I was just discussing with Sihem the other day over some schoolwork that my angle on covering Irish people wasn’t so much to drive traffic, but to attempt to show the true nature of the people beyond stereotypes that are rampant in our society. In this sense, I feel am serving them.

    Granted, even publications I love and read all the time related to my project, such as “Irish Central” have to use advertising to drive revenue and get those papers printed. But I also feel that looking at the types of advertisers in your community publications can be a really great way to get a feel for how your community lives and works on a daily basis.

    1. Sean – this is true, although I will say – business success can also be a measure of how well you are serving a community. I wouldn’t necessarily set them up as being opposed to each other. People pay for things that they value.

  5. Great job, Erica!

    Last week was a great lesson in enlightenment. Jeff Jarvis, with some incredible artifacts showed us the evolution (or devolution?) of E.W. It was a great lesson in trying to understand what people need….what we think they need and how we can serve them better.

    So onto Erica’s questions:

    How can each of us either turn our community project into a business and/or profit from it?
    — One of the things that is appealing about my community (I guess) to many people is that the theme is ultimately sports. This is a GIGANTIC industry where companies, TV networks, brands, pro athletes, teams and many more can profit from the world of sports. In this time of social media, fans are now making a big investment and therefore making a profit from it. fan blogs, fantasy sports, websites, online reporting….all these platforms are a place where everyone connects. To me: I am in the process of building a pitch to tv networks and other websites for an idea for a TV/online show. This is where I want to end up. I want to make a platform where we can see how communities use sport as a way to better themselves and society. I did a short documentary on how the best high school soccer team in the city manages to keep winning, despite so many obstacles. Then I wrote an article how pro teams can inspire young people to better themselves through sport. Grantland has a short documentary series called The Son Of Congo where Serge Ibaka, an NBA player, returns to back to his homeland and see how he can help them. Derek Jeter has a website called The player’s tribune where pro athletes have a platform where they can have their own say, far from cynics and supposed intellectual knowledge.
    My community would then follow this but I would focus locally. I would go all over the city and find these places where communities use sport as a tool. We can, through our platform, help similar communities stay in touch and help each other. South Bronx United is a soccer academy that helps young people all around the area to better themselves – not just with soccer. They help with school, tutoring etc.

    I am currently working on helping a school in Peru that needs balls, gear,equipment in order to play sports. Maybe with my community here in New York City we can all join forces and help.

    There is also a soccer non-profit organization in the bahamas that goes around the island and coaches young kids who dont have the money to learn from other places. I am hoping to do a project with them.

    Sports is big business. We can use this big business idea in order to help how we are all connected: From LeBron James to the kid playing ball in Nigeria. If we start a connection, we can learn more about we can help each other.

    1. Excellent, Luis. I love that you are working on the Peru project, that is cool! Have you written anything about it yet? If so please do share. I’m interested in hearing more about your pitch sometime too.

      Sports is big business, which in some ways makes it a low-hanging fruit for media companies. But as we have talked about before, it is big business in part because it taps into some of our most primal needs to gather together and feel connected with each other.

  6. That class really fulfilled my expectations in terms of economic and business stakes in the media industry. I want to apologize for monopolizing the questions!

    In a joyful history lesson, Professor Jarvis meticulously diagnosed the main symptoms of a declining business model. Nevertheless, some crucial materials helped me to realize what community-centered initiatives still need to become economically efficient and reliable: knowing the audience, creating a deep relationship and satisfying the audience needs.

    Professor Jarvis gently mocked the traditional split between editorial and marketing “establishment”, arguing that journalists who argue for keeping their distance from advertising are seen as “communist villains,” whereas those who understand the interactions in reasonable economic purpose are considered part of the “capitalists” guild. I guess I would agree with this emblematic opposition as I witnessed it several times during my experience, the social casts don’t want to communicate with each on another. However, looking back to the horde of financial journalists who in 2009 embrace consulting careers, it’s pretty sad to think that so many newsrooms are now lacking in editorial legacy because they keep the two pillars of the business pillars — editorial and advertising — apart. And thus drive underpaid/unemployed journalists into consulting

    Building expertise and keeping an open mind

    What struck me the most when Professor Jarvis shared his experience was how early he understood the necessity to develop expertise in an area, whether it’s a product or a community, and to shout it out. Jeff Jarvis was only 25 when he sent his business plan offer to the publishers at Time Inc. We are living in a digital age that offers amazing opportunity. But as in any business, I truly believe that the “first comes first served” rule continues to apply, even in social journalism.

    However, the ivory tower syndrome, as Professor Jarvis said, that legacy publishers suffer from offers a great lesson. Professor Jarvis taught us that the biggest mistake media outlets made was that they ferociously kept their ascending position as price makers on the advertising market and considered it like a vested right.
    According to the article “Only 6 corporations own 90% of the media in America” published in 2012, the media ownership was shared between 50 companies. The number was almost divided by 10 in 30 years.
    The Internet created a breakthrough in the monopolistic competition of the media industry, enabling advertisers to truly know the cost-effectiveness of advertising campaigns.

    As long as the mass media hold on to their myth of CPM (cout pour mille) to justify the price of advertising and therefore its business model, traditional media outlets will collapse, whereas Google is more and more taking advantage “of the content abundance provided on the Web, putting itself in a position so that it gets the lead with advertisers,” Professor Jarvis said.

    1. Sihem,

      This is one of my favorite responses of yours ever. You’ve got great detail here and good quotes from the lecture and I feel like I was actually there based on all the good detail shared here.

      Elements of Journalism has some good thoughts about “The Wall” as well – we can maintain our values and our integrity but still share information that both “sides” of the wall need to do their job well and serve readers.

  7. My end goal is not to do journalism for my community and find a way to make it profitable. I want to make a larger community profitable (and have them pay me).

    The community I’m focused on for this program (social media and engagement editors) is sub-section of the community I want to serve when I graduate. I want to serve newsrooms, and I think by listening to and focusing on just people who do one type of job in the newsroom, I’ll learn about the challenges they face in serving their newsrooms, and their audiences.

    If I find ways to help them overcome their challenges, those techniques will also be helpful to me as I try to serve newsrooms.

    But back to the money question.

    I see two ways I can make money after graduating by serving newsrooms. (Specifically, I want to help newsrooms a) better connect with their audience/communities and b) use analytics to do so, along with other tools.)

    The first option is some news company hires me to do this work in its newsroom or chain of newsrooms.

    The second option is I can build a consulting business, where I would work with individual newsrooms on their engagement goals in a short-term capacity (a few weeks, months), and they would pay me for that time spent.

    Do newsrooms have the budget for that? Probably not, so I would either need to attract customers that are doing well financially, or be able to make a very convincing case that by increasing engagement, it’ll increase their bottom line.

    Can increasing engagement increase profits? My guess is yes, but I think I’ll be able to help improve profits more by teaching the newsroom the value (both dollar value and journalistic value) of having data on its readers, a lesson Jeff Jarvis points out in “Geeks Bearing Gifts” that advertisers have already learned but newsrooms are slow to adopt:

    “If we are to improve the value of what we sell to advertisers based on more knowledgeable relationships with their customers, those relationships will be based on data. Advertisers and agencies do love data. But the data we in media have is still mostly a vestige of our mass-media business model: how many people look at our stuff how often.”

    Jarvis goes on to praise the Chartbeat model of tracking time — what the company calls “the attention economy” — and scrolling behavior of readers on news sites.

    I’ve heard Chartbeat is helping many newsrooms learn the value in this kind of data about reader behavior, but I think there’s still unexplored territory in connecting the more traditional listening-to-and-studying-a-community techniques we’re using this semester along with the digital data treasure trove.

    (P.S. – Thanks, Emily, for the shout-out in your comment! I think you have more confidence in me than I have in myself.)

    1. Julia, excellent. I think that while newsrooms are not exactly rolling in money right now, the increasing awareness of just how important engagement is to the bottom line and to building loyalty with readers means that it is one of the few areas we can expect to see growth. Looking forward to what you guys learn next semester in the metrics class and I think that together you will be able to shed some light on some better ways of measurement.

  8. Great class discussion last week and comments on Entertainment Weekly. Therefore, I’m going to tailor my comment to “pitching” social journalism.

    In my pitch, I thought it would be a good idea to focus the first paragraph on what is social journalism. Many folks out there still don’t know. We are considered pioneers after all. I’ve taken the time to get to know other J-Schoolers and faculty. Many of them believe social journalism is simply social media. So instead of focusing on what I wrote in my pitch about my community, I’m going to recap how I defined social journalism (thus far) to Jeff Jarvis and Dr. Carrie Brown.

    “In the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism M.A. in Social Journalism program, we are focusing on listening and building relationships with individuals and communities to provide better service as journalists and news organizations. We are focusing on building trust, creating tools to solve communities’ problems and needs, and helping with interconnectivity among entities within a community.”

    I think while we define our communities we must understand and help others understand why social journalism is important, why it’s pioneering and what it is.

    1. Yes. I think many people are interested in and/or doing something similar to what us, but the terms used often vary a lot.

      Any more specific reactions to what you actually read and heard, though?

  9. This particular class might have been my favorite of the semester so far, mostly for my love of media history but also due to my love for magazines. Newspapers might as well have been called snoozepapers (just made that up) and books were for nerds. Magazines had just the right amount of gloss, content, and photography to keep the 15 year old aspiring music journalist in me entertained. When I told Jeff I’d always assumed I’d work for someone, quietly i wept to myself “at Rolling Stone.”
    I felt that way mostly because, as I assume many of you non-data inclined journalists, I got into this business mostly because numbers make my head hurt. The words “business model” should be an attractive person showcasing a product and that’s it. I found it a bit reassuring when I found out there was a person who handled the business side, and then grew even more petrified upon learning that the editorial side was under fire.
    And not only the editorial side, but Jeff himself.
    But of course, after $200 million to break even, and around 25 years of success, we’re back to square one with our ever-changing media landscape.
    My community is the classic tale of “the rich being assholes” but the twist is that “they might actually have a point.” Sure, I could sell them my investigative skills, but at what point does being a journalist for hire begin to threaten the integrity of the journalistic code? I don’t think its enough to be transparent; you also have to appear to be transparent. Perception still counts. You could present a 100% factual report, but if one person raises questions about who’s pockets your hands are in, you’ve lost already. That’s the dilemma I’m facing. Who’s going to believe I’m not a mercenary, hellbent on stopping the construction of these towers because they’ll block my boss’s view?
    And sure, we all have plenty of ideas on how to improve news; we’re all surrounded and inundated with absolute garbage. But I doubt any of us could come up with a way to sell quality news. I don’t know of ANYONE has to this point. And if the guy who started EW tells you “I’ve hit a wall” and is asking me questions, to that sir, I say “oh shit.”
    Then again, if you’re in the journalism business to get paid handsomely for your hard work, that was your first mistake.

    1. James,

      It may not be our first choice, but I think ALL journalists today need to know something about business models. I think we can sell quality news, BUT the only way to to do that is through experimentation and knowledge – it isn’t just going to magically happen, as much as we might like it to.

  10. Every time I see something really interesting or new in journalism, my second, immediate reaction (after “that is nice!”) is to ask “But what is the business model to back it up?” I’ve developed that somewhat pessimistic view after some years ahead of strategies in a fairly successful online media startup in Brazil. From 2008 to 2013 we’ve tried everything, with varying degrees of success: from native ads (in 2008!), brand channels, “page takeovers”, Google AdSense, events, business intelligence reports, affiliate links, etc. Even with a solid number of readers, some 1 million of them loyal, it was always hard to turn a profit. Not impossible, of course, but as everyone that works in the industry knows, it is hard. After I left the company I’ve started to study business models, and wrote a lengthy piece in 2013 (Portuguese-only, for now) about them. Fun-fact: I spent a paragraph praising the Amanda Palmer model them. So it is hard to come up with a short answer when the question is on this subject.

    I’m bringing this up because I don’t think that there is any shortage of good ideas in making “content” (which is a very problematic term anyways). In fact, you could say that there was never a better time to be a journalist — or a reader — than today, if you think about the plethora of options and innovations. Putting out “Snow Falls”, minidocs or publishing stories straight on Reddit (as NYT, Vice or Reported.ly are doing) are all interesting and valid ideas, but I think much of the discussions that we had in the past about those “innovations” completely disregarded the costs to make them sustainable. And I think we can no longer discuss the futures of journalism without touching on who is going to pay. And by “touching” I mean making it central to the conversation.

    And I also think that we — specially we, social journalists — have to move away from the advertising/impressions/number of readers model, or at least not think about it even a secondary income source if we want to make any kind of change in society and culture, beyond “selling more stuff”. Up until now, the business of publishers has been to make an attractive enough package of “content” to lure hundreds of thousands of readers/viewers and than sell them to advertisers. A lot of excellent “content” was and still is built using this model of course, but unless you are trying to convince others to make the “content” (as in, social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, etc) or/and there is high volume, it shouldn’t be used as a primary business model.

    In “Geeks Bearing Gifts”, Jeff Jarvis says:

    “My one great fear about advertising and media is that they, too, will become irrevocably unbundled, that marketers will no longer have need of media.”

    In other words, it seems that one of our greatest hopes as media people is that advertisers will fail to realize that paying premiums to media outlets to reach audiences are bad business decisions. We probably have some time left using this model because, as Jarvis puts, “advertisers and their agencies are conservative hobgoblins of habit”. But we should move fast finding different approaches. We are here in this amazing graduate program to find some possible answers, and the pressure is enormous, as James said above me.

    I completely agree with Jarvis when he says that “as specialists, beats are efficient.” We need less people and structure, so the costs are smaller. But one could argue that SocialJs are in essence beat reporters who are more concerned in the wellbeing of the community or topic surrounding that beat than the “news-values” of the news itself. We are probably not going to command great numbers, which is fine. ProPublica doesn’t chase clicks, but change.

    And I would argue that many of our ideas of “communities”, or topics, are hard to “sell”. As in: they have “value propositions” that won’t, necessarily (and maybe for the better), involve money transactions. Most of our projects are not supposed to bring a lot of readers and, consequentially, advertisers. Brands, of course, can still play a role, but more as “sponsors”. It is hard to convince venture capitalists as well, because “media” companies (the ones that pay for people to do “content”) are usually slow in its growth. I know some of that by experience, pitching in startup contests.

    But there is hope. A good example of a “social journalism” media outlet is The Marshall Project. Its elevator pitch reads:

    “With the growing awareness of the system’s failings, now is an opportune moment to amplify the national conversation about criminal justice.”

    “We believe that storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change. Our mission is to raise public awareness around issues of criminal justice and the possibility for reform.”

    “But while we are nonpartisan, we are not neutral. Our hope is that by bringing transparency to the systemic problems that plague our courts and prisons, we can help stimulate a national conversation about how best to reform our system of crime and punishment.”

    I think it is very clear, and much in line of what we discussed in class so far (even the whole “bias” thing). But what is interesting for me is that the pitch is not coupled with a business model, save for the big “donate” button everywhere on the site.

    What I’m trying to say is that we need new “models”, but maybe thinking too hard on the “business” part can be limiting, if we think of ourselves as agents of social change. Because I think that we can more aggressively seek foundations, NGOs, individual donors and (why not?) governments as backers of our “business” models. But our “business” education gets on the way, bringing this framework of clicks, efficiency, “engagement”, fans, “data”, etc.

    My new project/community (if everything goes well) is trying to bridge the gap between potencial backers that don’t think primarily in money returns and people interested in doing quality journalism. I’m assuming from the start that quality investigative journalism is a “market failure”, like public transit: society understands that it is a fundamental public good for the democracy, but for it be to really transformative, it has to be “sold” way below cost. No public transit in the world can be “lucrative” without subsidies, or important compromises.

    Since the “great unbundling” of the internet, I’m not aware of any new players that found a way to be lucrative and promote social/cultural change on a broader level. With my project, I’m aiming to find that unicorn, or help to create it.

    1. Hi Pedro,

      Good points, well said. I think the Marshall Project is an interesting example.

      I agree to a point, but I also think that even nonprofits need to have sophisticated sustainability strategies that aren’t necessarily all that different. Foundations and other funders want to know, hopefully not just about clicks, but about engagement and trust and impact.

      Second, I’m not entirely sure that there aren’t ways that we can serve readers in new ways that won’t pay, although I agree it’s an uphill road, and it’s easy to be overly optimistic about it. For example, I’m interested in membership models. Also, advertisers are increasingly aware that chasing clicks and CPMs are a strategy with limited returns – this is why engagement is such a buzzword in marketing and advertising these days. A loyal, engaged audience may, going forward, be worth more as that industry evolves along with ours.

      Bottom line: No easy answers.

  11. Community Engagement took an internal shift last week, when Jeff Jarvis was asked to tell us about how he founded Entertainment Weekly. A bit surprised, but ever energetic he jumped up and said, “Let’ me go get my materials.” Then we were off.

    I had expected Jarvis to come back with a metal suitcase fastened to his wrist with a steel chain, but he arrived with an armful of folders instead.

    He recounted the process chronologically, beginning with a young man who was accustomed to writing 7 articles a week before he went to People magazine and had to learn how to slow down his pace. Fortunately, the additional time allowed him to expand a novel idea into a very detailed plan for a magazine.

    The details were similar to any business model that existed before 2009 came and the business model got reinvented: Elevator Pitch, Problem, Market, Analysis, Competition, Product Plan, Revision Plan, Marketing Plan, Operations plan, cost, Launch Plan, Capital needs. That only takes you so far, and Jarvis was aware of that, choosing a partner who could manipulate the ‘plans’ freeing him to fully define his vision.

    We all attended a lecture last week titled, ‘Social media in the age of algorithms’ and one sage comment came from Alex Leo “People need to be willing to jump in the game, before they even know what the game is.”

    He worked out the details with a couple of partners, and associates. It took years to get the naysayers to understand the value that a magazine like Entertainment Weekly would have to an audience that watched far more television than our current viewers do. He found a niche in reporting about the personalities and shows that was contrary to People, but peripherally attracting a similar audience.

    Normally, Jarvis gives this lecture to the Entrepreneurial students at CUNY-J School. It’s a program that wouldn’t exist without him. Always one to move ahead of the current debates and trends, he understood what Entrepreneurial journalism could offer the word once the internet and it’s million platforms took hold. Those early years hashing out a magazine that is still successful today makes him super astute at training and guiding students into successful careers of their own making.

    For Social Journalism, the discussion of what went into founding Entertainment Weekly brought out distinct channels of interest in our class. More than anything, it probably inspired many of us with the challenge to be persistent and keep sculpting our own niche areas of interest. For others, it was exactly the direction that would be popular in the pop culture design of their communities.

    Each week has brought distinct and precise lessons in the many aspects of representing a community. Jarvis’ creation, EW, and finding the right time to get in and get out of the magazine business was a lesson for the ages.

    For me, I have a goal for my community that I’m sometimes fearful I will reach before this program is complete. I hope to facilitate new programs within the Department of Education in NYC. It will be a small grassroots effort, that hopefully gets done in secret with a roomful of politicians. I’ve begun planning for how the second act of my own community engagement will evolve from the first. Sadly, I wear my causes on my sleeve, and would be super hard pressed to consider advertising of any form. Most likely, I hope to get non-profit tax status and work of grants and donations.

    1. Hi Cristina,

      Yeah, a founding story can always be inspiring and valuable. 🙂 Curious as to what exactly happened in 2009 that you reference…are you talking about EW? Or something else?

      I don’t know if I would be fearful about reaching your goal too soon – there are always more goals to be had 🙂

  12. Many have already spoken about the giddiness felt when perusing through Professor Jarvis’ original proposal for, and first issue of “Entertainment Weekly.” As an avid collector, all I could think about was “How much is this stuff worth on eBay?”

    Erica poses a very important question. Although we are not going into as much depth about financing a startup as the entrepreneurial journalism group, it is still vital to have a basic understanding of how a business works. For our projects to be sustainable, revenue streams must be cultivated in any way possible!

    Building an offshoot of a nonprofit that I have been a part of since 2010, one of the most frustrating aspects about not only my experience, but for most nonprofits, is fundraising! Grants, donations, Kickstarter; I’ve done it all, and it was exhausting. This time around, I hope to develop a sustainable business plan, and have been studying how smaller media platforms revolving around communities are managing to be profitable.

    Professor Jarvis described the harrowing process of designing the original print magazine EW, and of accumulating subscribers. He now balks at the thought of this model functioning in 2015, and stated his incredulousness that an EW print edition still exists today. Jarvis was aiming for a very specific, “yuppie” audience, and so chose k.d. lang to cover the first issue. Unbeknownst to him, the marketing department was framing this as a mainstream entertainment magazine, which created rifts in the promotion of branding right from the start.

    The new media landscape is quite Darwinian; only those who adapt quickly and meaningfully will thrive. Beyond developing cutting edge content, video, and social media, publishers also must emphasize user experience and user engagement, which is where social journalism comes in. Recently, at an event on social media, one of the panelists, Rubina Madan Fillion, who moved to The Intercept from the WSJ, said ”Find a way to differentiate yourself from other media just regurgitating the news already out there.” This is my main goal while working with a specific audience; for them to engage with and become loyal to the media platform created for their needs as a community. A major reason for choosing to work with Muslim women was that I sensed a need for unification around issues that greatly impact them.

    An article by Seth C. Lewis, Avery E. Holton and Mark Coddington on Reciprocal Journalism, suggests that this is “seeing journalists in a new light: as community-builders who can forge connections with and among community members by establishing patterns of reciprocal exchange.” The examples of how Andy Carvin and Nicholas Kristoff engage with their twitter followers demonstrates this new and personalized online relationship of forging online connections with your community. Jarvis’ book “Geeks bearing Gifts,” also delves into reciprocal journalism, which he believes is the future of media survival. Instead of journalists mourning the loss of control over their audience, they should celebrate the advantages to a more egalitarian and requited relationship with their audience.

    1. That’s a particularly awesome comment, Betsy – I really liked the quote you chose from the reading. And I agree – just because you are a nonprofit doesn’t mean the process of assuring sustainability is any easier – you still need a clear strategy and plan.

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