3 lessons learned from CUNY’s Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism program

On Sunday I was welcomed back to Auckland by angry grey skies, a howling wind, and “winter” temperatures that would have seemed positively tropical just three months ago. It’s great to be home. No more living out of a suitcase, cooking in a kitchen the size of a closet, or enduring the twice-daily ritual of forcing myself into uncomfortable proximity with total strangers on the subway. My neighbourhood here is impossibly tranquil, save for my dog’s occasional protestations at innocent passers-by. I miss New York terribly though. Its intensity and hustle are hugely motivating. It wills you to keep moving, keep achieving, keep discovering. I’m afraid of losing that momentum, but the change of pace offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I learned there. If you have an idea, build it. Two months ago (although it seems like yesterday) I wrote about the process of launching Kitchen Chapters. It had felt like a never-ending battle to get all the different elements in line before putting it out to the world, but forcing myself to do so before it was perfect turned out to be the best thing for it. Once the site was live, the deadlines for story production fell into place and I began to streamline my workflow. I even managed to find time to send out a weekly newsletter, which was well received and did wonders for directing people to the site. Having a living product gave me so much more confidence in my idea. I was showing the site to as many people as I could, getting valuable feedback and a self-populating stream of...

Launching a minimum viable product

“Better 60% done than 100% ready.” My classmate Sneha can frequently be heard uttering this (or the rather more piratical alternative, “F**k it, ship it”) on a Monday evening over coffee and what may just be New York’s best cookies. A small group of my Tow-Knight classmates and I have a regular catch-up at this time where we brainstorm, problem-solve, and keep each other on-track to meet our project goals. There’s also a fair amount of irrelevant discussion about politics and puppies but hey, what would life be without those. This gentle peer pressure was instrumental in helping me launch Kitchen Chapters last week. At this point it’s not much more than a very shiny-looking blog, but the main thing is that because it’s live, I can stop talking in hypotheticals and start getting meaningful feedback, building an audience, and working on the business strategy in earnest. The process went something like this, although it is important to note that most of these steps were happening simultaneously: Begin producing content. Organising, researching and conducting interviews, then writing and editing. Set up a basic site. I chose a free WordPress theme that loosely fit my desired aesthetic without needing extensive customization, which is an unnecessary cost at this stage. Start building an audience. I began to increase activity on my Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts: posting interesting links, participating in live chats. I discovered how time-consuming it is to manage multiple accounts, each of which has a different purpose. Adding to the challenge is the fact that my audience is split between New York and New Zealand, giving me an...

How news organizations are playing the social media game

There’s been more hand-wringing than usual in the media industry this week, after confirmation that Facebook is close to forming deals with mega-publishers such as Buzzfeed and The New York Times to host their content within the social media platform. It was wishful thinking to hope that Mat Yurow, Associate Director of Audience Development at the NY Times, would shed some light on his company’s top-secret talks when he appeared on the panel at last night’s Daily News Innovation Lab. Little is known publicly about the mechanics of these deals: how advertising revenue and data will be shared, whether smaller publishers will be strong-armed into the same models or simply left out in the cold, what impact it will have on publishers’ brand identity, and what the whole experience will be like for the user. All we really know is that rather than directing users to the publishers’ own websites, as is the current practice, the news will be brought to them in Facebook. It will necessitate a fundamental shift in strategy for most publishers, although for many that shift began last year when Facebook prioritized the display of videos hosted directly on its platform. It’s the latest step in Facebook’s seeming attempt to become the Walmart of the internet: a place where you can catch up with friends, record personal milestones, shop, do your banking, and stay across the day’s news. At the Innovation Lab, Yurow, along with Mashable Founder and CEO Pete Cashmore, Yahoo! Head of Audience Development Alex Leo, and The Intercept’s Digital Engagement Editor Rubina Madan Fillion, shared a number of useful insights into how...

Conducting a user survey: trials and tribulations

Does time move faster in New York City? It certainly feels that way. February vanished in a blur of classes, guest speakers and site visits, and in just two weeks we’ll be halfway through the Tow-Knight program at CUNY. I only wish the weather would catch up… For me, February was about seeking out my potential users and finding out more about their behaviours: what media they consume, where they go to look for it, why they like some things and not others. In short, developing empathy that would help me identify opportunities in the market and problems I could solve. Jeff Jarvis is a great proponent of treating anyone and everyone as a user ripe for surveying. In this city of more than 8 million people, I wasn’t short of potential interview candidates. The problem, of course, is that New Yorkers are perpetually in a hurry. When they do find rare moments of peace, they certainly don’t feel like talking to a stranger with a funny accent who wants to ask probing questions about their reading habits. I abandoned that strategy after dismal failures on the A train and then at Penn Station. Ok, so perhaps places of transit weren’t the wisest choice. But Mother Nature made sure there was nary a soul in any public place of leisure. Success came with the friendly Kiwis I met at an event, and when I distributed an online survey through my personal networks. I have a clearer idea of how I can create something meaningful, and am now in the process of creating what is referred to in the startup...

Listen-up! Inside the Tow-Knight program

Following on from my newfound fascination with podcasts (the number I have on rotation has doubled since my last post), I’m excited to present one of our very own! Produced by my classmate Kristen Clark, it will allow you to follow the 2015 cohort’s semester at the Tow-Knight Center. Spot the Kiwi accent in the first episode: And in the second episode, our professor Jeff Jarvis explains why he thinks Gutenberg (yes, he of 15th Century printing press fame) is to blame for the mess that mass media is currently in. You can subscribe to the podcast here. We’d love to hear your feedback – get in...

Why getting started is the hardest bit

Trying to launch a startup is a bit like waiting to cross Broadway during rush hour. I’m standing at the edge of the sidewalk, looking left and right, assessing my options. Do I take a calculated risk and step out before the white man appears, or do I wait for him to tell me it’s safe, but risk missing my train? When it comes to commuting, at least if I play it safe there will probably (hopefully) be another train not too far away. Entrepreneurship is a bit different. The longer I hang around waiting to be absolutely certain I’m not going to get hurt, the more opportunities whizz by. Of course – if you’ll entertain an extension of this rather flimsy metaphor – it’s not exactly wise to barrel head-first into oncoming traffic without a second thought. But I feel like I’ve spent enough time waiting. The past week at the Tow-Knight Center has been a blur of new business development tools: business model canvasses to draw up, audience personae and buyer journeys to be imagined (with the help of the consultants at RevSquare), and the intricacies of user experience-centred design to understand: “If a tree falls in the woods and no-one is there, it did not make a sound.” @younglucas on user experience #ej15 — Kim Choe (@kimchoe) February 6, 2015 It all makes perfect sense in theory, but actually filling in the blanks with specifics pertaining to my own project is hard when I still haven’t synthesised a hypothesis for it. Self-doubt is a cruel mistress, most commonly heard uttering things like: That idea’s been done...