Sunday, March 6, 2011

Start-up Journal: Being the Boss Isn't Fun.

ON THE EVE of wrapping up issue one of JUMP, I stumbled across the magazine above. The cover story is, "Why I still love print media."

The magazine was in the trash. Actually, it was a whole stack of them. Fairly ominous.

I worked on the mag until 3 am with Chris Malo. After I drove him home, I stayed up until 6 am finishing the details. When I went to bed, the sun was coming up. A few hours later, I took the mag to the printer.

I think it looks good. And overall, I'm fairly proud of the work represented. A lot of people worked very hard. This is a pretty good start.

Today, I want to focus on the editorial side of things because I learned a great deal through this process.

• I was in my office at school, talking to a pair of students when we formally hatched the magazine idea. Neither of those two students got involved in the final product. During the mag build-up, I tried to find a small team of folks who would help with decision-making. The small team I assembled did not get involved to a great extent. A few of them actually disappeared along the way (one owing me two stories, including one potential cover story).

That makes me realize that people need to feel ownership in the project in order to be fully committed. When we aren't paying people, however, that commitment (and ownership) is difficult to come by.

• I tried to create an environment of inclusion. Our meetings were pure democracies - everyone's opinions were invited. I thought that worked out well. The stories that we have in the mag represent that to some extent - we profiled a few bands and did a few stories that I would not have chosen. The open discussions, I think, gave the mag greater diversity.

Some people did not like the open atmosphere of the group (meetings with 20 to 30 folks) and declined to participate. They wanted more control.

I'm not sure whether it is better to have the big open group or a small crew of really devoted folks. Perhaps when I land on a crew of truly devoted people, I'll be better able to make that decision.

• I personally edited every story in the magazine. Some of the stories were written by non-journalists and many were prepared by journalism students. I edited every story to professional standards and that meant kicking stories back to people for re-writes. With some people, I went back and forth many times, to the point that they were very unhappy with me.

I had to re-write a few stories in the mag. I held a few stories until issue two because I thought they could benefit from additional reporting.

(Some of the stories we held for issue two were actually quite good but we ran out of room in the mag. The final decision to hold them came down to a lack of sufficient art.)

I made everyone aware of the changes I made in their stories. A few folks freaked out. But in the end, I think the overall product is much stronger.

No one has ever told me that I am a good leader - I almost refuse to discipline anyone. Punishment, I feel, does not work - it only makes people resentful. You need to make people care. I tried to make people care. But at some point, I'll have to play that strong leader role.

• Since the magazine was a side job, I wound up editing and doing layout during the evenings and on weekends. I got no sleep. I did almost all of the layout myself as I wasn't able to schedule time to get others involved.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to delegate work to folks (especially since the layout needs to be uniform throughout the mag) and I'm not sure I want to. It's their stories and images but it's my money and reputation at stake. I am the one who lives in this city and will continue to do so (while others take off after college or run to Jersey once they have kids).

The consistent thing that will keep this mag going is me.

For this issue, I estimate that I put in 160 to 180 hours of work, from January 1 to March 4. I earned $350 by running a story related to the magazine in the Philadelphia Daily News. We sold two full-page ads for a total of $1,500.

Printing 10,000 copies of the magazine cost at least $5,400 (the mag is at the printer now, so I'll know the exact cost this week).

That puts me in the hole $3,900 (or $3,550 if you factor in the Daily News money).

I'm hoping that once we have a product to show people, we'll be able to generate ad dollars. Our distribution plan involves me walking into businesses and handing them mags, as well as talking to them about advertising.

Other lessons learned?

Stand firm on deadlines. And when deadlines are missed, move on.

The last three pages of this issue were not filled until less than 12 hours before the mag went to the printer. That is beyond unacceptable. Those folks should be charged with attempted murder as I almost had a heart attack waiting for their copy (it arrived more than two weeks late despite daily promises that it would be done that day).

Relax. It will all come together.

I barely slept for two months and that wasn't healthy. I barely spent time with my girlfriend and poor Mookie has been ignored. I need to allocate my time better, and not worry about this so much. I don't need to be a martyr.

Ignore the politics.

I created a magazine using my own money and a lot of my own time. I got a world of positive feedback from folks. I also got a lot of snide remarks from folks. F*** 'em.

This mag is awesome. People will love it. It will be financially self-sustaining. It is not a model for journalism in general but I think it will be a business and editorial model for community and niche media.

It wasn't easy by any means. But when I look at the finished product, I am humbled. I can't believe we made this.

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