Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Start-up Journal: Entrepreneurial Journalism Is Exhausting.

There are few things I enjoy more than taking the mound and pitching. I'm a control freak, so it's only fitting that I like to control the tempo of the game. Plus, there is the ultimate responsibility for what happens - hits, walks, runs scored, whatever. It's really not the competition that drives me, either. I don't care if the batter gets a solid hit (getting on base because of errors burns my ass though). It's about things being done properly. I want to see a well-played game.

I am a responsible person, which is why I never wanted children. I would constantly be worried about their safety and satisfaction with the world. People who are parents tell me that that feeling passes. But if you've ever seen me with my dog, you'd know that doting is not strong enough of a word. I am obsessed with Mookie.

Which brings me to JUMP.

The responsibility of running this magazine is killing me. Here is a list of what I do for the magazine:

Hold meetings and assign stories, art and photo. Edit stories and handle images. Take a lot of photos for every issue. Usually write one story per. Design the 48-page magazine. Proof the magazine at the printer's office in Jersey. Borrow my step-father's pick-up truck so I can pick up 5,000 copies of the magazine. Then do that again (as 5,000 copies weighs about 1,000 pounds, the max the truck will hold). Then deliver all 10,000 copies around the tri-state region, a process that takes about three weeks. Post all stories from every issue online. Post daily stories on the JUMP website, facebook page and twitter. Arrange for access for staffers at shows. Sell advertising (which usually requires me visiting people numerous times before getting an ad for $250). Build ads (I've had to design two ads for the upcoming issue). Promote the magazine by attending events and stuff. Arrange launch parties. Make sure staff, advertisers, story subjects and everyone else is happy.

I'm exhausted. I'm behind in my work for my real job. I don't earn a penny from the mag; in fact, I lost around $11,000 the first year we ran the mag (it's currently covering printing costs with ad dollars). I haven't seen some of my friends in two years, since we started the magazine.

Staffers contribute stories, photos and art and sometimes, they are fantastic. But since we don't pay anyone, the quality of work can be sketchy. I've had dozens of people agree to do stories, design, art and/or photos and then I never hear from them again. And some of them are folks I've known for years. They disappear, as though our meetings, discussions and email conversations never occurred. And at the past few meetings, staff attendance has been, well, thin. At the last one, there were two people ... and one was our intern

This magazine, I believe, is pretty awesome. The stuff we cover and the presentation we give it is something needed, and not otherwise found in Philly.

If the magazine will reach year three, a few things will need to change:

1. I'd like to partner with an existing website. That way, we don't have to worry about the everyday stuff and we can focus on our primary task - producing a magazine with long-form, narrative style journalism and large, engaging images. Plus, partnering with an existing website will provide us with a database of ideas for forthcoming issues, and maybe even a labor force. Depending upon who we partner with, it might even help draw an audience and lend credibility.

2. Rather than have a giant staff of 50+ people, we operate with just the 12 to 15 people who are truly involved. We can have a few others submit work but there needs to be a reliable crew. The challenge here is getting the right 12 or 15 people to buy into the idea, and then keep them around a while.

3. We need to begin paying contributors. A contract for work will force stories, art and images to be submitted on deadline. We need a layer of professionalism.

4. We'll need to raise an additional $2000 in advertising per issue in order to pay folks. I think that's doable. It's only four more pages of ads.

5. I never want to throw another launch party ever again.

If those things occur, we'll be golden. I don't mind the heavy load I carry. I enjoy this stuff. And someday, someone will come along whom I trust enough to let them share the load.

The reality is that I think the magazine could actually grow, become a bi-monthly and financially support a staff of two, plus freelancers. That's the dream (if I ever lose my teaching gig). And this model could be replicated with other niches - food, sports, whatever.

Of course, the other reality is that I may just burn out completely. As much as I like responsibility, I hate being in charge. I hate asking people to do stuff, especially for free. And I hate disappointing anyone.

We could shut down the mag. That would allow me to join one of those adult baseball leagues and I could pitch twice per week. I might enjoy that.

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