CJR’s “Launch Pad” feature invites new media publishers to blog about their experiences on the news frontier. Past columns by Michael Andersen, founder of Portland Afoot, and Barry Johnson, who is at work on an arts journalism project, can be found here.
Barry Johnson: Today’s discussion is about basic hurdle-clearing. That’s more for you, I think, because my project is still trying to reach escape velocity. I’m still all about testing the power of the rocket and its essential flightworthiness (I’m obviously a sucker for any metaphor from my Space Age childhood, such as “Launch Pad,” say!). Maybe we could start with a little exchange on the environment we are attempting to work within, though, because that’s a hurdle of sorts—and also an encouragement sometimes.
So, what do you think? Is Portland, Oregon, a good place to start non-profit journalism projects, and what special problems does it present?
With its mass transit and biking culture, I think Portland’s perfect for my transportation beat, at least. In Dallas or Seattle, money might be easier to find, but I’d probably have picked a different audience!
Do you pine for the wealthy corporate patrons that Portland lacks? Sometimes I do.
Barry: Well, our unemployment rate is quite high, that’s for sure, and we don’t have many Fortune 500 companies to tickle for money here. Our level of corporate philanthropy is low, therefore, and in the arts, which is where I operate, government support is very low, in the last decile, depending on what study you read.
Michael: That sounds like part of your pitch. All the more reason people should give you money, right?
Barry: Well, yes! Instead of trying to find money from a couple of big donors/corporations I’m trying to test the proposition that a lot of people giving a little can be enough to start and sustain a small, independent arts journalism group.
I’d describe Portland as relatively “transportation conscious”—is that what you’re finding? (Oh, and by the way, Seattle recently opened a light rail line to Sea-Tac airport!)
Michael: About time. Portland is definitely a town where rich and powerful people “get” the low-car concept, and that’s been useful.
I’d like to move on to some technical stuff, but is there any other wisdom you’ve picked up about working within a particular city’s culture?
Barry: I think Portland is a bootstrap sort of city. We seem to want big things to happen through hard work, not big investments. Sometimes that means we are so preoccupied with our own heavy lifting that it’s difficult to consider something new. And maybe the trick for a new journalism project proposal is to show how your existence will help them lift. Now, Mr. Science, let’s get technical!
Michael: Awesome. Mostly I just want to rattle through all the good, cheap software and web services I’ve found for this gig.
Barry: Useful! Like what?
Michael: To start with, there’s Google Apps for email and document sharing, OpenX OnRamp to serve ads, Mint to track expenses, e-Junkie to manage my shopping cart, PayPal Website Payments Standard and the amazing Square to process credit cards, Google Analytics and Quantcast to analyze web traffic, VerticalResponse to manage e-mail lists, Skype to make phone calls and Carbonite to back up files. That’s all in the cloud, and half of them are free at the basic level.
Then there’s downloadable software: OpenOffice for word and data processing, BambooInvoice for billings, Inkscape for graphics, GIMP for photo editing, Scribus (which I actually dislike, but the price is right) for desktop publishing, FileZilla for uploading files to the website, Notepad++ for editing web pages and Postage $aver for sorting my bulk mailings.
Barry: Sweet. But don’t you need an advanced degree in Geek to set these things up? And do you have the world’s biggest laptop? And how much of an investment have you made to date in software?
Michael: $29.50. It’s all open-source except the postage program. As a 501(c)3, we’re also eligible for discount software via TechSoup, but I actually don’t think it’s worth spending $24 for Microsoft Office these days.