As for the geekery, I think it’s mostly a matter of tracking down the right acquaintance. Any smart person (or even me) can figure out the basics of this stuff in half an hour with the right person on call to help.
Barry: $29.50? That’s highway robbery! And “smart person”—gulp.
Michael: Honestly, looking over the list above, the only applications that require any technical expertise (as opposed to patience reading the instructions) to set up are BambooInvoice, FileZilla, MediaWiki, and maybe e-Junkie. There’s never been a better time to start a company on the cheap.
Barry: I think you can write a “Dummy’s Guide to Starting Your Own Journalism Business” and live off the proceeds for the rest of your life. Did you have a “technical advisor” among your volunteers?
Michael: You’re on to my secret business plan.
The president of our board is a software engineer, so he literally has that advanced Geek degree. He’s been a big help during a few moments of panic. I was also fortunate to have spent a year as the online editor for a small daily paper, where resources were similarly scarce but there was an IT director willing to tutor me on this stuff.
Barry: How do you manage the transition from reporter or ad salesman to IT/web designer jockey? We’re used to thinking of these as specialized skills.
Michael: I came into this knowing design was a skill I don’t have. Portland Afoot’s biggest up-front expense was actually $2,400 to hire a gifted acquaintance to lay out the site and the print prototype. Once I had the templates, I was comfortable hacking at them. If a new company valued its founders’ time more than I’ve valued mine, it’d probably be more efficient to keep one or two trusted contractors on call.
What do you see as your biggest obstacle, technically?
Barry: My biggest concern is to come up with a really good membership management tool and then a great email service that will enable me to send those members eNewsletters that look great and that I can send to specific slices of the membership. Then it’s the content management systems—because I want to do audio journalism good enough for public broadcasting, for example, and video that’s television worthy. Fortunately, I’ll be working with other journalists who specialize in that technology. But some of what you’ve talked about—accounting and other business software—is absolutely critical, too. Each of the areas we are trying to “cover”—from admin to marketing—has its own set of specialized tools that we have to deal with, one way or another. All of them are obstacles.
Have we used up our allotted space? Time for re-entry from this high Earth-orbit? What will you be doing this week? And what are we slated to talk about next time?
Michael: Grab that parachute cord. Next week’s topic is “success”—how we’re defining it, and also the consequences of failure.
Once I get this month’s PDF to the printer (just a couple hours, Charles! I swear) I’m actually spending the week on freelance. I finally seem to be getting some traction as a transportation-reporter-for-hire, which is useful for paying my rent. What’s your mission?
Barry: Coincidentally, I’ll be working on a freelance gig, too. I also have a couple of meetings with potential arts group partners, and some more pesky stuff I’m labeling “admin.” Did I mention the vat of turkey broth? See you next week?
Michael: Aye aye, cap’n. Or whatever you astronauts say.
Barry Johnson has written about the arts since 1978, when he started writing about dance for the now-defunct Seattle Sun. He has edited arts sections at Willamette Week and The Oregonian, and recently finished a twenty-six-year stint at the latter by writing a general arts and culture column. You can find his up-to-the-minute thoughts on the arts at http://artsdispatch.blogspot.com. Michael Andersen publishes Portland Afoot, a ten-minute newsmagazine and wiki about low-car life in Portland, Oregon. He also writes about entrepreneurial local journalism on NiemanLab.org, oldforestnewtrees.com, and Twitter.