the news frontier

Launch Pad Archive

An archive of CJR's "Launch Pad" columns
September 21, 2010

Bethlehem Shoals, The Classical

12/16/11: Two weeks after launch, new worries take hold. I have a confession to make: up until this point, these posts have been heavily vetted acts of organizational messaging. The Classical didn’t yet exist, or only sort of existed, or was about to exist, and this platform gave us the opportunity to try and set our terms in advance. That doesn’t mean they were any less truthful—or, at times, precariously candid. But they weren’t a running diary per se. They were transparency with ulterior motives, and if that seems like an obvious point to make, you don’t know how long we spent workshopping certain paragraphs. . Click here for more.

12/05/11: A DIY version of a large-scale project. The Classical launched right when everyone was leaving their desks last Friday, two months and five days after completing our Kickstarter fundraising. Thanks to the contributors whose support forced us to follow through on this crazy idea. Thanks to our sponsor Foursquare, whose support is a constant kick in the ass—this is something real now—and gives us the kind of credibility that really comes in handy during a launch. Click here for more.

11/21/11: The merits of the two-speed model. As it turned out, no one much cared that The Classical began life as a Tumblr. No one commented one way or the other; if anything, our preview was taken so literally, we probably could have gotten away with saving some of the material for later. We had always planned on taking the week of Thanksgiving off, but decided this week to make 11/20 the last day of the Tumblr Era. With disaster averted, all we could hope to do was make our point—this site would be worth reading, we hoped—and then table expectations until the real launch. Click here for more.

11/10/11: A post-punk sportswriting site gets started. Back in August, Eric Freeman—one of the writers involved in The Classical, the Kickstarter-funded sports writing startup of which I’m a founding editor—told The Village Voice “we need money so we can run The Classical like a real venture and not some quickly designed WordPress blog or Tumblr.” Well, here we are, incorporated and sitting on over $55,000 … with a Tumblr. At least for the next month or so. Click here for more.

Josh Kalven, Newsbound

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06/28/11: The article is journalism’s yellow mustard. If you’re the sole founder of an early-stage startup and you’re beginning to execute your concept, there’s a moment where you actually feel the company growing inside of you. You feel yourself organizing your brainpower into different departments: one cranking out content, one designing a website, one recruiting talent, one courting investors. You feel an incredible push and pull between these competing voices, each calling your attention to their own lengthy to-do list. And you remember that this is why companies ultimately grow: because you can’t do it all alone. Click here for more.

03/01/11: Write it all down! In my previous columns here at the Launch Pad, I’ve described some of the impulses that propelled me down this entrepreneurial path. This week, I’m going to shift focus and highlight a practice that has been invaluable during this process and that should come as second nature for any news entrepreneur: the “startup journal.” Click here for more.

02/18/11: What’s your hypothesis? A year ago, I had a full-time job running a political news website in Chicago and an entrepreneurial venture bouncing around in my head. At the time, I referred to it as the “backstory project”: a digital media company geared towards users who want to understand a complex news narrative, but don’t know where to start. The more I talked to friends, colleagues, and strangers about the concept, the more I heard about the alienation and confusion they often experience when interacting with the news. While my motivation grew with those conversations, I didn’t have much to show for it. I could talk about the idea, sure, but I had nothing on paper. Click here for more.

02/08/11: Stock, flow, and my entrepreneurial origin story. I know, I know. I wrote last week that I’d devote my second Launch Pad column to the story of how I came to form Newsbound as a for-profit company. But before I go that direction, I want to provide a bit more detail about the origin of this venture. Particularly, I want to zero in on an experience I briefly mentioned in the first column: that particular moment, two years ago, when I began to feel torn between serving the “news junkies” and the “newcomers.” Then next week, I’ll break down my decision to take the for-profit route. Click here for more.

02/01/11: The business of backstory. Last Tuesday, I flipped the switch and softly launched my explanatory journalism venture, Newsbound. I’d spent the previous six months months researching, writing, and expanding my entrepreneurial skill set. I had talked up my concept to anyone who would listen and attracted a small amount of seed funding in the process. This is the first brick. Standing here, a week later, it looks undeniably modest. But damn, it was a heavy one to lift. Click here for more.

Michael Andersen and Barry Johnson

12/14/10: We are not alone: news startup community-building. Michael, we have come to the end of our mini-series on starting non-profit journalism projects in Portland, Oregon. Of course, we are stopping in the middle, the way all mini-series do, when you think about it. Life goes on after the closing credits, if the characters were vivid at all! I think our last act is about community. It’s so easy to dig into the day-to-day business of dotting i’s and signing contracts that it’s easy to forget about the larger environment in which we are trying to operate, the larger problems we are trying to solve. Fortunately, we are not alone here, are we? Click here for more.

12/07/10: The sweet smell of failure (or success) at a news startup. The two of us are finishing this stint at Launch Pad HQ after next week’s installment, but we didn’t think any discussion of entrepreneurship would be complete without talking about the twin engines of free enterprise: success and failure. I read once that capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. As I got into this crazy endeavor, the idea of failure has definitely been lurking behind me, pushing me to work longer hours, write better copy, take smarter risks. Click here for more.

11/30/10: Startup rocket science: technical specs for a modern journalism business. Today’s discussion is about basic hurdle-clearing. 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?Click here for more.

11/23/10: How entrepreneurial journalists should tackle the Big Demon: sales. This week we’re talking about the part of news entrepreneurship that has always scared me most: sales. Not just selling ads for money, but selling the concept to partners and other funders and (in both your case, with an e-mail product, and my case, with print) selling distributors on the benefits of getting our content out there. In short, the Ask. Click here for more.

11/16/10: Why journalists are terrible at time management. Today’s topic is time management. As Michael can attest, my time-management skills sometimes desert me. Or maybe I don’t apply them consistently enough. Some of that I blame on my newspaper practices, which led me astray almost from the beginning. Click here for more.

11/09/10: Two news entrepeneurs explain why they struck out on their own. Hi, Barry! Thanks for agreeing to team up on this Launch Pad stint. I love that CJR is trying to document and encourage the entrepreneurial journalism movement, after so many years in which media critics have seemed more eager to circle the wagons than explore the frontier. You and I are both running nonprofit local-news startups out here at the end of the Oregon Trail, in Portland, and we’ve agreed to spend the next six weeks or so in a sort of public chat about our businesses. Our startups don’t have a lot in common… except, of course, being run by short, bald, bespectacled ex-newspaper guys. Click here for more.

Craig Gurian, Remapping Debate

10/21/10: Why we’re taking in some articles from major outlets for “story repair”. The featured articles in the first couple of editions of Remapping Debate have all weighed in well north of the 2,500 word mark. Not all of our featured pieces will do so, but it is safe to say that most of our reporting will not consist of short pieces. There will be an exception to that rule, at least most of the time. It’s a distinctive feature on which we have gotten some very good initial feedback. It’s called Story Repair. Click here for more.

10/14/10: One down, we hope many more to go. We are pretty happy here at Remapping Debate: the goal was to launch by 12:00 noon on Tuesday, October 12th; we managed to go live at 10:00 a.m., two hours early. There were, of course, a few absurd little wrinkles as we came down to the wire. On Monday morning, we found that the very basic “block quote” feature—displaying just fine in most browsers—was not working at all on Internet Explorer.Click here for more.

10/06/10: Less than one week to go. Last week I was fretting about a seemingly endless list of items to be completed before what we describe as Launch I. Today, now less than a week from going live, I am enjoying the oddly liberating feeling of having learned with absolute certainty that the nature of this project is such that I am perpetually going to be in the position of wanting to get more checked off in a given period of time than is possible. Click here for more.

09/28/10: Trying to keep eyes on the prize. I hope that someone is going to tell me that the massive two-weeks-to-launch surge of anxiety I’m feeling is all a normal part of the process. It had better be, because the “to do” lists (both the electronic one and my 5×8 index card one) are growing, not shrinking, as October 12th approaches. Click here for more.

09/21/10: Three weeks until the site goes live. Last year, my colleagues and I found ourselves in a very unusual and privileged position. The Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC), the not-for-profit organization where I’ve served as executive director since 2003, achieved a historic housing desegregation victory over Westchester County. Of societal significance, the resulting consent decree required Westchester to confront and begin to end the de facto residential segregation that plagues the county; of organizational significance, ADC received a very large sum pursuant to the federal False Claims Act in recognition of its role in uncovering fraud against the federal government. Click here for more.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.