Start your own newspaper or magazine – The first 18 months

As I look back now on the whole idea of ​​running my own newspaper, I come to understand why so many commented on how brave I was to launch a newspaper. At the time I couldn’t understand the pathos, and if anything, these comments became so frequent that they began to worry me.

We jump boots and all. With little to no experience, we were a small group of friends with a crazy romantic idea to establish an all-inclusive grassroots newspaper that would give a voice to everyone in the community. Five became three during the first press run and I learned that you can actually work 6 x 24 hours a day, get zero sleep and not die! Mind you, the body and mind get a little wavy, and otherwise simple tasks confuse even the hardiest and most daring.

Now you must appreciate the circumstances in which we launched ourselves, boots and all, on this adventure. He had consulted a community newspaper for about 5 months about 2 years earlier, basically looking at their business systems and practices, resources and management. Zero media experience. 2 years later, a friend suggests that my new city could use a new post. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A few weekends later and we have a core of a newspaper team, added media experience – 5 months!

We rigged some concept covers, a rate sheet, and Simon and I hit the streets with our concept: a newspaper written by our readers. Citizen Journalism was not even coined, we were pioneers in every way. We created a stir, reaching out to big advertisers for 6-12 month engagements, mainly on the strength of putting up long-awaited competition against the lazy incumbent publication.

So the days turned into weeks and each month passed with another trophy of our survival pinned to the garage wall. We exchanged advertising for office furniture, laminated floors, windows, skylights and air conditioning for our garage office. Three became four became five became two became three became two and so on. Staffing was the critical nightmare, as it was obvious to only a minority of us that crawl before walk before run were inevitable costs of setting up a business and that this would perhaps require more stamina and will than anyone had anticipated. . If only our readers knew!

After 18 months we were in a kind of rut: it still wasn’t nice, but it was becoming predictable. The debut of 6 days in a row had been reduced to 3 days/2 full nights of posting. We knew customers who needed to be produced each cycle to pay their bill. We knew which ones would tie in with a special, when the events of the year were, which agencies handled which deals. and best of all, 80% of our recruitment knew us!

The challenges faced in these early days can be summarized as follows:

Vendors will want you to pay upfront for almost everything (for example, our $10,000 print run!), but advertisers will want their 30-day accounts they get with their competition. This is your biggest cash flow problem. Ironically, the more successful your post becomes, the bigger the gap between what you’re paying and the creditors you have. The more ads you run, the more pages you need, the higher your printing costs, but you’ll still be chasing your advertisers to get paid.

Catching up on your records very early is critical. This is a messy business with many different sized ad orders running for different campaign lengths in print and online, all requiring confirmed orders, content, images, captions, taglines, dummy, approvals, invoices, timelines and payment reconciliation. Yuck! And let me tell you, your client often advertises on multiple platforms, which means you easily forget about any deals they might have with your publication.

Staffing is just one of those big problems for every small business, compounded in this game by deadlines, pressures, and after-hours demands. When you’re starting a business, you may find that keeping the team to yourself, or at most, is a much better way to launch your product. Managing people is a learning curve that comes with maybe 10% reading, 10% sharing war stories with other editors or managers, and 80% hard knocking. Also remember that while you, too, may be on a steep learning curve with this new business, your team will look to you for guidance, leadership, and motivation. They can also blame you when things don’t go well, that’s part of being the boss. During our first 18 months my partner and I met and worked with 11 other people, that’s a LOT of downtime on interviews, training, mentoring, and then replacement.

But not everything was pessimism and fatality. The good thing was the overnight reputation in the community, the countless invitations to performances, plays, bands, movies, proms, and all kinds of events. We rub shoulders with those who move and shake. We shed light on great community events and activities that would otherwise struggle to grab mainstream media attention. Phone calls and emails from readers and advertisers, delighted with the publication and eager to participate. We also join the change of tide of one of the largest industries on the planet, the media.

Significant changes during those years:

1. Advent of USB sticks: You can only begin to imagine the challenges we face trying to move articles, ads, and images around our and customers’ computers without a network.

2. Advent of web-based CMS: Software as a Service (SAS) is all the rage now, and Content Management Systems (CMS) are all the rage. We ended up designing our own CMS aimed at other freelance publishers – what a godsend that would have been 5 years ago!

3. Customer Email – About half of our customers or prospects were on email and about 10% of them were ready to do business via email rather than phone calls or visits. Phone calls and visits take time and resources, which were scarce for us.

4. Citizen Journalism Explosion: We were asking a conservative community to get behind an innovative approach to media, we were asking our readers to be a part of it. This proposition received varied and extreme responses, from being yelled at to get out of a store because we had published an article on gay marriage, to receiving phone calls if a newspaper was an afternoon late. Today, user-generated content has its place in the market, and professional journalists can better manage their own content as well.

5. Move from print to online: The last 5 years have seen an unprecedented almost tectonic shift in media from print to online. Advertising and subscription revenues are collapsing as both advertisers and consumers seek deeper and more measurable experiences relevant to their interests and/or location. Our motto years ago was bridging the online and print worlds, so we were certainly on this trend, but so were the big players with deep pockets and much more online savvy than us. Learning to print was already a full-time job, let alone having to really tackle our online strategy.

In the next article, I’ll describe the next 18 months, how we got to know the publishing business and simplify our systems.

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