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Journalist entrepreneurs: These are the three skills you need to start developing now

A little preparation can go a long way toward de-risking your business model

  • iPhones (released in 2007)
  • Facebook (not open to the public until 2006)
  • Twitter (not founded until 2006)
  • Reddit (launched in 2005)
  • Upworthy (founded in 2012)
  • … and BuzzFeed (founded in 2006)
Screenshot of Marry An American, as well as a story about the effort on CNN.

You’ve got the reporting down, now what?

I suspect you’ve heard the term “10,000 hours” mentioned before? It’s the idea that 10,000 hours is a rough estimate of the time investment required of a person to become truly excellent at something.

  • The first skill is coming up with concepts (or spotting opportunities)
  • The second is testing those concepts (ideally, with real people)
  • The third is being ready when the time is right: recognizing the right moment to launch — knowing what “early warning signs” to look for — and feeling confident that you’re prepared enough

Use your natural skepticism on yourself

If you have a theory or concept that you intend to act on, you must develop a regular practice around testing it. It’s really that simple.

  • The existing news options aren’t giving residents what they need?
  • Or perhaps it’s that you could produce better information than what’s currently available and that residents would respond to that?
  • Or perhaps it’s that a specific audience isn’t being served adequately?
  • Or that people will pay for news?

Take the time today to be prepared for tomorrow

Circling back to the quote that opened this essay:

The Hero’s Journey

You can be ready for a moment like that too. Like the real-life hero in the movie who’s quietly and diligently honing their skills every day for years, just waiting for an opportunity to right the scales of justice. (Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea!)

  • Coming up with different visions for your professional life
  • Testing each of those those visions out in some meaningful way
  • Moving toward the chosen vision when the time is right

Start small and build a habit

I’m not going to say “Stop watching Tiger King, give up Netflix, and establish a monk-like devotion to developing these skills,” because that would just be crazy! However, I am going to go so far as to suggest that if you make the time to establish these habits now they will pay off in the near future.

  • If you want to get more physically fit, as long as you establish a regular habit of [insert your chosen exercise here], you’ll eventually get there. You’ll probably start slow — perhaps once a week — and eventually work your way up to more.
  • If you want to develop a meditation practice, it all starts with establishing a habit of a daily meditation — most people start at just a few minutes and grow from there.
  • And if you want to develop a writing practice, you have to put in the time to develop a strong habit there too. For example, I try to write for at least 30 minutes a day, and that’s the single factor that helped me the most toward my goal of publishing 12 essays in 2019.
  • Sniffing out a potential story
  • Checking public records or public sources of data
  • Interviewing sources
  • Fact checking your source’s statements
  • And so on…

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👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩

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Phillip Smith

👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩