Media Entrepreneur Outlines Steps for Success

Dan Gillmor

Dan Gillmor advises journalism students on their proposals for media startups. Photo by Laura Davison

Media entrepreneur and consultant Dan Gillmor said during a visit to the Missouri School of Journalism that the industry is ripe for digital media startups as the news business continues to decentralize.

As the founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entreprenuership, Gillmor collaborates with students studying journalism, computer science, design and business to create startups.

Gillmor told students working with Missouri Business Alert that young journalists have more opportunity to define the future of their profession than past generations because the industry is in transition.

Gilmor said on Intersection, an online talk show produced by KBIA, that large media operations are losing credibility with news consumers, particular when it comes to political reporting, giving small, independent media businesses an opportunity to regain the public’s trust.

During his visit Monday, Gilmor focused his advice on digital media entrepreneurship. Here are five takeaways:

1.    Know where customers are coming from and where they want to go.

Gilmore said most people, himself included, are no longer accessing online content through a home page. Instead, they are using social media such as Twitter and Google Plus and other sites that aggregate news content.

“Increasingly, I’m getting content from people who follow topic areas,” Gilmor said. “They have become “my editors” through aggregation and curation.”

Looking forward, Gillmor said mobile strategy should be the No. 1 priority for digital media. HTML5 a better option for building mobile sites than creating an app. Sites built with this technology are platform agnostic, meaning users can access them from any device.

2.    Use facts and numbers in an honest way. 

Dan Gillmor IntersectionBusiness expert and economists “have all kind of data,” Gillmor said. “Watch what people like to do with data and do more of that.”

But Gillmor said some numbers, especially those touted by politicians, are often just not true.

“The assertion that there is more fact checking is false. There is a lot more after-the-fact checking.”

3.    Be open about who you are and what your worldview is.

“If journalists were more transparent, they would be trusted more,” Gillmor said.

Gillmor urged journalists to answer questions like how they went about covering stories and how they select the content they publish. Bloggers are more likely to be transparent about their beliefs, which he said creates a strong sense of trust between content producers and consumers.

Gillmor’s most recent book/online project called Mediactive helps bridge the gap between content producers and consumers by exploring ways they can each use media to society’s best advantage.

4.    Don’t expect all startups to succeed—most won’t.

Gillmor said his first startup failed. The reason? He was trying to do too much all at once.

“What I lacked was focus,” Gillmor said. “A startup has to focus on one thing. An entrepreneur can do one thing at a time.”

Like Gillmor’s first startup, most fail or “succeed poorly.” Gillmor calls these struggling new businesses “the living dead.” He suggests as soon as you realize your business is not thriving, stop digging, get out and try a new idea.

5.    Don’t let the possibility of failure keep you away. 

“The worst that can happen,” Gillmor said, “is that it doesn’t work and you learn something.”


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