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Expert: Too many journalists "indifferent" to business side

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CC-licensed, thanks Yersinia on Flickr..

Michael Meyer has studied some 150 digital news organizations and worries that too many of them neglect and even avoid the business side.

"Someone has to run the business," he said in a column written for StreetFightingMag.com.

Meyer is steadily compiling examples of new digital media for the News Frontier Database project for the Columbia Journalism Review. The impressive database has detailed information on the business and news operations of these sites. Every would-be digital news entrepreneur should consult it. It is searchable by geography, topic, revenue source and more.

In his view a common mistake is to focus narrowly on the journalism:

It won’t surprise many to learn that I’m speaking of the lack of business expertise (and, worse, lack of business earnestness) among independently owned news sites, many of which were founded by people whose only previous work experience was in journalism.

At some operations this lack of business experience manifests as a lack of direction when it comes to earning revenue; at others as an excess of optimism about quality content translating into dollars and cents; at still others it manifests as outright indifference to thinking about the sustainability of their operation, as if truth-telling and good intentions are a guarantee of not only relevance but also staying power.

Meyer goes on to offer some advice to entrepreneurs in the column.

Taking care of business

This is a theme that I have been emphasizing regularly in this space: that someone in a news operation has to take charge of sales and marketing, and that profit is not a dirty word when it pays people a living wage.

A good model for how to attend to both business and journalism is the mom-and-pop operation of the weekly newspaper, says Alex Salkever in an excellent post on StreetFightingMag.com. He looks at how West Seattle Blog capitalizes on its local presence to attract small businesses as advertisers. looks to me like a must-read site for entrepreneurs.

Ethical dilemmas

For journalists who are just uncomfortable with the idea of mixing journalism and business, the J-Lab has an excellent series of comments by digital entrepreneurs on how they draw the line between the two.

I plan to keep watching the discoveries of Michael Meyer at the News Frontier Database. He is one of the few people paying close attention to business models of new digital media.

I also plan to follow Street Fighting Mag, which has a focus on hyperlocal news operations.

Here’s an interview of Michael Meyer by 10,000 Words.

It's the economy, stupid.

Certainly a lot of the problem has to do with young journalists' total lack of understanding of business, as Mr. Breiner points out. A lot more of the problem is that, not only are these inexperienced writers ignorant of economics or business, they are hostile to the idea of anyone's making a profit.

It's easy to hate what you don't understand: it's called prejudice, and it's a bright flag indicating ignorance and closed-mindedness -- things we really don't need more of, in journalism... or anywhere else. There's plenty, already.

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