Media entrepreneurs share advice on learning from mistakes

par Clothilde Goujard
30 oct 2018 dans Media Sustainability

Launching a media startup can be complicated. After asking journalists about their startups, IJNet got the nitty-gritty on the errors these media entrepreneurs made, the lessons learned and what advice they have for journalists seeking to follow a similar path.

Mariana Santos is the founder of Chicas Poderosas, a nonprofit with chapters in Latin America. Chicas Poderosas seeks to empower and train women journalists, designers and developers to work collaboratively on technology in news. Santos previously worked as a motion and interaction designer at The Guardian and as the interactive and animation director at Fusion. She started Chicas Poderosas in 2013 through an ICFJ Knight fellowship.

Santos was working at The Guardian in London when she realized it was particularly difficult to recruit women to work in the technology side of news.

When she moved to Latin America, she started Chicas Poderosas as a Knight International Journalism Fellow and began sharing insights from her time at The Guardian with women working in Latin American media. She hoped to empower women to become leaders in digital media.

As part of the program, her team works with ambassadors in different countries, teaching these women digital and leadership skills.  

“I ended up having trouble with one community where one of the ambassadors wanted to take the lead and not share as much with the other fellow ambassadors,” Santos said. “Despite the many conversations I had with this girl, inviting her to be more open and accepting of other women's ideas and contributions, she did not want to let go of her way of working. I ended up having to ask her to leave. We need to work in collaboration and not have one person dictating what we'll do in the entire country.”

According to Santos, this person started her own organization with a similar name and function as Chicas Poderosas, confusing funders  

New ambassadors restarted the Chicas Poderosas chapter in that country but Santos admitted it was also confusing for the community.

“After that, Chicas Poderosas became a [registered nonprofit], with an incredible board of directors that guides us and leads us to where we want to see Chicas Poderosas go.”

Inoussa Maïga is the founder of Agribusiness TV, a mobile-first media outlet covering agriculture in several African countries, including Burkina Faso and Mali. Maïga previously worked as a freelance journalist and bureau chief for Farm Radio International in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. IJNet covered his media organization a year ago.

Maïga said the quick success and publicity of Agribusiness TV turned into a problem.

“Everyone talked about it, and we had requests from countries we weren't covering,” he said. “We felt a little obligated to answer these requests from our audience.”

“It puts an enormous pressure [on us] when [the requests] are coming from the audience; we feel an even greater responsibility than if they were coming from elsewhere.”

He decided to get stories from freelancers in countries outside of Agribusiness TV’s zone. But many freelancers turned in work below the level the organization expected.

“We want to cover an increasing number of countries but we need to take into account the quality of topics we are covering,” he explained.

With a limited budget, doing more stories in other countries also meant reducing the amount of hours for his other main correspondents.

After several months, Agribusiness TV ended up scaling back and once again emphasizing the main countries they had been following before.

Maïga recommends focusing on what is financially and strategically feasible despite external pressure —as flattering and encouraging as it may be.

Natalia Antelava is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Coda Story, a nonprofit startup that covers one crises for an extended period of time.The award-winning investigative journalist previously worked for BBC covering Central Asia, in addition to writing for The Guardian and The New Yorker. IJNet covered her organization in 2016.

Antelava believes everything she and her team did did —mistakes and successes— got them where they are now.

“In some ways, I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” she said. “Mistakes are part of the whole process of building a company.”

She thought of a mistake that could have been made had she not been building Coda Story with a partner. Co-founder Ilan Greenberg thought it was crucial to first register as a nonprofit, create a board of directors and secure legal representation.

“Only now do I see how right he was and how this structure created early on set the tone for growth,” she reflected. “It got us into a mindset of thinking of Coda not as a pet project but an actual institution that we serve.”

She says one of the mistakes she did make was not being selective enough of people working for her organization.

“Many people came through Coda, especially in early stages, all in a volunteer capacity. Because we had no money of our own to invest, we really relied on the help of these enthusiasts,” she said. “How do you turn down help when you so desperately need it? But I think if you are getting it from people who aren’t the right fit, you just end up wasting your time.”

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Esther Vargas.