May 24, 2019 (Updated )
We’ve all dreamt of it. What if we weren’t being told what do to and what to write, but instead running the show? Starting your own publication is undoubtedly hard work (seriously, we know), but that’s not to say it’s an unachievable pipe dream.
From the stratospheric and well-deserved rise of gal-dem, to the recent crowdfunding success of Akin, or perhaps the refreshing perspective from The Overtake up North, there are great people doing great things all over the UK.
But just how do you make your first steps into creating your very own thing? We spoke to a few people who’ve done just that.
Don’t Stress About The Scale Of Your Thing – It’s About Your USP
Jem Collins is the founder and editor of Journo Resources, which she launched in 2016. She talks about the importance of having realistic goals.
“When I first started Journo Resources I had no ideas or, to be honest, ambitions about the scale of the project I wanted to create. It was a website I set up in my bedroom in frustration at the lack of diversity and transparency in the media industry – there were never any plans for numbers of site views or Twitter followers, let alone world domination.
“For the first two years, it was entirely a passion project. I worked on it at weekends and at 2am slightly tipsy after the pub, all around my full-time job. I never paid myself (the money didn’t exist, nor was I even trying to make it exist), and for a lot of that time I never even considered it could have the potential to be an actual business.
“Once you’re up and running it without a doubt pays to look at your metrics and make achievable goals to help you move forward, but when you’re starting up, I think it’s much more important to think about the product you’re launching.
Thinking of starting your own side-hustle? Our very own Jack Dearlove is a big fan. Here’s his guide to what you need to do to get the ball rolling – and why there’s no shame in it being awful.
“Publications succeed on the strength of their unique identity – spend your time working out what will make your product unique, and truly understand why it’s needed. You’ll build a much more engaged audience and sustainable publication in the long-term.
“And finally, it’s worth remembering that independent publications come in all shapes and sizes, all of them equally valid and creating amazing and meaningful work. Your publication might end up being your full-time job, it might end up being your evening passion project, or you could do it as part of a freelance career. None of them means any less than the other, or that content isn’t wanted. It’s about what works for you.”
Jem Collins is the founder, editor-in-chief, and director of Journo Resources. She’s passionate about improving diversity in the journalism industry, and also works freelance for outlets such as the i Paper, Metro.co.uk, PinkNews, RightsInfo and more. She’s on Twitter @Jem_Collins.
The Importance Of Leverage & Post Launch Build Up
Anna Dannreuther is the editor and founder of IdeaSphere, and believes the hard work starts far before your actual launch.
“The word ‘launch’ means inputting a lot of energy to something to get it in motion. So, when launching your blog or publication, you’ll want to put in as much energy as you can to get it known or heard about in the industries/audiences you want to read your content before it’s even live.
“You want more people to read your site on the first day than you’d expect to read it on a daily or even weekly basis. Some people won’t necessarily come back to your site, but they’ll have checked it out, remembered it, and might recommend it to a friend.
“Tell your family, friends, and any well-known people you know about your site. Explain what it is, who will (hopefully) like it, and most importantly when your launch is. Ask all these people to like and retweet your first tweets, as it will be a big help in breaking into the Twittersphere (or whatever form of social media you’re trying to crack).
Don’t let your supporters forget to support you. Be sure to tag them in your social posts so they can’t miss them. Probably the most efficient way is tagging them in a photo you include in your tweet as you can tag up to 10 people at once. In the early days, I would tag a mixture of people I know and accounts I thought would enjoy my content based on research.
“For example, in advance, I asked my brother to like and retweet my initial posts. He runs ToDoList.org.uk, a quirky offbeat guide to London, which has about 8,000 followers on Twitter. His shares were really helpful in initially getting my content seen by some now loyal followers. Take a look at the social media profiles of your colleagues in your industry to see who might be able and willing to help you at the outset.
Remember, remember the 5th of November. https://t.co/r9PDU4a87C launches today! Free ideas for all! #ideas #MondayMotivation #politics #democracy #climatechange #humanrights #interview pic.twitter.com/RoIGkyLtSK
— IdeaSphere (@IdeasphereO) November 5, 2018
“Having a decent ‘Under Construction’ page using the design and style of your finished site, is also an underused star turn, meaning you can start social media-ing before your site is launched. My site is called IdeaSphere and it’s about new approaches to the world. To get this message across, while building some mystery and hype, we put up a load of Instagram posts using our site design simply saying ‘Ideas Are Coming’ using multiple hashtags to get people interested (see top Instagram hashtags here). We used ridiculously easy-to-use design website Canva. Finally, I recommend having around five to six up when you launch, as people are going to expect a decent amount of content.”
Anna is a lawyer who loves to write. She was formerly Co-Editor-in-Chief of RightsInfo and her work has also appeared in The F-Word and To Do List. Anna has just finished working in New York where she defended immigrants’ rights, and will shortly train as a barrister in London. IdeaSphere is her website and she’s on Twitter @annadannreuther.
Focus On Your Community And Get Them Involved
Anna Merryfield is the Community Media Director at Social Spider, and urges start-ups to think about their business model from the offset.
“In October last year, we launched our third local newspaper, Enfield Dispatch. It would be an exaggeration to say that we were certain of its success, as every new publication always feels like a huge risk, but our experience running local newspapers since 2014 meant we at least had an idea of what we were letting ourselves in for and had a model developed which could be adapted to fit our new publication.
“Our print newspapers, Waltham Forest Echo, Tottenham Community Press and Enfield Dispatch, all operate using the same low-cost model: each paper employs one part-time Editor who writes the majority of our news content and also works with members of the local community to help them write their own articles, hence our tagline: “Written by and for local people.”
“At a time where print advertising is in rapid decline, we are increasingly looking to our communities to support our work; from contributing articles and photography, to making a financial contribution through our membership scheme. This, in turn, has enriched the quality of our publications, making us more accountable and responsive to our readers.
Talking of finances… This article was made possible by the kind support of our readers. If you’d like to help support our editorial offering, and help us put together more things like this you can sign up for a regular gift of just £3 a month through our Ko-Fi page.
“There is a growing public debate about the importance of independent publications and, as a not for profit social enterprise, we try to be as transparent with our readers as possible regarding our editorial decisions and our financial makeup. It’s crucial that we clearly communicate what distinguishes us from corporate owned media in order to build trust with our readers.
“Achieving financial sustainability is a constant challenge and we would urge any new publication to give equal importance to their commercial strategy as they do to their editorial. Our revenue mix ranges from traditional print advertising to grant funding, membership schemes and income from consultation and research around community media. This is a volatile time for local news, with many publications closing every year. Therefore it’s important we don’t become overly reliant on a single source of income.
Looking for funding? You can check out our big list, updated weekly, right here.
“We believe strongly in the social value of independent local news. We hope that in light of reports such as The Cairncross Review, government bodies and funders will put more emphasis on supporting the development of sustainable models for independent local news, injecting some much-needed stability back into the sector.”
Anna Merryfield is Community Media Director at Social Spider CIC. Social Spider are a social enterprise publishing three community newspapers in north London; Waltham Forest Echo, Tottenham Community Press and Enfield Dispatch.
Finding Your Own Path Is Vital In A Crowded Market
Blake Welton is the owner of London Football Scene, which he founded in 2019. He argues that the key to success is knowing how to stand out in a crowded market.
“Football is undoubtedly the biggest global sports market with the Premier League the most-watched sports league in the world, broadcasting in 212 territories to 643 million homes and a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people.
“Therefore, understandably, it’s a busy marketplace to try and be heard in – particularly online, where there are so many platforms that not only extensively cover ‘the beautiful game’, but also have unrivalled access and deep pockets. It’s a daunting prospect for any journalist, and something I, as the owner of London Football Scene, am constantly trying to avoid.
“The concept came about at the beginning of the 2018/19 season when an article in the Press Gazette entitled ‘Absence of local reporters at football match a ‘damning indictment’ of lack of investment in regional media, says sports writer’ summed up how in the quest for increasingly large digital audiences certain areas and communities were being neglected.
“Changing business models have led to a blanket, uniformed template of coverage with often over-stretched staff having little time or scope to deviate from it. It also means any story not deemed as something that will guarantee ‘traffic’, or in the case of the Press Gazette piece an entire football club, it simply won’t be covered.
How They Do It
How do you do a match report differently? Take a look at this beautiful designed mixture of story, key points and stats and you’ll get an idea.
“And although the likes of national media may well run match reports, player quotes and so forth, it still means a lot outside of a typical matchday experience will never see the light of day. Some of it, as one club put it, is the less ‘sexier’ community news and initiatives, which we believe are no less important.
“Of course, we do have a matchday presence, but even that is presented online differently, while the main content is well-thought out comment pieces and in-depth interviews, alongside community stories.
“Taglined as ‘More Than 90 Minutes’ London Football Scene soft-launched in February and isn’t aiming to compete with anything already out there but merely offering a different kind of football and journalistic movement. We’re less concerned with page views and more focused on quality over quantity.
DERBY DAY! We’re here at Griffin Park and it’s anyone’s game as @Brentford take on @QPR in the reverse fixture. The R’s won 3-2 at Loftus Road in October – who will come out on top this time? #DerbyDay #Brentford #QPR #BREQPR #LFS pic.twitter.com/8oWxBj5bvK
— London Football Scene (@LDNFootieScene) March 2, 2019
“With this football season coming to a close, it’s been an interesting three months since our launch. By focusing on providing something new and different to what’s already out there, we’re hopeful it will continue to grow and develop.”
Blake Welton is the owner and editor of London Football Scene. He is also a football writer for Sky Sports News and has formerly covered Huddersfield Town Football Club and the Football Association of Wales. You can support London Football Scene on Patreon.