Thousands of local newspapers have closed in the last decade, leaving journalism grads looking for new media opportunities. Digital media entrepreneurship has evolved to become one of the most popular career paths for young journalists today.
While the path to becoming a media entrepreneur is rewarding, it’s also risky. Budding publishers face a mountain of challenges as they work to launch their startups, from navigating the world of business financing to building a website that looks professional and juggling a team of employees.
According to researchers at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada launched on average two media startups a month from 2008 through 2017. However, 20% of the for-profit startups studied by RJI didn’t survive past five years. Many of those first-time publishers ran into the same challenges along the way, and found viable solutions that others can learn from.
5 Challenges for Digital Media Entrepreneurs
1. Finding Mentorship
It’s good to have a mentor. Although there are many digital media entrepreneurs who chose to go it alone, having someone to bounce questions and ideas off of can be invaluable during the startup process. Many recent journalism grads turn to professors and internship directors for mentorship, but publishers who have been out of school for longer may have trouble finding those connections.
Solution: The easiest way to find a publishing mentor is by joining a digital media organization. LION Publishers is one of the most well-known groups dedicated to helping local news entrepreneurs, but it’s not alone. There are hundreds of organizations and Facebook Groups out there that digital media entrepreneurs can join to find potential mentors and connect with other peers in the industry.
2. Technical Barriers
Recent journalism grads have spent the past four (or more) years of their lives learning about media law, journalistic ethics, and news reporting. Becoming a digital media entrepreneur requires a completely different skillset. The technical barriers to launching a new startup can seem overwhelming to publishers who aren’t fluent in the latest coding languages. Even those publishers who do have experience building their own websites can struggle when it comes time to place display advertising or launch an email newsletter product.
Solution: The best way to overcome the technical barriers that come with launching a media startup is by partnering with a company like Web Publisher PRO. Web Publisher PRO provides WordPress website design for digital publishers in the local news, magazine, niche media, and business publication space, along with support on virtually all aspects of running a digital business.
3. Securing Financing
How do you pay for the startup costs that go along with launching a digital media venture? Most first-time publishers will dig into their own savings, but that’s not necessarily the savviest approach. Finding a wealthy investor isn’t an easy task, either, and not all banks are willing to extend business loans with terms that publishers are willing to accept.
Solution: Digital media entrepreneurs have more options for financing today than ever before. Outside of crowdfunding and grants, there’s also venture capital. Once the publication has launched, subscription sales and online advertising come into play as viable revenue opportunities, as well.
4. Sourcing Freelancers
Growing businesses require teams of employees, but finding, managing, and paying a staff is a major challenge for many digital media entrepreneurs. Even simple decisions, like whether to classify reporters as part-time employees or independent freelancers, can be fraught with complications. Most digital media entrepreneurs don’t know exactly how many hours they will need their teams to work each week, especially if their publications are relatively new and growing.
Solution: Whether you choose to use freelancers or bring on a team of reporters full-time depends on what type of publication you’re building. If your goal is to offer 24/7 news coverage, then you will likely need someone to be available at all times, and employees are the way to go. If you are simply looking for stringers to cover certain local events or submit a few feature articles each month, then freelancers might be a better option. This is where having a mentor can come in handy, since that’s someone who understands your business well and has been in your shoes before.
5. Selling Advertising
Display advertising revenue has shrunk in recent years, but that doesn’t mean this monetization channel is gone for good. Many digital media entrepreneurs are still choosing to support their businesses through direct digital ad sales. In addition to running display advertising, more publications are selling native content, sponsored content, and newsletter advertising, as well.
Solution: The solution here depends on what, precisely, the challenge is. If you’re struggling to set up a direct digital ad sales program, then the best place to begin is by hiring an experienced sales manager or signing up for an ad manager that offers personalized support. If you’re struggling to generate enough revenue from advertising to sustain your business, then you should look at some digital advertising best practices and consider expanding the formats that you sell.