Vox Media, the digital media startup that is home to The Verge, Vox.com and SB Nation, has conducted an internal survey and found that that roughly 80 percent of the company is white, International Business Times has learned. The diversity figures obtained by IBT were circulated inside the company a few weeks ago and tally up… [Read more…]
By KWAN BOOTH and TRACIE POWELL
It started with the launch of Blavity, a platform that targets black millennials, and Abernathy, an online magazine for black men. Both caught fire in 2015. Tired of waiting for mainstream media to “get it” and to “get them,” 2016 will be the year millennial, women, and people of color go all in with their own media platforms, giving mainstream outlets a real run for the money– both in terms of audience growth, content development and revenue.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 media ventures we expect to see blow-up next year… In a good way.
- Rosarium Publishing (www.rosariumpublishing.com/)
- Rosarium is a two-year-old publishing company focused on genre fiction and graphic novels by people of color. Notable 2015 work includes the “Stories for Chip” anthology honoring famous black science fiction writer Samuel Delany and “APB: Artists against Police Brutality,” an anthology of short comics about police violence and prison reform. 2016 projects include an anthology of SouthEast Asian Steam Punk and a series of children’s fantasy novels by Iranian writers.
- Everyday Feminism (everydayfeminism.com/)
- Everyday Feminism is the largest feminist media site focused on providing media, and cultural analysis from an intersectional social justice perspective. Popular 2015 topics included cultural appropriation, white privilege, mental illness and cis gender identity. In 2016, expect to see Everyday Feminism expand into comics and multimedia with more focus on rape culture, immigration, queerness and class inequality.
- Buzzfeed’s pop culture podcast hosted by Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton covering “everything from race, gender and pop culture to squirrels, mangoes, and bad jokes.” Notable interviews in 2015 included Hillary Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Melissa Harris-Perry. Expect to hear more political figures on this podcast in 2016. If politicians are smart, they’ll come here to reach millennial voters.
- This Week In Blackness (thisweekinblackness.com/)
- Multiplatform news, opinion and pop culture analysis of issues relevant to black communities. The network features a series of podcasts and a website that regularly comment on, and drive conversations, around police brutality, sexism and media bias. Expect to see users increasingly tune-in to This Week In Blackness in 2016 as an alternative to national mainstream news media outlets.
- The Phat Startup (www.thephatstartup.com/)
- Media company producing business and entrepreneurial focused content with a bent on combining technology and hip hop culture. The Phat Startup team produces a traveling conference and regular podcast interviews with well known business, entertainment and tech figures including Tristan Walker, Gary Vaynerchuck, and James Altucher. Look to The Phat Startup as an alternative, or supplement to, Recode and other mainstream tech sites.
- Black men’s magazine/journal launched in 2015. Features long form essays, interviews and commentary on culture, business, tech, social justice and identity issues relevant to black men. More nimble and flexible, Abernathy has already beat ESPN’s “The Undefeated” to a successful launch. In 2016 look for the company to continue building on its audience and adding corporate sponsors (it already has several including MailChimp and Basecamp) to its roster.
- Blavity (blavity.com/)
- In a little more than a year, Blavity has become one of the most innovative voices in online media by focusing on content that appeals to, and prioritizes, black millenials. The site combines news, explanatory pieces, multimedia and a network of active social media accounts to connect with a young audience often missed by traditional news organizations. In 2016 the company will be focused on growing the brand and content offerings and is actively hiring new staff to help build the future of media.
- Emblematic Group (www.emblematicgroup.com/)
- Founded by award winning transmedia journalist Nonny De La Pena, Emblematic is leading the conversation around virtual reality and 3D storytelling for journalists and media organizations. Standout projects include One Dark Night which combines 911 calls with an immersive virtual reality environment to recreate the night of Trayvon Martin’s death and Kiya, a virtual reality piece dealing with domestic violence. In 2016, as cheaper virtual reality headsets hit the market, look to Emblematic to begin connecting communities of color in ways Twitter and Instagram have not.
- Co-founded in April 2015 by Jill Koziol and Liz Tenety, this isn’t just another website for moms. Mother.ly targets millenial moms who want week-by-week personalized product information and advice. Mother.ly is part of the fifth cohort mentored by MATTER, an accelerator for early stage media entrepreneurs. In 2016 look for Mother.ly to monetize itself by offering online-classes, producing buying guides and through expertly matching products with highly selective members of its growing community.
- Mingyian (mingyian.com/)
- Co-founded by Jenny Bai and Rebecca Eydeland, Mingyian is a three-year-old platform that connects Western celebrities with millions of super-fans in China; has already amassed an audience of 7 million users; and raised $850.000 in seed funding. These numbers have caught the attention of several celebrities who want to be part of Mingyian’s growing network, including rapper Pitbull, basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, singer Jessie J, and actor Verne Troyer of Austin Powers’ fame. Mingyian has even caught the eye, and the money, of director M. Night Shyamalan who is backing the company. In 2016, look to Mingyian, another early stage MATTER venture, to make significant inroads into China’s $330 billion mobile commerce market, capitalizing on 415 million Chinese millennials interested in Western music and culture.
Despite her best efforts, former journalist Maria Padilla struggled to monetize OrlandoLatino.com, a news website about the Puerto Rican community in Orlando that shutdown in August 2015 after approximately six years.
“Monetizing the blog is a selling job, which as a journalist I’m not completely comfortable with,” Padilla said. “Call me old school. So I need to earn a living doing something else.”
Padilla’s struggle to cope with the demands of a changing media landscape is not unique. Journalists across Florida have dealt with its impacts in various ways.
Frank Torres, an Army military veteran who became involved in veterans’ affairs and political analysis after being discharged, runs a website called The Orlando Political Observer that he claims attracts several thousand readers a day. Although he did not provide exact figures, Torres says his ad revenue varies greatly from election to non-election season as advertisers take note of his increased traffic. Click here to ready the full story.
By TRACIE POWELL
News publications want young, rock star journalists. They want them to know how to zoom in on a compelling story, shoot it, write it, edit the audio, code, appear on camera, and do just about anything else an editor asks with a smile. All for as small a pay package as possible.
What happens when a news organization gets all that in one package? Most editors’ dream come true, right? The Boston Globe’s new life sciences start-up, Stat, just fired its wonderkid on Friday, but not before they switched the journalism and computer science grad’s job from research and reporting to primarily clerical work that included filing expense reports for the editor-in-chief (which is apparently against Globe policy), creating name tags for Stat events (which was initially assigned to an intern before the journalism grad was tasked with it), as well as booking lunches and ordering food for editors, and other reporters.
The young journalist said she was even asked to create a database to input information for checks written to the company’s operation director’s previous employer, The One Fund, which supports victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Great cause, but it was unrelated to Stat or The Boston Globe.
The journalist said she was unexpectedly escorted to the human resources office Friday morning where she was informed that she would have to either resign or be fired. The journalist would not, she was told, have to return the $5,000 relocation package she was given.
Like any good journalist, the young woman pushed further, asking for specifics regarding her termination. She said the human resources manager told her that she’d forgotten to make a name tag for an attendant at the recent company event; she was later told that her refusal to handle checks for the One Fund also played a role in her firing.
Now, before anyone helpfully chimes in that this is likely just a single case of a “bad fit,” or that the journalist must have done something egregious like plagiarize, lie or steal: 1) She had not published anything because the startup has not yet launched. 2) When the journalist inquired about her termination, she was told it was because she wasn’t a good fit and did not perform her administrative duties satisfactorily. Let’s consider that for journalists of color, this happens more often than some may think. I’ve seen it before. I can’t say how often it happens, but I have certainly heard plenty of stories and, in fact, experienced something similar myself.
This may shed some light on the “mystery” exodus of young people of color from the profession.
In 2003, perhaps the last time a comprehensive study was done on why journalists of color leave the industry, researchers found that it is primarily due to a lack of professional challenge and/or promotion. In the 12 years since that study was done, the decline in the number of journalists of color in U.S. newsrooms has hastened, said Benet Wilson, chair of the Online News Association’s Diversity Committee and editor of AllDigitocracy.org.
“We know, anecdotally, but we don’t have hard numbers to say how many young journalists of color are leaving. We know it’s happening, but no one is tracking this,” Wilson added. “But everybody’s leaving, it’s not just the youngsters. They are either leaving altogether, or putting together their side hustles.”
It is true that journalism is a mess right now and everyone is leaving. But the absence of journalists of color is especially acute for news organizations trying to figure out ways to reach and engage with new and increasingly diverse audiences.
Poor pay and long hours have long been drivers of journalists exiting the profession in general, but a 1995 report in the American Journalism Review also found that lack of advancement opportunities is why young journalists don’t hang around newsrooms for very long. Earlier this year the European Federation of Journalists reported that the top three reasons young journalists leave news are: increasing workloads, a lack of time, and pressures to produce for multiple platforms. All of those are related, I would think. But that hasn’t stopped young people from majoring in journalism, likely because they want to make a difference.
I am not yet naming the young journalist at The Boston Globe property because she, in my opinion, did nothing wrong. But I did speak with the executive editor of Stat, former Politico executive editor Rick Berke. I asked him about his hiring practices and retention philosophy. Berke’s response: “In my newsroom roles over the years, I have aggressively pursued efforts to promote diversity, and continue to do so as we get Stat off the ground in the coming months.”
I never asked Berke about diversity, curious as to how he’d navigate the elephant in the room. Since he brought it up, I followed up with him, asking that he provide examples of his commitment to diversity and I repeated my questions about hiring and retention, Berke did not respond. So I reached out to Stat’s parent company and asked the same question. While The Boston Globe editors had been briefed about this particular firing, they emphasized that Stat is a separate entity.
The Globe itself has seen the departure of several high-profile journalists of color in recent years including popular columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, who left the newspaper in June.
“Stat is a new operation. And while they are connected at a higher level, the news operations are totally separate,” Managing Editor Christine Chinlund said through Paula Bouknight, assistant managing editor for hiring and development. “We were not part of the hiring. There is some overlap in that both Stat and the Globe cover some of the same industries and that there may also be some content overlap. But as far as a news operation, they are totally distinct.”
Berke is a Politico alum, a culture I am already familiar with; it is one that many journalists of color say they feel uncomfortable. I’ve written about it in the past (here and here). Black people generally don’t work at Politico, and apparently not at Stat either (At the time of last week’s firing, the young journalist was Stat’s only black newsroom employee.)
Berke, by the way, resigned from Politico due to differences with founders Jim VandeHei and John Harris over strategy. Berke’s slower, more methodical news-gathering ways clashed with the founders’ “quick-metabolism news bites, scoops and relentless self-promotion,” the Washington Post reported last fall.
If Berke takes diversity into consideration when hiring and promoting newsroom employees, then he is to be commended. I just wish he’d been able to provide some concrete examples to illustrate his commitment.
Back to Friday’s firing at Stat. It happened during the National Association of Black Journalists’ 40th Anniversary celebration, no less. Talk about timing! The journalist graduated from a large state university where she was an editor on the student newspaper and was really excited about her new job, posting on social media that she knew how fortunate she was to land a job straight out of college.
She was an intern for the Online News Association, heralded for her performance in the organization’s 2013 student newsroom where she wrote poignantly about the instability of her childhood, living in 20 houses in 20 years. She later successfully interned at The New York Times and NPR. She was a National Science Writer’s Association fellow and also interned at NASA. She has stellar work samples– audio, video and print. She knows C++, FORTRAN, and HTML/CSS. And if you don’t know what those are, then know that she’s a triple threat, quadruple even. One groomed by the National Association of Black Journalists (Transparency: I first hired her as an NABJ intern when the journalist was a sophomore). An NABJ baby. One of our crown jewels. A rarity.
Most important, she’s hungry. Hungry to tell great stories, and to make a difference.
The day before her graduation in May, the young journalist wrote this on a social media platform: “It’s been a while since I’ve cried tears of joy but, today was the day! The day before my college graduation ceremony, I was offered and accepted a WONDERFUL job opportunity with The Boston Globe in Boston!” She later posted photos from her moving day, and an image of the badge identifying her as a Boston Globe employee. To say she was excited is an understatement. And her supporters were excited for her.
Not even after Berke approved switching the journalist’s direct supervisor from an editor to the operations director did she openly revolt. She continued performing clerical tasks and worked on a reporting assignment from home, during her own time (Berke, she said, suggested that she work on reporting when she could get to it).
Weeks earlier I reached out to managing editor Stephanie Simon after the journalist contacted me about concerns she had after being switched to a new manager. Simon had recruited the reporter to begin with and I had given a strong recommendation for the journalist when Simon had conveyed Stat’s need for a researcher/reporter.
Simon told me that everyone “loved” the journalist, that she wanted to mentor the young woman and that everybody was having to pitch in and do administrative duties temporarily. Simon reassured both the journalist, and me, that the young woman would be doing more research and reporting once the site launched. And Simon added that she was eager to edit a story the journalist was working on, a story that the publication’s multimedia team used to demonstrate storytelling on multiple platforms.
When I asked Simon why the journalist’s supervisor had been switched from an editor to the operation director, Simon told me that there was initial confusion about who the young woman would report to; since her duties, for now, would be primarily administrative, Simon said it had been decided that the young woman would report to the operation’s director. Telephoning me while on vacation, Simon said that she would help the journalist devise a development plan and advise her on navigating newsroom politics.
Simon declined to speak with me following the young journalist’s dismissal.
Based on all the information I have been able to gather, it appears Simon was overruled by the man she reports to when it came to Friday’s firing. But even in a power struggle, I don’t think newsroom leaders would have to make the young journalist a secretary. Furthermore, perhaps the woman who hired the young journalist should ponder whether she wants to continue working at Stat. But internal politics is none of my business.
I write all of this not to indulge in the internal failings of a journalism startup, nor because I am trying to brag about someone I’ve helped raise through the ranks, or because I’m trying to help her find a new job– this young woman is so talented, she will land somewhere that values her skills with leaders who will continue nurturing her. That I’m not worried about. I’m writing this in hopes of finally getting people to understand why we leave. And to help those above my pay grade figure out why the numbers in the American Society of News Editors newsroom diversity censuses are worsening. Hint: It’s the cause, not the symptom, that we need to treat.
Tracie Powell is the founder of AllDigitocracy.org, chair of the National Association of Black Journalists Digital Task Force, member of the Online News Association’s Diversity Committee, an inaugural member of the Poynter Institute’s 2015 Women’s Digital Leadership Academy and a 2015-16 Knight Fellow at Stanford.
Benét J. Wilson, a former editor at Aviation Week and a board member for the Online News Association, will become editor-in-chief of AllDigitocracy. She’ll assume the reigns later this month, founder Tracie Powell said.
“Benét has been one of AllDigitocracy’s earliest supporters, and she is a force of nature,” Powell said. “Not only does she have the passion necessary to run a startup like AllDigitocracy, she understands and embraces the vision behind it.”
AllDigitocracy has fast become the go-to place for big-picture discussions about media and diversity. Powell founded the company nearly two years ago, but is stepping away from day-to-day operations in order to focus on AllDigitocracy’s overall business strategy, she said. While Wilson will assume responsibility for AllDigitocracy’s editorial direction, Denise Clay will join the site as assistant editor. Clay will be responsible for managing and developing AllDigitocracy’s social media assets as well as editing.
Wilson is the founder, publisher and editor of Aviation Queen LLC, an aviation/travel freelance writing, multimedia and consulting business. She is the former co-editor of AirwaysNews.com and eNewsletters/social media editor for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. While much of her career has been centered around aviation, Wilson is also a recognized expert in digital media. She serves as chair of ONA’s Diversity Committee and is also the immediate past chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Journalism Task Force, and currently serves as DJTF’s Vice Chair of Education.
“As someone who has spent her career advocating for more newsroom diversity, I could not be more pleased — or honored — to step up as editor of AllDigitocracy.org,” Wilson said. “Founder Tracie Powell has done a phenomenal job of turning this website into an industry must-read publication, and I look forward to building on her work.”
Clay is a former city government and police reporter who is currently a proof-reader and an editor for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, a publication that covers Philadelphia’s African American community. Clay is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in XO Jane and Time.com.
“As an independent contractor, AllDigitocracy has been one of my daily go-to sites since its inception because I know that no matter what content I click on, I’m going to learn something about the media world around me,” Clay said. “I’m honored that Tracie has asked me to be a part of this site and I look forward to working with Benet to maintain and enhance this vitally important resource.”
Wilson and Clay will begin their new roles this month, with Powell fully stepping aside later this summer when she begins a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford.
As one who believes in paying for good journalism, I have contributed to seven successful journalism/writing crowdfunded projects through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I found out about three of the campaigns from my friends who ran them, but now there’s a new website that aims to write stories about effective or innovative campaigns and how a campaign fits into a larger strategy. By doing so, the website hopes to spread good ideas that other reporters and storytellers can adopt.
Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism, the brainchild of founder and editor Khari Johnson, is a news website devoted to the coverage of reporting, storytelling and news startups made possible by crowdfunding. Johnson, an online reporter, photographer and storyteller, worked for a decade at local news startups in San Diego, Calif. He spoke with All Digitocracy Contributing Editor Benet J. Wilson about his website.
All Digitocracy: How did you come up with the idea for Through the Cracks?
Khari Johnson: Part of it came from my notebooks while working in San Diego, where I worked for a few news startups. In some instances, I ended up with stories left over or stories that ended abruptly. I was left with stories that could have been something.
Journalists can look in their notebooks and come up with long-term projects or even a start-up. Anyone who has been on a beat long enough knows what I’m talking about. The potential is there. When you stay in touch with people in your area, you have institutional knowledge when covering stories. I was in Imperial Beach in south San Diego where I made connections over the years. The Imperial Beach community had the second-highest unemployment rate in San Diego, but it’s the sort of place that deserves coverage despite a high unemployment rate and perhaps because of a high unemployment rate. Otherwise, it’s an incredible place. When I left San Diego, there were a few community news websites emerging, which was exciting.
The stories from my notebook ended abruptly because the news startups ended abruptly with sudden, unforeseen layoffs or closures. This happened in my work as a freelancer and while working for the San Diego News Network and Patch.
AD: Why did you think it was needed?
KJ: I say this with the disclaimer that I don’t assume to know everything going on. Home run crowdfunding campaigns that get a lot of ink and attention can receive up to $100,000, but there are others out there. Between 80 and 90 percent of campaigns get under $50,000, and most of those don’t get covered. If you can’t afford to start a newspaper, you can fund a project that helps others with things like paying writers or buying necessary equipment.
AD: How did you choose the staff for Through the Cracks?
KJ: Everybody was asked if they have an interest in the future of journalism and that was one of biggest questions for me. That’s the question we try and explore the most with the website. Everyone was asked that question and beyond that, it’s within personal networks. For example, editor Carlos Moreno and I worked together in Imperial Beach and he works in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and he did a lot of the initial recruitment.
AD: What are you looking for when deciding what projects end up on the website?
KJ: We try to look at if something is helpful, innovative, particularly unique or an example of something providing coverage to an underreported topic. We go through the latest campaigns launched on various websites and we take pitches from people who have campaigns going. We do our best to stay on top of all the platforms.
AD: How many projects a week or month do you go through before deciding which ones will appear on the website?
KJ: I would say hundreds. We go through some of the sites like Kickstarter, Indegogo and Beacon, which all tend to have quick churn. We also look at sites like Pozible in Australia and Ulule in France. We do find a lot of campaigns run by women. Some data says that campaigns run by women are more successful. Feminist campaigns are kicking butt on Kickstarter.
AD: I found this quote by Jamila Bey interesting: “It takes courage to ask for money and journalists don’t ask for enough of it.” Why do you think this happens?
KJ: Interviews were done in 2011 with reporters and donors of Spot.us campaigns. It clearly hit a nerve with journalists saying their campaigns felt like begging, shaking a tin can to get money. They felt pressure to market the campaign or they felt like they wouldn’t succeed. That interview resonates with the sort of attitudes that are prevalent in some journalists. Some of those quotes were from people between the ages of 22 and 25.
That traditional wall of church and state, making money versus making content has been drilled into us. That was a by-product of the monopolies held by newspapers and have existed for most of our lives. Both of these are being revisited today. It’s in the culture and deeply embedded, and it comes up often in our interviews. Journalists reluctant to do that marketing. But I think crowdfunding is a transition that lets writers share content and ask if readers want more. That’s not begging.
AD: How do you fund Through the Cracks?
KJ: Through the Cracks was launched as a minimally viable product — me and a Tumblr blog last August — to where we are today with about a dozen people (who began to join us in February) on staff in five countries. The current version of the site was launched in March and we’re less than a year old.
AD: What do you hope the site will look like a year from now?
KJ: If we continue to tell these stories, I’m just excited to share the uses for crowdfunding. We want to reach others who have an interest in crowdfunding projects. I want to see a positive impact for underreported stories.
I also want people to understand that there are options for entrepreneurship. We see reports that journalism is in decline, but I think there’s something to be optimistic about. When we’re not sharing stories of success for smaller start-ups, we also know about the work being done by Vice and Buzzfeed. I’m excited to see what the smaller start-ups are doing. The era of the monopolistic newspaper is over. We’re now thinking about communities that don’t have coverage. When we see what happens when they do, that’s exciting.
Editor’s note: To learn more about why Through the Cracks was created, read “Innovation, Not Donations: Why This Blog Exists.”
Benét J. Wilson is the founder and owner of Aviation Queen LLC, a freelance writing, multimedia and consulting firm. She is an aviation/travel freelance journalist and blogger who has written for publications and blogs including AirwaysNews.com, CrankyFlier.com, ACI-NA Centerlines magazine, Aviation International News, Airport World, the Airline Passenger Experience magazine, and the Runway Girl Network. She currently serves on the board of the Online News Association and is Vice Chair of Education for the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Journalism Task Force.
By CLAYTON GUTZMORE
One of the most important legal documents media entrepreneurs need to have when launching their startup is a convertible note agreement, a document that lays out repayment terms of a loan between a company and investors.
“It’s basically an IOU that can transform into different things,” said David Salmon Managing Attorney of Salmon Legal Group. “You either get paid back interest in the company or get paid back at a later date.”
Salmon was one of two attorneys who offered free legal advice at the Miami Venture Law Project, which advises media entrepreneurs. The lawyers provided participants with 10 key legal documents that every media entrepreneur should have in their arsenal when starting their companies.
More than 30 people gathered inside an office building on the outskirts of downtown Miami to hear what the lawyers had to say.
“We want to bring entrepreneurs together and bring attorneys to them in a comfortable setting to ask questions and learn,” Said Ashley Juchawski, Project Attorney for the Miami Venture Law Project.
In addition to convertible note agreements, startups should also arm themselves with:
- Formation Umbrella: A document that identifies the original founders of a business, their roles and the name of the business;
- Employee Agreement Forms: Documents that state what you pay your employees and what rights and benefits they have;
- Independent Contractor Agreement: A document that governs the responsibilities and pay for a person, business, or corporation that provides goods or services to another entity under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement;
- Term Sheet: Identifies the critical terms of a transaction or deal;
- Non-Disclosure Agreement: A contract that outlines confidential information, material or knowledge that at least two parties wish to share with one another, but not with third parties outside of the agreement;
- Operating Agreement Checklist: A document that outlines the management structure, tax treatment, names of member managers, capital contributions, decision-making structure, and other matters for how the company will be governed;
- Stock Purchase Agreement: Forms investors fill out in order to buy shares in the company;
- Independent Contractor Rules of Thumb: Best practices freelancers and other independent contractors should follow and
- 83b: A form executives should complete in order to avoid being hit with much higher taxes long term. A Section 83(b) election must take place within 30 days of receiving the stock in a company.
According to Juchawski, entrepreneurs need to understand that online legal documents are not one size fits all. Attorneys from other companies have tailored online legal documents to suit specific companies. ”I’ve seen a lot of startups shoot themselves in the foot from copying and pasting Google’s terms of service as their own,” she said.
If you would like to learn more about the Venture Law Project, click here.
By CONSTANZA GALLARDO
In the United States, less than one percent of Latino owned startups are backed by venture capitalists, according to a study by CB Insights.
Hispanics’ buying power totaled $1.3 trillion in 2014, according to a report from Selig Center for Economic Growth, and spent 13 percent more than the overall population on their smartphones and apps—says Nielsen’s most recent cross-platform report.
Chris Dell, born in Colombia, is the founder and CEO of Go Baller.
Go Baller, a social discovery app for sports fans, has rapidly grown with the help of accelerator programs, which provide funding, mentors and professional services in the initial stages of any startup.
Listen to Dell talk about his experience as a Hispanic entrepreneur and what he thinks is missing in the startup market at last week’s Hispanicize in Miami:
By ELLEN NICOLE USHER
Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory has never been more relevant than it is in today’s fast-growing global and digital economy. With forty percent of the world’s population connected to the Internet, the Web has revolutionized the way companies conduct business. The news industry is no exception. A steady decline in revenue and increased layoffs, coupled with the success of digital companies like BuzzFeed, Gawker and The Huffington Post, has prompted many journalists to become digital media entrepreneurs.
But for every successful digital media upstart, there are dozens more failures. To survive in this ever-changing arena, journalists-turned-entrepreneurs must carefully research and plan before launching their businesses. Here are six ways digital media entrepreneurs can protect themselves before launching their startups.
1. Consult a Startup Attorney as Early as Possible
According to Ann Scarlett, professor of Business and Entrepreneurship Law at St. Louis University School of Law, one of the first things entrepreneurs should consider is hiring a lawyer to help navigate the waters of starting a business. Costs, Scarlett notes, should not deter start-ups from seeking the assistance of an attorney. “Many attorneys are willing to sit down with clients. Some even offer flexible payment plans that meet your budget.” Because developing a startup can involve employment, contract, tax, and other legal issues, consulting an attorney is an investment in protecting your business from any possible structural, employment or intellectual property issues in the future.
2. Decide if Your Startup Will Be an S-Corporation or a Limited Liability Company
Choosing either option will lower your startup’s taxes and possibly shield it from future liabilities. Understanding the benefits of an S-Corporation and a Limited Liability Company, and comparing them with your startup’s ultimate goal, will make this decision easier. “If your goal is to grow the business as quickly as possible, merge and go public, then forming a corporation is best,” Scarlett says. “If your goal is to have a comfortable income, liability protection, and less paperwork when registering your business, then the Limited Liability Company would be the best option.”
3. Create a Detailed Founders’ Agreement
Creating a detailed founders’ agreement is important because it can save your startup from having to litigate unclear policy and procedural issues later down the line. Startups should explicitly state the overall goals and expectations of the business, the duties and responsibilities of each founder, their salaries, and explain the procedure for dissolving a corporation if things go badly or someone dies unexpectedly.
4. Protect Your Intellectual Property
Wallace Lightsey, counsel at Wyche law firm in South Carolina (which represents All Digitocracy), says key concerns for digital media companies are those involving protecting ownership and infringement of intellectual property rights. Most of this can be done through filing your patents early, drafting the proper contracts and stipulating ownership of your ideas.
“Entrepreneurs need to file their patents before presenting to potential investors,” St. Louis University’s Scarlett added. In addition, startups should make sure that their idea was not created while working with another company, which can lead to litigation with former employers, she said.
5. Know Employment and Tax Laws Specific to Digital Media Start Ups
- Employment Law Issues. Startups must be careful when classifying the people who work for them. They should clearly specify whether a worker is an intern, independent contractor, or employee. The Small Business Association has provided information to help businesses understand the classifications. Such classifications can determine a business’s tax obligation.
- Tax Law Issues. “If they choose a corporate form, there are many tax laws that new businesses may not be aware of, such as the self-employment tax law,” says Scarlett. The IRS also has guidelines for businesses owners.
6. Know Your State’s Defamation Laws
It is important to understand not only defamation law, but digital media startups should know their state’s specific laws, Lightsey urged. Knowing these laws can help save your company from potential litigation, he said.
The list compiled above is not intended to be legal advice nor is it comprehensive, meaning entrepreneurs should refer back to item #1 and engage an attorney as soon as possible in order to reduce the chance of having to go to court later.
New U program seeks a new home
The New U Project, an initiative to increase the number of entrepreneurs of color in the digital media space, will not fund any projects in 2015, said Doug Mitchell, one of New U’s project directors.
New U’s grant ran out, Mitchell said. But further, directors did not seek to renew the grant at this time because they want to reorganize, he added.
“We intentionally went dormant because we know that to grow the program, it needs to be inside a university that has shown both a strong commitment to diversity and entrepreneurship,” Mitchell said. “We’re talking to a couple of them and will look to bring the program back next year under a new fiscal sponsor and different kinds of programming.”
The Ford Foundation, an independent non-profit and grant-making organization, had been supporting the NewU project to the tune of $500,000 over the past five years. Journalist entrepreneurs participated in boot camps as well as received training and mentoring to help prepare them to own media businesses. Entrepreneurs also competed to receive seed money for their companies.
Last year’s seed winners were Chris Dell, founder of Go Baller, a platform that curates social media content and DeShuna Spencer, founder of kweliTV, a web-based TV network that will offer a selection of on-demand independent films, web shows and documentaries.
New U has made a difference, not just in terms of the seed money but in terms of the support participants receive in designing a scalable business model, Spencer said. New U is especially vital for minority women entrepreneurs, she added.
“It’s been a very helpful organization for me to be a part of, even beyond the $20,000 seed money,” said Spencer who applied for the grant a couple of times before finally winning in 2014. “We learned how to put together a pitch-deck and met veteran entrepreneurs who helped us think beyond our business ideas and figure out the financials. And based on advice I received from New U, I fine-tuned my pitch deck. This is what I now use when I go talk to investors about my company.
“The program is especially vital for minority women,” Spencer continued. “We’re less likely to get funding. Less likelty to get support. It’s really important for women like myself who have great ideas, but can’t find the resources to make it happen.”
Mitchell underscored the impact the project has had particularly with women of color. Three of the past five winners are in this demographic, he said.
New U launched in 2010, and until this year, UNITY: Journalists For Diversity, had administered the grant. “The program has been successful and the project managers have done a good job,” UNITY President Russell Contreras said by phone. “But right now the program is in flux. The Ford Foundation has been tremendously supportive of all our programming, not just New U. So as we shift our focus to news coverage of poverty, we look forward to continue working with Ford. We hope to continue the energy from New U, but everything will be assessed as we decide UNITY’s next stage.”