Friday, July 8, 2011

Media Salad: Tossed into business

Christine Tatum was president of the Society of Professional Journalists for a year before she left the Denver Post to go into business, eventually for herself, as the founder of a Denver-based firm that provides competitive intelligence to other small and medium-sized companies.

She likes the fact she is taking journalism on a new route, that she is hiring fellow former journalists to provide her clients the information they seek, and that, while doing so, she and "the fellas" are still fulfilling the "calling" they answered when they became journalists.

"Which was to give people useful information," she said, information that can "enlighten" business decisions that are made every day. She calls the firm Media Salad Inc., and describes it on her website as: "a rapid-response research and reporting service that works on demand to deliver Market Intelligence so our clients can make informed strategic decisions faster.

"Our professional reporters and editors will work from around the globe to put independent findings in your team's hands for quick action."
Christine Tatum
Tatum, like many other reporters who have fallen out of the news business because the news/advertising model imploded, has created a new model for journalism based on the skills and craft she learned as a reporter, which she is now taking to market as a business owner.
Ironically, she believes what she has created could be taken inside a newspaper or other large news organization, providing a new client-driven revenue stream that puts a higher price on more targeted business information than what can be passed along in a general news story.

New revenue streams are what newspapers, magazines and most other media, including broadcast television, need to survive. Right now, traditional, general media has a hard time reaching the small niche audiences their once mass audiences have been broken into on the Internet.

"The information is not customized enough for these people," she says of her clients and the news industry. It's too generalized. "Sometimes a news story that is written raises more questions than it actually answers for you, and you can't call the reporter up and say, 'Hey, I'd like you to get rolling on that follow-up story.'" The newspaper reporter will "tell you where to get off," said Tatum.

But her "reporters" can start digging deeper at that point to "track competitors, vendors and donors; find and background potential partners; identify new market prospects; ... [and] track changes in regulation," she says on her website.

At the same time, Tatum says she hasn't forgotten how to tell someone where to get off.

"I make very clear at the outset," she said, "we give you the good, the bad and the ugly because we would not be doing our jobs for you if we didn't."

"And if they decide they can't swing it, and they find us obnoxious or all of a sudden we're telling them things ... or flagging things that they think: 'Oh my gosh, I just can't deal with this every day,' ... if they can't swing it, then I don't want to work with them. I just don't. I'm not interested in the money."

That sounds like the old technology reporter Tatum was when she worked for the Post or the Chicago Tribune before that. She's not afraid to tell stories of getting burned by the first business that hired her away from the Post, nor of her own dissatisfaction with the technology the Post was trying to use to build it's digital offerings at Denver

Strangely, in terms of business, Tatum is not driven by a desire for great profit, which like many journalists, might disqualify her and them from the bruising, no-holds-barred world of free-market enterprise.

"I would be very, very happy if I just accomplished modest financial goals," she said, "as opposed to, 'Oh, we're going to be acquired by Google next week,' ... or, 'Oh, we're about to win like all of this massive investment.'"

Instead, she she'd rather know she helped a struggling fellow journalist feed his family, or make a tuition payment with the supplemental income she provides her independent contractors --her "reporters."

"Call me crazy, but I think that a lot of journalists have also answered a calling; it's not that you decided to go off and make lots and lots of tons and tons of money. You answered a calling, and in a weird way, I view what I am doing and continue to do professionally is answering that calling."

In other words, practicing a specialized, small-company journalism, independent of the big media dollars that no longer support as many journalists as once was before. It's the new journalism of the 21st century. Taking your writing craft into your own small business.

You may have heard that before on this blog. It's the pitch for my own small business.

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