Sunday, July 15, 2012

The future of journalism: Wanna' buy a house?

"There are a lot of niches in a newspaper, and everyone of these is going to be a niche online."

John Rebchook, author, reporter and publisher of the Colorado real-estate blog, Inside Real Estate News, took two years to prove that the niche he had developed as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News could be replicated as a sustainable business online, and that the business could replace his old newspaper salary.

Rebchook expects to reach that mark this year after a struggle not only to craft an attractive online presence for his work, but also to carry his audience from the Rocky, which closed in February 2009, to the blog which he launched in July that same year.

Rebchook's blog represents the future of journalism in the 21st century. Out of the creative destruction of the newspaper industry, which is still struggling to find business models that work, comes individual journalists who turn their own work into a product sold through the new small businesses they create to replace their collapsed careers.

Small, online-only media startups will not pull down the huge numbers that major media organizations consider necessary to sustain themselves -- usually measured in monthly unique visits to a website, with large organizations tallying those in the millions of visits per month. But small online businesses can pull down unique visits numbered in the thousands, and Rebchook has proven those numbers can sustain his small company.

How has he done it? He said several of his sources while he worked at the Rocky came to him after the newspaper closed and proposed starting an online product where they could continue to read Rebchook's independent reporting. With their help, Rebchook was able to launch Inside Real Estate News with three commercial sponsors who funded the operation and made sure Rebchook could continue to support his family as the project got underway.

Today, Rebchook reports 25,000 unique visits per month to the site, and 15,000 unique visitors, with an average staying time on the site of about two minutes, which in the online world represents deep reading and an eternity of any one visitor's attention span.

Unique visitors are distinguished from unique visits by the staying power of any one reader; for example, a reader who went to Rebchook's site to check out one of his latest scoops (Payton Manning's closing on a $4.575 million home in Cherry Hills Village) may have also stayed to read reports on the heating up of the luxury-home market in Denver and the warming of the commercial real-estate market in the metro area.

Those stories attract both a Colorado and national sports audience, as well as the professional real-estate audience that may be selling homes to other relocating professional athletes or CEOs in Colorado or elsewhere, or who use the recovery of the luxury-home market as a measure of a town's comeback within its regional economy.

That's what the Internet has done to the information industry in this country. It has thrown open the doors of publishing to anyone who has information to sell by knocking down the capital cost of entry to the industry; it has put the future of journalism into the hands of journalists who do the work; and it has made available to the world's readers the pages  of any book, magazine, text, newspaper, academic research paper or other collection of knowledge gathered in one place in any language.

Or at least that's the direction we're moving toward. John Rebchook is already a regular contributor.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

NEED HELP: Every little bit counts

If I were panhandling on  a street corner in Denver, that's probably what my scrawled, cardboard sign would say, although I might try to make the message a little more original.

I'm a blogger; not a dreaded blogger I hope, but a blogger nevertheless.

I'm a journalist turned blogger. That means I continue to write about the things I used to cover as a journalist, primarily small business and politics. But in launching a personally branded blog of my own, I allow myself to go beyond the limits of assigned areas of coverage imposed on journalists working for established media outlets.

I have written here, for example, about my five-year bout with colo-rectal cancer.

My being a blogger is the result of the collapse of the newspaper business and other print journalism outlets. The Internet blew down the doors that limited writers' access to those industries, allowing anyone with a computer to become a publisher simply by starting a blog.

I started mine on March 19, 2009, and have achieved some limited success if success can be measured by an average of 550 unique visitors to the blog each month and occassional pickup of my work by Huffington Post Denver. Those pickups also allow readers from around the nation and across the globe to occasionally find my work and comment on it.

I have been seeking sponsors for my blog for about the last 18 months, and display a list of eight individuals and couples on the left side of the blog whom I identify as supporters of small business and the new journalism of the 21st century.

I believe personally branded blogging is a permanent element of the Internet-driven journalism of the 21st century, and if journalism is to survive at all in this century, bloggers, especially journalists independent of any large-media organization, will have to figure out a way to sustain themselves financially through the publication of their blogs.

When I first started asking my readers to sponsor my work, I expected several business friends who had their own firms to step forward to "support small business and 21st century journalism." I planned to list those businesses in a prominent spot at the top, right-side column of the blog, a place traditionally used to display advertising.

That space still remains empty of either sponsors or advertisements. One businessman turned me down flat, reporting through an associate, "No, he did not want to do something like that!"

My blog is political at times and this businessman's political bent leaned far to the right from mine, so I could understand the rejection. But other past business acquaintances also fell silent when asked to support what I was writing, and frankly their rejection was disappointing.

I thought business had an interest in good business reporting, and either my audience was judging my journalism not to be as good as I judged it to be, or my readers who were business owners simply decided investing in my business was not a good business decision for them.

I've learned since going out on my own as a businessman who is trying to make journalism his business product that the market is tough and business decision-making is always a cold calculation of hard fact. Small business owners usually  have few dollars to spend supporting other small businesses; their own bottomline has to come first.

But I'm going to keep writing about small business for as long as I can, and keep trying to find some support among the business community that I write about.

I'm also going to write about the future of journalism and other journalistic small businesses that have evolved from the creative destruction and reconstruction that has occurred in my industry since the Internet began luring readers to screens and away from printed pages.

I think continuing to write about my profession might help it survive, and that eventually small business owners will see the wisdom and value of the work I do.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

SBA budget an icebreaker?

It would be ironic if the 2012-2013 budget for the U.S. Small Business Administration were to break the partisan gridlock in Congress during this election year, but House Republicans have offered the Obama administration and Senate Democrats just that opportunity.

I rely on Robb Mandelbaum's reporting yesterday in the New York Times small business blog, You're the Boss, to bring you this pleasant political development. "In all," Mandelbaum writes, "House Republicans have proposed appropriating $1.16 billion to SBA ... about $40 million more than the Obama administration has sought and $237 million more than the agency received this year."

For a variety of reasons, usually philosophical bordering on radically ideological, SBA funding -- most of which goes to guarantee small-business loans that help the nation's business owners make more money -- has been a partisan battleground where the ideologues win and small businesses are left to gasp over a lack of capital.

But the House Republican proposal here, at least on its surface, suggests a mutual understanding that SBA is no evil wielder of reckless deficit-producing government spending. And that small business could use the government's help to pick itself up from the Great Recession. The confluence of good vibe over SBA was further reinforced on Thurday when the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a similar total spending bill for SBA at $1.12 billion.

Any senator or representative could legitimately share a drink with a lobbyist over such legislation. And maybe the Great Partisan Divide in Congress will grow a little narrower when the three parties discover how good it feels to be both doing their jobs and some good for the commonwealth at the same time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Out of the chemo room -- for good?

I'm out of the chemo room and unless I can beat my docs' first and only prediction of personal life expectancy for me, may never be going back.

More than a week ago (which now seems like an extraordinary length of time), and after another scan of my lungs showed the cancer still growing and new tumors forming from the previous month's pictures, the docs said the coughing and shortness of breath I was experiencing, and the increasing exhaustion that accompanied every step I took, or every exertion I made, would only grow worse.

Putting me on a  new round of chemo, with all their horrible side effects, would only add to the burden my body is fighting against, and so they recommended no treatment at all other than the medicines and practices that might lighten the load and make my life a little more comfortable.

"How much time do I have?" I asked, knowing full well that's not a question an oncologist likes to answer.

In five years of treatments, neither of the two oncologists who have treated me, Dr. Tom Kenney out of Porter Hospital, and Wells Messersmith, from the Anschutz Cancer Center, has ever offered a personal life expectancy. I think both of them are surprised to see me still walking around, no matter how slowly. "Look at you!" Messersmith said as I pressed him for an estimate for my survival.

Then he turned to his assistant and asked: "What do we tell people as a standard?

"Three to six months," said the young woman doctor.

"So that's it?" I asked, always wanting to confirm what I've heard from a source, which is an old reporter's trick.

"I don't know," Messersmith said, but probably.

Over the period of three scans, I realized, my plant-based diet seemed to be having no effect on the disease and its progress as well. So this time driving home from the appointment I knew I was going to go back to eating meat and fish, ice cream and using butter in what I cook. Funny thing is that first week after the diagnosis, I didn't seem to have any appetite at all. And kept losing weight by virtue of not eating much.

I have not been able to have a beer or a drink either, and that, too, seems to find it's way to the bottomline on the scale.Call it a benefit. I know the alcohol will make me feel bad so it turns off my desire for even a sip.

Yet, still, on Monday, I went back to Centennial to play croquet with my friends and share the news. That was actually a mistake. The sun and not much hydration combined with every heavy-footed step up and down the court and the increasing shortness of breath that accompanies such "work" wiped me out for three days after I got home that afternoon.

But 'Look at me!' I am still walking around and getting some things done, and I expect to beat my "standard" life expectancy by more than an additional three to six months after this first ticket expires. If some new drug is approved by the FDA in the meantime, who knows (God knows) I may still wrack up that miracle survival from this stuff.

And walk back into the chemo room for another round of living, albeit with side effects.

Also in the meantime, there is hospice and funeral planning to take care of. My writing here will probably turn more frequently to the small business coverage I have been posting, and since every day of life seems to cost at least about $75, if not $300 or $1,000, if you have any interest in sponsoring my journalism, I'm still alive and kicking, and barely living off my Social Security.

Give me a call. I will try to accommodate almost any request.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Owners rank Colorado, Denver and Colorado Springs 'small-biz friendly'

Colorado Springs got an "A"; Denver and the state as a whole each got a "B+"; and Colorado came out 13th among 45 states ranked for "overall small business friendliness" in a recent national survey of 6,000 small business owners., a San Francisco-based nationwide referral service of local small businesses, said Idaho and Texas ranked first and second respectively atop their list, with Oklahoma, Utah and Louisiana following in order of the top five. Rhode Island (45), Vermont (44), Hawaii (43), California (42) and New York (41) were ranked the five least "friendly" states for small business. Five states were not ranked by Thumbtack because too few business owners in those states responded to the survey to make a ranking viable.

The states and 40 cities in them were ranked in 15 categories corresponding to questions posed to business owners regarding, among other things: "ease of starting," "cost of hiring a new employee," "overall regulatory friendliness," "friendliness of tax code," "current economic health of small business" and "change in revenue over past 12 months."

The study was conducted in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation,  the Kansas City, Mo.-based advocate of small business.

"Asking entrepreneurs to rank state friendliness to their businesses is a powerful resource for helping policymakers understand the needs of business owners and for helping aspiring founders understand the full dimensions of their business environment,: said Dane Stangler, director of research at Kauffman.

For the full results of the survey, click here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Colorado bankers answer call for small-business access to capital

Bankers have been called nasty names for years by small-business owners who have been denied credit, but the Colorado Bankers Association has launched an effort that could change that.

Through a website,, Colorado bankers are beginning to refer customers who don't qualify for their loans to other organizations around the state that might find a way for the cash-strapped owner to find capital he or she needs to grow.

I've been covering small business in Colorado for more than 20 years, and this effort is the first I've seen between agencies of government and large commercial banks to solve the "access to capital" problem that is a perennial complaint of small-business owners who don't qualify for bank loans.

If you try it, it might actually work.

When you go to the website, you see a cup of coffee beside a napkin with a hand-drawn diagram describing a business owner's route to successful financing. Below the napkin, three links are shown to get you started:
  1. Before you Seek Funding
  2. Steps to Securing Funding
  3. Advice and Resources.
Click on "Advice and Resources" and you'll find a list of organizations that joined with the bankers to create the guide, all conveniently linked so you can go directly to them for more information. The list starts with ACCION, a small-business lender that operates in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, whose reputation for actually lending money to businesses has grown large over the last three years.

The list continues with: the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, a statewide chamber of commerce; the Colorado Enterprise Fund, a nonprofit lending source that can loan a business up to $250,000; the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, a state agency; the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, another active lender to small business; the Denver Office of Economic Development and 10 more resources available to small businesses looking for financing they cannot get from banks.

But the member banks of the CBA are all supporting the effort to find money for firms and companies they cannot make their own customers. That is the unusual and unprecedented nature of this most recent effort to solve the "access to capital" problem.

"All of the CBA members were involved in the project," said Christie Drumm, vice president of communications for Wells Fargo & Co. in Colorado.

She said Wells Fargo, which was the nation's and Colorado's number one lender of SBA guaranteed loans in 2011, is instructing its small-business loan officers throughout the state to spread the word about the bankers' association website in order to educate business owners looking for credit that "there are other options" if traditional bank lending is not available to them.

Caroline Joy, who was the project director for launching for the bankers' association, said the effort grew out of Gov. John Hickenlooper's Colorado Blueprint, a statewide plan for economic development.

The blueprint "saw a need to demystify the lending process," Joy said, and the bankers' association interepreted that citizen demand as a cry for "pulling down the walls of the silos" that separated lenders and other institutions who were ready to help small businesses grow and create new jobs.

"If a bank can't help you," Joy said, "we want to help you find another place that can."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the Chemo Room: A lesson in clinical trials

I was treated to a little of the cancer-fighting establishment's scientific bias against alternative treatments last week, but the experience left me unconvinced that a plant-based diet is not helping me keep my cancer in check.

"There's no evidence for that," my doc, Wells Messersmith said when I asked if the diet could  have had any influence on results of a scan taken March 2 and compared with an earlier scan from Jan. 19.

Messersmith methodically measured the 10 largest tumors (the biggest being about one inch long) still growing in my lungs, chest cavity and abdominal region March 9 to show me how progress or the lack of it against the cancer is determined by the folks who conduct clinical trials of new drugs.

An independent report written by a reviewer Messersmith said could be in Japan, India or anywhere else in the United States, suggested the numbers of tumors and the size of existing tumors had increased in me while I was taking the study drug Estybon (rigsertib) for six weeks this year.

But my doc was skeptical and liked to take his own measurements even though he did expect the latest scan to show my cancer had gotten worse. If it had, I would be withdrawn from the clinical trial: "You wouldn't want to keep taking it [and feeling the side effects] if the drug wasn't doing you any good, would you?" he asked me.

So he measured up my tumors and found that overall the cancer in me had grown by 13 percent over the six weeks. He questioned whether one shaded area of the scan actually represented more tumors, as the first reviewer seemed to be suggesting, and he noted that "worse," as described by most clinical trials, usually was a 20 percent overall growth of the cancer.

My CEA (a tumor marker in the blood) also had risen from 40.3 on Feb. 15 to 41.1 on March 9, another indicator things were not necessarily getting better inside me.

Still, Messersmith wanted to keep me on the drug for another month and scan me again at the end of March or mid April, right around tax time. He said he expected the cancer would continue to get worse and then I would be pulled from the study and enrolled in another trial to try to keep me alive.

He actually mentioned that a "cost/benefit" analysis is what determines whether a patient remains in the trial or not. The maker of the drug, Onconova Therapeutics Inc., Newtown, Pa., provides me the drug for free and picks up all the extra costs of my treatment related to using the drug. But like any business, the company doesn't want to keep paying for all that expensive stuff -- costs of the drugs and scans can easily run into five figures, sometimes six -- if the trial shows the drug is not doing the patient any good.

That's the most significant lesson I have learned in participating in two clinical trials. The drug manufacturers, while hoping for the best for the patients testing their experimental drugs, are businesses that don't want to waste money where the drug isn't working the way it should, even if it is keeping rapid deterioration of the patient's condition at bay.

All the consent forms for these trials inform the patient they have been chosen for participation because standard treatments for their late-stage cancers have already proven ineffective; the cancer inside them might run riot if the trial drug doesn't help slow or stop its spread.

Those who advocate alternative treatments for cancer often criticize the scientific, medical and business communities that test new drug treatments for recruiting late-stage patients to a trial that also calls on those patients to forego alternative treatments while enrolled in the study.

That's why the cancer-fighting establishment is known -- and also criticized for -- testing drugs that provide a late-stage patient with only a month or two of life, and effectively write off the patient's life as collateral damage when the drugs don't work.

That old practice -- now cancer fighters are much more enlightened about the "potential" benefits of alternative treatments -- was also made clear to me by my experience with this new drug. A one-month commitment to the drug is not very long.

But Messersmith and his team at the University of Colorado Hospital and the Anschutz Cancer Center have allowed me to continue my "alternative" ways through this trial: a plant-based diet, some additional Vitamin C and flaxseed-oil supplements.

I admit that when Messersmith told me I was the only patient in the trial he knew who was experimenting with a plant-based diet, I rushed out to the grocery store to buy three half-gallons of "dairy" ice cream and looked forward to a nice juicy steak.

But then I re-thought about making that choice.

No evidence that a plant-based diet restores the natural immune system to a point where it can fight cancer by itself is not necessarily evidence that it does not.

And if I am the only patient on a plant-based diet involved in this trial and my cancer hasn't grown more significantly in a month on a lower dose of the drug than it did during the first six weeks on it, maybe I'll be manufacturing some evidence the drug companies should pay attention to. We'll see.

In the meantime, it's back to beans and nuts for me. I'll cheat a little with that ice cream still in my freezer, but not much. And if I last the month, there may still be plenty of time for that juicy, half-cooked steak. Scotch on the side.