Month: April 2014

Build it and they WON’T come


Entrepreneurship Challenge is a new miniseries that will differ from my typical blog posts. In these posts I will experiment with my interest in entrepreneurship in a hands-on way. Over the next few weeks I will blog about every “challenge” given to me by local entrepreneur Diana Kander. Kander and I connected on Twitter, and after further discussions, she offered to give me entrepreneurship challenges and then meet with me to talk about them. I will comment on my experiences and discuss the lessons I learn about entrepreneurship and media entrepreneurship in this series

About Diana Kander:  Kander is a Columbia-based entrepreneur and a Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. She is also the author of  book called “All In Startup” which emphasizes the importance of teaching students about entrepreneurship through hands-on practice. 

Giving out free money to people is hard. I know because on Tuesday night I completed my first entrepreneurship challenge from Kander – to hand out five $1 bills to strangers at the Columbia Mall. I also brought along Kara Tabor, a journalism student interested in entrepreneurship. Between the both of us, we had several people turn down our free  money. (Kander also challenged us  to try to sell a book for $5, but Tabor and I ran out of time and were also slightly afraid of the mall cops).  Although we gave away most of the money with varying approaches, the experience was somewhat discouraging. Some people didn’t want what is seemingly the best product imaginable. In fact, most of them wanted to know if there was a catch. Check out this video (Yeah, I know it’s low quality) of me trying to give out one of the dollars. You can here the woman ask if it’s shady at the end.

We later met up with Kander to debrief on the experience. Here are some of my top lessons from our conversation:

1. Build it and they WON’T come

According to Kander, most want-a-preneurs (people who really want to be entrepreneurs but can’t make money) don’t actually talk to customers until after their idea has already been built and marketed. That’s when they realize they don’t have an idea that people want. She told us that our first challenge was meant to simulate the challenge of talking to customers – and she’s right, it’s really hard. The overall takeaway here though is that a “good” idea may not actually make it in the real world. After all some people won’t even take free money.

Journalism takeaway: 

Journalists are really bad at this entrepreneurship tip because we get caught up in how “good” our content is. But, as much as we all wouldn’t like to admit it, journalism is a business. Especially as online news sites try to find pay models that work online, it is especially important to find out what news consumers want in the first place. However, most news organizations are still of the thought that there is an inherent demand for journalism excellence. Although I, too, believe that there will always be a need for quality journalism, there is a point when great content doesn’t matter if no one sees or wants it. Journalists can learn a lot from this tip. We should be talking to the target audience of a story and then try to shape content around them.

2. Customers buy solutions

This lesson piggybacks off lesson number one. During our meeting, Kander told us that customers buy solutions to their problems, but entrepreneurs don’t always design products around a real problem. In the minds of many entrepreneurs, Kander said, solving a problem means creating a product that doesn’t exist yet. However, this mindset is faulty and explains why there are so many apps in the world that never make any money. Ultimately good ideas don’t make money, ideas that solve a real problem make money. A $1 bill, for instance, doesn’t solve a problem for some customers. Kander said you can only find out consumer problems by talking to people. She recommends pitching an app idea to customers before the app is created and to see what percentage of people will actually try to search in the app store for the product. These are the people who would actually buy the product.

Journalism takeaway: 

As I touched on in the blog post about the 2014 News Media Report I wrote a couple of weeks ago, there has been explosive growth in some digitally native publications. Many of these publications recognize customer needs first. For example, BuzzFeed has seen huge growth from users because they solve a problem. The site condenses information on the web and packages it in efficient and social ways. I don’t always have time to sort through hundreds of news stories online, but if a news story makes it to BuzzFeed, I will probably read it because it has been condensed to fit my time constraints. The site has its critics, but its success has allowed for increased focus on original reporting. The site has been able to hire a number of Pulitzer-winning journalists to fill its reporting departments. Other journalists can learn from their focus on consumers.

3. Successful entrepreneurs are detectives

Extremely successful entrepreneurs seem pretty lucky, Kander said. Most people couldn’t have looked back and predicted Facebook. However, Kander said the most successful entrepreneurs make small bets and validate each stage of their product and startup before taking huge risks. For example, Facebook tested its early site on college campuses where other social media sites existed because the founders wanted to be sure customers liked their product. Successful entrepreneurs investigate what the customer wants and aren’t disillusioned by how much they like their idea. Before marketing our dollar product, for instance, we would have benefitted from many more rounds of talking to customers.

Journalism takeaway: 

Most journalists are already doing detective work. They find out information other people haven’t asked about and are always investigating. Journalists should also use these same skills to better serve their audience. Journalists would benefit from making consumers a more active part of their reporting by seeking feedback before and during a story’s production, not just after it has been published.

Sneak peak: 

Stay tuned for an update on my second entrepreneurship challenge. This weekend Tabor and I have been challenged to turn $1 into as much money as we can in an hour.

Do you have any advice? How much money will we make? Tweet me @_SCDarby.


A lesson on usability from the IE Lab

Did you know Mizzou has a laboratory on campus devoted to testing the usability of new technology? I had never heard of the Information Experience Laboratory until this week when my Emerging Media class had an opportunity to hear from two of the lab’s employees. Research assistants Ben Richardson and Kenneth Haggerty conduct research for the lab on a variety of topics, and they gave our group a tour and lessons from the lab. They have done research studies for a number of clients, including journalism organizations associated with Mizzou. Several years ago, the lab did research to study the usability of Newsy.  When they first did the usability study, Newsy looked something like this:

A screenshot of the Newsy homepage from 2007 using Wayback Machine

A screenshot from the Newsy homepage on April 18, 2014

The researchers used what is called a “think aloud” technique to evaluate the website. The user navigates the website while talking aloud about what they are doing. Although Newsy did not necessarily use every part of the IE’s usability study at the time, it is interesting to see how far the website has come. I think we can all agree that Newsy, and most websites, are more user-friendly than they were in 2007.

The IE lab seeks to look beyond just the interface of a website to determine usability and user experience. During our time at IE, the researchers explained a couple key points all websites should have:

Usability depends on:

  • Effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction

User experience depends on:

  • Branding, usability, content, functionality and probably social

Questions to consider for a website:

  • Is it useable? Is it useful? Will it be used?

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • Have “fresh eyes” seen the site?

  • Is learnable, memorable, consistent, free of error and satisfying in subject according to web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen’s principles?

  • Is it intuitive?

  • Can users find the information I expect/want them to find?

When the researchers look at a website, they try to set up tests to see if the average person has a positive usability and user experience. They ask clients the top five things they want people to get from the site and test to see if users can find out those five things easily. At IE they use a variety of research methods including: expert review, focus group, task analysis, think aloud, info architecture, info horizons, card sort, paper prototyping, treejack, eye tracking and Morae. During our tour I got to try out the eye tracking technology used in the lab. It was incredible how accurate the eye tracker was. It calibrated in about 20 seconds too. The lab is doing some pretty amazing studies with the technology. They recently used eye tracking and other methods to evaluate the MU Libraries website. They let me try out the usability test given to subjects when they were evaluating the newly designed library site. Here’s a video of me trying it out:

Overall, I learned a lot about usability. I had never considered a website from the usability perspective the IE researchers shared. Websites, particularly news websites, must first be usable and user friendly before an audience can even engage with content. Web design is often an afterthought, but is a very important foundation that determines the success of digital content. I hope to consider all that I learned as I produce digital content in my classes and future career.


Tool review:


Screenshot from

One of my biggest goals after the Journalism Interactive conference last weekend is to try out as many online journalism and visual tools as possible. I can’t possibly try out every tool I learned about last weekend, but this week I managed to test out for one of my classes., at first look, seems to be a great solution for design-challenged journalists. The tool is designed to help create visually appealing and interactive infographics with ease. Although I have some experience using InDesign, a commonly used design program, I often struggle to execute infographics. I can never quite get infographics to look as pretty as I want.

I was excited to test out to see if it could solve all of my design problems forever. I created the graphic (left) based on real data I found in an article from the Columbia Tribune about public housing flat rate rental prices increasing. I am pitching a more in-depth version of the topic for my Convergence Reporting class this week, so I also was hoping to find a tool to help me finish a graphic a week before my deadline!

While the tool was pretty intuitive and quick to use (I made this in 15 minutes), I did run into a number of frustrations:


  • Embed codes (like for a Google map) can’t be put into the graphic from other sources

  • Text size can’t be easily changed

  • Limited ability to change style and color once initial theme is picked

  • Limited graphic icon options

  • Interactive aspects of the graphic not working (The timer isn’t actually counting down)

  • Restrictions on text length for certain sections

I also found some things I like:


  • Simple interface allows drag and drop and easy editing

  • Easy to use format

  • Saves a lot of time for simple graphics

  • Easily sharable

  • No design experience necessary

Overall, I had a mixed experience with this tool. I ended up with a graphic that looks pretty nice considering it took me less than 15 minutes to make. In comparison, it probably would have taken me an hour or more at my skill level to make something similar on a program like InDesign. I also don’t know how to make charts using Illustrator, so this tool is a great option for a design dummy like me. On the other hand, I could see this tool being really frustrating for a more complicated graphic. Throughout the creation process, I found myself having to work around options the tool didn’t have. For example, I couldn’t figure out how to label parts of a pie chart the way I wanted so I opted for a text section instead. This tool is a really easy option for a simple graphic that needs to be done quickly. However, I would argue this tool is meant to be visually appealing more than it is meant to illustrate complicated numbers and data sets. Use if you’re in a hurry and need something that will do in a short amount of time, but look to your InDesign or Illustrator guru to help you make a more meaningful graphic that explains more complicated data.

What students can learn from the State of the News Media report


Screenshot from PewResearch Journalism Project

Every year, PewResearch releases a State of the News Media report as part of its ongoing Journalism Project. The report researches everything from who is producing the news to new key players to economic models for content. This year the report identified a few key trends including changing revenue models, increasing local TV acquisitions and content sharing, momentum for news videos and growth in digital reporting. 

Although all of the trends are relevant to students, I think the trend of growth in digital reporting is especially important. The report focused on 468 digital publication for its study of the trend. Almost 5,000 full-time positions were created from those companies alone. This statistic is especially exciting when you take into account that from 2003 to 2012, 16,200 full-time newsroom and 38,000 magazine positions were lost. The report also found that:

  • Hiring rates at digital native companies has been explosive

  • Most digital sites are small, new and not-for-profit

  • Digital organizations often focus on niche news needs such as local and investigative news

  • Many sites are investing in global coverage

  • Websites are hiring both experienced and young reporters alike

  • Most job losses are coming from print

  • Growth in digital sites does not mean sustainable business models have been created

It’s hard to not be excited about these findings. The report as a whole even began with a few words of optimism:

“In many ways, 2013 and early 2014 brought a level of energy to the news industry not seen for a long time. Even as challenges of the past several years continue and new ones emerge, the activities this year have created a new sense of optimism – or perhaps hope – for the future of American journalism.” -State of the News Media 2014

I read this report and thought back to the Journalism Interactive conference I attended last weekend. The conference was all about digital media and was packed with ideas about new journalism tools. Digital strategist Amy Webb’s talk stands out the most to me. Webb gave an insightful presentation on top tech trends for journalists and journalism educators. She also said that journalists weren’t moving fast enough and that journalism curriculum was outdated to teach budding journalists how to succeed and better the new media environment. The State of the News Media report shares some promise and optimism about the digital revolution of news, but we need to act fast if we want to capitalize on it. We also must not mistake short term growth for sustainable revenue solutions for news (which the report doesn’t fail to mention). That all being said, I think there are a number of ways young students can take advantage of growth in digital reporting:

Tips for students

1. Experiment with digital tools

This semester, I changed my blog’s theme to focus on the intersection of technology and media. The inspiration came from the combination of classes I am taking (Entrepreneurship, Convergence Reporting and Emerging Media), and also from some personal interests I wanted to act on. Every week I now write about some aspect of technology and news and their intersections, and it has already been incredibly beneficial to me. By holding myself accountable to a weekly blog, I essentially force myself to read about and experiment with new tools. I encourage every student to do the same. If you have more time and motivation to simply experiment on your own, do it. If you can integrate new tools into your reporting, even better. In order to master digital reporting, you have to be familiar with practicing it. You will learn from this application and also demonstrate your knowledge to future employers.

2. Gain experience at a digital-native company

I can’t begin to count the number of students who have told me they want to work at the New York Times or the Washington Post.  These are the same students who got really amazing print internships the summer after their freshmen year. First of all, they rock. I myself came into the journalism school with print experience from high school thinking I would only be successful if I could get a job at one of these big name news publications. I believe that journalism organizations will always need talented writers and reporters who don’t want to stray from their craft in these changing times. However, I also believe that students should look beyond the kinds of journalism jobs they are familiar with and explore digital-native companies.

This fall I had the opportunity to contribute to a digital publication called Silicon Prairie News, which covers technology and entrepreneurial news in the Midwest. Over the summer I became interested in entrepreneurship when I helped with Maker Faire in Kansas City. I initially looked at the position as a chance to meet people who were as excited about entrepreneurship as I was. The position was unpaid, and it was not nearly as shiny as some of the other positions my peers had the previous summer. However, I gained a wealth of connections in a field that excites me, and I also fell in love with non-traditional media. As part of a small team, I had a lot of independence and freedom to make a story my own. I also sharpened my online media skills through experience with content management systems, for example. Experience at a digital publication shows an employer that a student is adaptable, explorative and risk taking. The first step to eventually becoming an innovator in your field is getting your foot in the door at an organization already practicing innovation.

3. Think entrepreneurially

A panel on teaching media entrepreneurship was also one of my favorite presentations at Journalism Interactive last weekend. The panel made clear that not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but that students can help an organization by thinking entrepreneurially. The industry needs more people who understand the business so that they can use new tools to not only produce quality content, but also bring eyes and money to that content. In my opinion, every student should take at least one basic entrepreneurship class. If you’re not looking to spend too much money, consider participating in a Startup Weekend. Columbia has a booming Startup Weekend every fall. Mizzou also has an exceptional class called the Entrepreneurship Alliance which focuses on experiential entrepreneurship. At the very least, walk into Museao and talk to literally anyone in the building about the businesses they are building right here in Columbia. Traditional news skills are great; however, a skill set is only beneficial if it can be applied in unique ways. One of the panelists said it best:

“I’m not interested in your clips. I’m not interested in what candies you can put in the box. I’m interested in the box you can make.” -Lisa Williams, digital engagement editor Investigative News Network

What are you waiting for? Go out there and get digital!


J/i Day Two as told by Storify

Journalism Interactive concluded last night, and I am almost exhausted by how much I learned from the weekend. Day two was made up of breakout and teaching sessions that each gave an in-depth look at innovative ways to think about and teach journalism.

My favorite session today was a panel on entrepreneurship that featured a live pitch contest. The session discussed how important having an entrepreneurial mindset is, especially as journalism and its revenue model is rapidly changing. The session was only one reminder of my interests in journalism and new media techniques. I can’t wait to get back to Mizzou to test out everything I have learned!

Check out my Storify summary of day two of the conference here:

J/i Day One

Day one of Journalism Interactive is wrapping up at the University of Maryland, concluding a full day of presentations on topics ranging from emerging tech trends to teaching strategies. This day was packed with new ideas and interesting discussions. Check out some takeaways from a few of the sessions today:

9:15 a.m. “The Future of Visual Storytelling”

Journalism Interactive kicked off this morning with this presentation about digital and visual storytelling from Richard Koci Hernandez, journalism professor at UC Berkley. Hernandez told the audience he would share 15 semesters worth of information about visual storytelling, and he certainly promised on his goal of providing a wealth of information. I particularly enjoyed how this talk praised risk taking in journalism. Hernandez encouraged experimentation and original thinking.


  • The Internet is not a dumping ground for media created for other platforms
  • Web is its own platform
  • Visual journalism does not exist on a single canvas
  • Creative approach is more important than skill and technique

Favorite quotes:

“I’m not making you a designer, I’m making you a design thinker.”

“The edge, the secret sauce to mastery is not waiting for perfection, instead, start where you are with reckless abandon.”

“It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.”

Tools to try:

  • Timeline JS – interactive timeline tool
  • – Visual content sharing space
  • X WordPress Theme – User friendly, interactive WordPress theme that minimizes required code knowledge

10:30 a.m. “Top Tech Trends for Academics”

Following the opening session, digital strategist Amy Webb gave a fantastic presentation about tech trends. I have read a number of her predictions about tech trends through classes and on my own, so I was particularly excited for her talk. Webb challenged the audience to embrace emerging tech trends in order to better engage an audience. Webb’s talk was by far my favorite presentation given today.

Key tech trends:

1) Tech first versus digital first – Essentially, all journalism organizations should already be digital first, and to be truly innovative, organizations must embrace new technology. Being digital first alone doesn’t acknowledge consumer behavior, competitors and new revenue streams, for example.

2) Anticipatory computing – New search tools will analyze previous search conversation and context in order to predict and deliver calculated search results to an audience.

3) Robo journalism – “Bots” can be utilized to generate basic news stories to save reporters writing time for in-depth pieces, and computer assisted editing can analyze long news stories and generate summarized versions of the most important information.

4) Computational reporting – Tools such as WolframAlpha can be utilized to provide more complete, data-driven search results that can aid reporting.

5) Aggressive versioning – Content should be delivered based on situation and individual, instead of just device. For instance, tools can deliver different versions of the same story according to how fast a person is walking with their device (which indicates how much they want to read of a story).

6) Experiential journalism – Simulation devices can be used to actually place a reader in a story like never before.

Recommendations to journalism professors:

1) Open source journalism – Students and faculty would both benefit from better communication between schools and more open source projects.

2) Show students more options – Faculty should better acknowledge non-traditional media outlets, and prepare and inform students of job opportunities in those companies.

3) Market yourselves better – Journalism schools must embrace technology fully and not just create “trendy” classes in order to attract highly intelligent students with an interest in tech.

Favorite quotes:

“Smart kids want tech degrees because j-schools don’t make journalism sound interesting.”

“It makes no sense to fail a student for one AP Style error. Make them worry about something else.”

3 p.m. “News Startups and Innovators Panel”

The afternoon session of day one of the conference, allowed participants to choose their own adventure. This startup panel peaked my interest with its combination of journalists and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial journalism is an area I want to learn as much about as possible, and this panel offered a variety of interesting perspectives. The panel featured speakers from Trove, Newspeg and InfoActive, all startups.


  • News startups are easy to start because they are cheap and business advice is easily acceptable. However, news startups are hard to sustain because finding an audience and making money is difficult.
  • Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but all journalists can benefit from the relentless testing, thoughtful decision making and business knowledge entrepreneurs have.

Tools to try:

  • Trove – Compiles news stories based around interest of reader and recommended by users
  • Newspeg – Acts as a sort of Pinterest for news stories, allowing stories to be “pegged” to site
  • InfoActive – Creates interactive infographics for complex and ongoing data sets

These takeaways highlight just a few of the new ideas I learned about today. I also attended sessions on social metrics, digital teaching strategies and algorithms. So many ideas and conversations happened today!

To follow more of the conversation, check out the conference on Twitter @JIConf and #JIConf.


Journalism Interactive 2014

Screenshot from Journalism Interactive

This weekend, I have the incredible opportunity to attend the Journalism Interactive conference at the University of Maryland. The conference was founded in 2011 by the aforementioned school’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and has since expanded into a partnership with the University of Florida and the University of Missouri.

The conference has a little bit of everything concerning journalism education and digital media, and it has a particularly exciting entrepreneurial focus this year. The conference’s website states its goals as follows:

  • Advancing the national discourse about how journalism schools are preparing students for a rapidly changing industry
  • Expanding the knowledge of media educators through training in digital media teaching strategies and technologies
  • Creating a community of journalism educators engaged in teaching and using digital media and providing them with meaningful networking opportunities to share teaching strategies and techniques

Throughout the weekend, I will share key takeaways as I can. I will also be sure to post pictures and multimedia if possible, including an excited selfie when I see digital strategist Amy Webb speak live Friday! Follow the fun along with me this weekend on my blog!