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Five reasons journalists make great entrepreneurs

Robert Niles
Published: February 4, 2013 at 11:40 AM (MST)
I hate hearing former colleagues and other journalists tell me that they could never do what I do -- that they never could make a living publishing their own websites. Why does this frustrate me so much? Because, having worked as both a newsroom reporter and a publishing entrepreneur, I can see how very similar those jobs have turned out to be. IMHO, journalists are the ideal entrepreneurs. Few other professions better prepare people to meet all the various challenges of launching and running a business.

Here's why:

Journalists know how to listen

Forget the stereotype that insists entrepreneurs get their ideas from some divine inspiration, and listen to no one as their pursue their vision. Every successful business founder I've ever met spent an enormous amount of time listening to people before launching his or her business. You've got to learn what people's needs are, and what they're willing to pay someone who can meet them. Businesses can't exist without market demand, and only the entrepreneurs who listen to those demands successfully fulfill them.

Just like the best journalists, who keep their ears open to what's happening, and changing, in the communities they cover. You've got to listen to what's going on to cover a beat, and you've got to listen to what's going on to find real business opportunities.

Journalists know how to ask the questions that reveal community needs

Almost no one will just come up to you and confess their needs. You've got to ask questions to get answers. Reporters know this, as do entrepreneurs. Yet as readers do not see nor often appreciate the many hours that go into chasing leads that never develop into a news story, people who've not yet started a business don't understand that successful entrepreneurs spend a lot of time meeting people and researching markets for ideas that never pan out. But unless you ask the questions to do that preliminary research -- whether you are a reporter or an entrepreneur -- you'll never find the leads that grow into successes.

Journalists know how to cultivate sources

Honest reporters don't craft stories from their imaginations -- they gather information from sources, who help them build a story by providing quotes, data, context and background necessary to write the piece. Entrepreneurs don't build businesses on their own, either, despite Horatio Alger-like mythology. Business owners rely on networks of individuals who each play vital roles in the creation and maintenance of a business -- customers, contractors, employees, etc. A successful entrepreneur must know how to build and cultivate an action team of sources, just as successful journalists do.

Journalists know how to spread the word

Your business won't earn its first dollar if no one knows about it. Entrepreneurs utilize their action teams to start spreading the word about their new ventures to their associates' colleagues and friends. But, like journalists, they also understand that putting information in front of someone is very different from actually earning his or her attention. Both journalists and entrepreneurs know the importance of a great lead, a stunning visual and a compelling message that not only helps spread the word to new audiences, but also inspires those new readers (and customers) to keep spreading that word to their family and friends.

Journalists are great salespeople

And here's where I'm losing a lot of my journalism friends, I fear. But don't dismiss this! Good journalists sell every single day. They sell desk editors on giving them an assignment. They sell sources on talking with them. They sell front page editors on giving them P1. And they sell readers on looking at, and sticking with, their stories.

Compared with what some reporters have to do to get their stories, selling an ad on a website's nothing. Which would you rather do: Interview a grieving mother who's just lost her son in a school shooting, or ask a local business owner to spend $500 to place an ad that's going to bring dozens of new customers into her business?

Journalists fear selling because they don't understand it. Good selling isn't conning someone into spending money on something worthless. Good selling is knowing the value of what you're offering, and bringing that product to the attention of people who can get that value from it. It requires research -- so you know the value of your product, and communication -- so you can introduce it to people. The best salespeople let the product sell itself, just as the best reporters gather information and let the quality of that reporting "sell" the story to an audience.

Look, if you've got a newsroom job and you're happy with it -- great. Keep it as long as they'll have you. But if you're wondering if there's a better situation out there for you -- if you're daydreaming about how you'd run things if you ever had that chance, remember that if you have the skills to be a successful journalist, you have the skills to become a successful publisher, too. The same skills that make you a great reporter can make you a successful news entrepreneur. You just need to want to try.

Robert's new guidebook for news entrepreneurs, "How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online" is available from At just $6.99 for the eBook and $11.99 for the paperback, it's a lot cheaper than going to business school to learn how to do this stuff.

Robert Niles also can be found at

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