I founded my Story Source service back in 2011. It was the first of my many New Media experiments. The inaugural Story Source experiment was this: I was fed up with the way PR and the press interact. PR pros would constantly bombard me with calls, emails, and off-topic pitches. (Children’s fashion accessories? Really?)
It was a pointlessly adversarial relationship that didn’t benefit either party, and one day while I was discussing this with a PR rep I respected, it dawned on me that this was a stupid way to go about business.
At the time, I had just left the publication I’d been editing and was starting a career as a freelancer. If I were really going to make a go at freelancing, I needed to find a better way to work with PR. PR could help me keep on top of trends. You would help me track down sources. And, as I would learn later, you would play a key role in my success as a freelancer, since you would be the people who would most often refer me to businesses needing the help of a professional writer.
Meanwhile, I found that the tools that promised to streamline PR-press relations actually added to the problem. ProfNet was little more than press releases in disguise, while HARO discouraged feedback unless it went through HARO’s cumbersome interface, which to me looked like it was designed with AOL users in mind.
I also didn’t see the logic in letting HARO keep all of the useful data about who sent me good pitches, who sent off-topic ones, and who sent pure gibberish.
That’s when I decided to build my own service.
By building my own service, I could provide more immediate and targeted feedback; I could track repeat offenders who never sent me anything good (and I could even blacklist them, though I rarely did); and I could do things that HARO won’t allow, such as driving people to forms and surveys, so we don’t waste each other’s time with endless email back-and-forths.
That’s not to say HARO doesn’t have its place. It does, especially when you want to cast as wide of a net as possible. But HARO is also a magnet for spray-and-pray pitches, for the “please fit my client in” desperate rookie pitches, and the pitches from DIY publicists who don’t know the first thing about PR, the media, or even basic email etiquette.
Story Source allowed me to better manage all of that. But now it’s outlived its original purpose.
The Death of Traditional Journalism
If you’re reading this post, you’re well aware of the fact that traditional journalism is disappearing, and it’s being replaced with listicles, reality TV, social media rants, and click-bait Upworthy-style dreck. Yes, there are exceptions, such as the Intercept and FiveThirtyEight, but the exceptions prove the rule.
So, I’ve put my journalism career on hold. Let me clarify: I’ll still work as an editor for my own sites, but I’ll no longer be writing for third-party publications. The ROI just isn’t good enough.
At the pubs I used to write for, my rate in 2015 was the same or lower than it was when I started freelancing in 2004. Pubs are also pushing much of what they used to do, such as promotions and even fact checking, onto writers. And these days, you’re asked to sign away the copyright in perpetuity for all global markets. It’s not unlike those billion-year contracts the Church of Scientology forces on its cult of underpaid workers.
More work, lower pay? At some point, you just have to call bullshit and admit that this is just not a sustainable business model.
So, now I’ll either ghostwrite for clients or own the entire content pipeline. That’s it.
The Next Phase of Story Source, Sandstorm Media, and Startup50
What you’re going to see next from me is an intense phase of New Media experimentation.
You’ve already seen a few of my experiments, most notably Story Source, but what you haven’t seen are all of my behind-the-scenes attempts to change tech journalism business models from within the system.
In recent years, I’ve tried to work with editors to find new ways to monetize my stories, since the ROI just isn’t competitive with the other things I do. Unfortunately, most editors don’t have the time or latitude to work with me on these ideas. These editors are great people, which is why I stuck with freelance journalism as long as I did, but most don’t have the power to change the status quo. Their publishers or parent companies won’t let them.
The end result is that I’ve decided to cut out all of these middlemen. Their platforms don’t have the power they once did, so why should I be willing to let my pay stagnate, so corporate profits can rise? (This is starting to sound like a Bernie Sanders rant, isn’t it? That’s not a bad thing because Bernie’s critique of the corporate media is pretty spot-on.)
So, you’ll see big changes coming to Story Source. It will be a much different service in the future. You’ll hear from me less often, and when you do, it’ll be about projects I own or am in the process of creating. No more sourcing stories for third-party pubs. No more information-gathering briefings. No more briefings at all, most likely. Sorry.
It’s been a great ride, and I want to thank all of you who helped me make Story Source a success. Hopefully, as this new model evolves, we’ll find new ways to collaborate in the future.
First up, in the next few days, I’ll tell you about my plans for Startup50. After that, who knows?
Stay tuned . . .