Business

Rise of the entrepreneurial journalist – interview with cuttings.me’s Nicholas Holmes

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Writing just over two years ago Jeff Jarvis made a bold statement, “the future of journalism is entrepreneurial.”  Jarvis says that changes in technology and media are shifting the definition of what journalism is and, at the same time, are changing what it means to be a journalist.

But it is not only the journalism industry that needs to become more entrepreneurial; journalists themselves need to become entrepreneurs within their industry.

“I believe journalists must become entrepreneurs… They need to sense and serve the market. They need to work with innovators. They need to see a future for journalism that looks different – better, even – than its past.”

Nicholas Holmes (@relaxedtravel | Google+ | Posterous) is by every definition a successful journalist, he’s the tourism editor for AFP/Relaxnews, the world’s first leisure newswire, and has been published everywhere from the UK, to the United Arab Emirates, and China.

He’s also the co-founder of the start-up cuttings.me (@cuttingsme).

Cuttings.me logoCuttings.me takes the traditional idea of the press cutting and places it in the cloud.  The site is designed to allow journalists, bloggers, and writers to gather their and other clippings of online articles in one place. Think Pinterest for the written word.

We spoke with Nicholas to find out a bit more about cuttings.me and learned how his life as a journalist informed his entrepreneurial activities. We started by asking him about curation and the journalism industry,

“Curation was always going to be huge online, so with retrospect it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for a dedicated tool like Pinterest to go mainstream. In the future I think we’ll see companies making far greater use of curation to convey their brand values, most likely creating their own tools as well as using existing tools such as Pinterest, and co-opting ‘arbiters’ of good taste who we’d recognise already from the worlds of fashion, media etc.

I write about travel as my day job so I’m used to seeing celebrities asked about their favourite things to do in a certain place by airlines, for instance, but I think we’ll see this on a much broader scale across industries, in a far more accessible format. For the rest of us, the key thing now will be about how we share, collaborate on and use those curated lists – it will be incredibly interesting to watch what Pinterest does with its API.”

So, with a demanding and interesting career in journalism why did Nicholas decide to take on another beat, as an entrepreneur?

“I’ve always been entrepreneurial – before I became a journalist I was a management consultant and had run my own business. So wanting to find solutions to problems is a character trait that I guess has just followed me from one experience to the next.”

Nicholas’s business background might have given him the drive to become an entrepreneur but it was his work as a journalist that allowed him to identify “the pain,” that one element that needed to be fixed.  In this case the pain was the difficulty Nicholas and other journalists faced when they wanted to share their portfolios online.

“I was forever sending lists of links or attached PDFs to editors or other people who wanted more information about me, and I just thought there had to be a better way. To my surprise, there wasn’t any specific portfolio tool available for journalists which offered the characteristics I wanted — it had to be simple, clean and pretty and very easy to update.”

Of course, the idea is the easy part – taking the original concept and developing it into a full service is the challenge.  So, how did Nicholas go about taking the idea and building it into something new?

“Broadly speaking, I picked out the features that I wanted and designed what’s known as a minimum viable product, a test of concept using basic Ruby on Rails code so that I could assess the response.

Once I started getting the feedback, I realised that the idea was popular and started to work on a more advanced design, before moving onto upgraded functionality. Obviously I’m not a coder by profession so I’ve had a lot of help from various sources, including ninja coder former colleagues who know this stuff inside out.

At first it was a case of rolling out new upgrades on a daily basis, but now the deployments are planned so that the impact on users in minimised and we can roll back safely and quickly if required.

I go into more detail about it in a blog post at the European Journalism Community.

Since its launch in October last year, cuttings.me has already come a long way – the ability to sort and categorize cuttings, for instance, and more recently the addition of multimedia cuttings to make it a tool that can be used by audio/visual journalists too.

In the future, users will see more integration with other services (e.g. the RSS feeds added earlier this month) to help spread the word about their profile. There are also some other developments in the pipeline – watch this space!”

As for the user base, Nicholas says that it’s journalists rather than bloggers who were cuttings.me’s early adopters.

Definitely journalists [are our early adopters], although I’d really like to see more bloggers on there. At the beginning, users were very much from a freelance background, but nowadays many more staff journalists are signing up.

[The reaction has been]really, really great. The site holds thousands of cuttings and the feedback has been amazing, with both praise and really helpful suggestions, many of which have been acted on. And the numbers keep growing every day!

And what for other journalist? Should they look at taking the entrepreneurship route?

Definitely do it. If nothing else, it’s a chance to learn new skills which could be valuable in the future.

And the beauty of today’s startup scene is that the barriers to entry are ridiculously low, which means if you’re prepared to invest the time in creating an MVP, you really have nothing to lose when it comes to floating a concept you think may work.

If you can’t programme, that’s not necessarily a problem – it just means that you’ll have to work doubly hard at surrounding yourself with people who can programme who believe in your idea and are prepared to buy into it.

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).