Take the Red Pill: Apply Your Journalism Skills to Being an Entrepreneur

By on June 5, 2014

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications are open to apply for this year’s fellowship until June 6. Fellow Ashley Lohmann is a media entrepreneur and founder/director of Beyond the Bombs.

Becoming an entrepreneur is like a scene from The Matrix, at least according to IMDb Head of Business Development Harry Lin.

At ONA’s 2013 Conference & Awards Banquet, Lin opened his talk (“Am I Really an Entrepreneur“) with a screenshot from that film showing Morpheus offering Neo a blue pill with one hand and a red one with the other. The blue pill would allow Neo to remain in his comfortable, if unfulfilling, life, while the red pill would lead him into the unknown.

Lin’s allusion sounded intimidating, and I sat in the back of the room wondering, am I really an entrepreneur? Little did I know, I had already taken the red pill, and Lin’s talk would prove particularly relevant for me in the coming months.

In his talk, Lin explained that the traits that characterize journalists are indispensable in the startup world, and he urged his audience members to transfer those strengths to their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Journalists are articulate and determined. Our ability to clearly communicate ideas to others, especially those unfamiliar with a given issue, can translate into success explaining and generating excitement about a startup. Furthermore, the tenacity needed to pursue a challenging story can be used to aggressively seek funding and gain users.

As well-informed and often creative individuals, journalists also have the capacity to develop innovative, disruptive ventures — ones that avoid replicating existing businesses. We can also act more quickly and nimbly than entrenched players. Finally, the innate curiosity that draws many journalists to the field can be applied to acquiring enough technological and business know-how to run a startup effectively.

W3Schools and Codecademy are good resources for learning the basics of coding, and Fast Company, Venture Beat, and Tech Crunch, for keeping abreast of tech and business trends. Also, make sure the check out this list of media entrepreneurship resources compiled by Ju-Don Marshall Roberts, a digital media strategist and startup advisor.

I’d like to add one more trait typical of journalists to Lin’s list: journalists tend to be effective at networking, a skill essential to recognizing and addressing our individual weaknesses as entrepreneurs. To run a successful startup, you need to find co-founders and team members whose skills and knowledge complement your own. At the same time, you can expand your own knowledge by surrounding yourself with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors. (CoFoundersLab, FounderDating, Meetups, and Startup Weekends can help you build your network.)

If you’re considering taking the red pill (or you already have), transferring your journalistic strengths can help you hit the ground running when you venture into the entrepreneurial unknown.

Fellow Ashley Lohmann is a media entrepreneur, and founder/director of Beyond the Bombs. Since graduating from Stanford University, she has held positions as a Middle Eastern security analyst in Washington, DC and an editor and writer for an online publication in Los Angeles. She has also studied and worked in Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.