How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

BJ Roche
The whole thing started back in May when I was considering how to get my writing life up and running for the summer. I’d had a bunch of story ideas, and some publications I’d thought about pitching.

Then I thought about it more and I realized: After more than 20 years of sending out ideas and stories, I no longer had the stomach for the rejection and constant demands for more rewrites, all for the same payscale as 1982.

I’d also been thinking for awhile about doing a book on women and aging—all the changes that happen in one’s 40’s and 50’s and how to cope.

Then I came across a few articles in mainstream media, like David Carr’s NYT column on the lackluster evolution of women’s websites.

Then, another NY Times story by Anne Raver, about Margaret Roach, the fifty-something former editorial director for Martha Stewart Omnimedia, who had chucked it all to garden and blog in upstate New York.

Earlier that day, as we sat down to lunch, she reflected on the life she has made for herself here.

It must be nice to write whatever you please, I said, which elicited a fierce response.

“Do I want to hand stories to some magazine and have them rewrite them?” she said. “Forget about it; I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. Did I say I’m not doing it? You know what? I can’t. I’m sorry. It’s just not a stage in my life I can go to.”

Amen, sister.

A fellow traveler! I realized: there are a lot of us out here. Could we link?

Then I thought: what if you could create a, fun, informational, interactive citizen journalism website for women in their 40’s and 50’s that would use crowdsourcing to provide advice and connection about the things real women our age talk about?

Sex and the City for the post-menopause generation. Build a site that combined good journalism with a sense of humor (could I get Roz Chast to illustrate?), a social networking element, and later, to sell advertising that would give me a freelance income.

Could I use the years of experience I have as a writer, and editor of small publications to become an online publishing entrepreneur? What would it take, and could I learn what I needed to know?

The result: http://www.fiftyshift.com: the website for women of a certain age. I hope to launch September 1.

My sister-in-law told me I’d have to earn an MBA to do this. Instead, I am doing this project totally using public domain information, found, either online, or in my local library or bookstore, or from all the smart people I know.

I started online, and found this: an account by tech entrepreneur and writer Guy Kawasaki of his startup, called Truemors (which he just sold to NowPublic for an undisclosed amount.)

Here’s what Kawasaki says:

For not a whole lot of money and time you can get something out there and see if it works. If it does, hallelujah: there’s no better time to raise money than after your prototype is scaling up. Indeed, you may not ever need to raise money. Fyi, there is no worst time to raise money than when you have nothing but an idea. Actually, there is a worst time: When you’ve burned through the first million, and you haven’t shipped or gotten any dogs to eat the food.

And the technology is easier than ever. Three years ago when I did my first website, www.bjroche.com, I spent a week trying to learn Dreamweaver before I called my friends Al and Liz Canali and said, hey, set this up for me, will ya?

This summer Al and Liz are developing fiftyshift for me. And it’s a totally different experience. We are using a template from the website drupal.org, which features hundreds of open-source templates and several hundred modules that we can pick and choose from. Once we get the site set up, the content management system will allow me and my writers to edit stories online with just a minimum of html tweaking.

I also spoke to another friend, Max Hartshorne, who owns and runs the very successful travel website gonomad.com, and who hires many of our students as interns. His advice: build the audience before you go hunting for advertisers. They don’t want to look at you until you have at least 10,000 uniques. (That is, unique readers) each month. So that is the plan for the first quarter.

I bought my domain names on godaddy.com, and, at Max’s advice, I bought up the .org, com, net, just to cover myself, plus the domain names were on sale that day! I bought up each domain name for about $10 each.

Now I am trademarking the term fiftyshift in case I want to do something with it. This will cost about $500.

And if I want to sell tee shirts and mugs, CafePress will do them for me and fill the orders.

And yes, I CAN get Roz Chast to illustrate. For a fee, of course. This image would cost me $250 to display for one month.

Now I am working to get my content developed, and spreading the word (telling all my old media girlfriends!) and getting the look of the site going.

At minimum, I will get real world experience in online publishing, have a place to publish things I find interesting, and build a small business. At worst, I will lose a few thousand dollars and I’ll have war stories to use in my teaching.

On the web, even failure makes good reading.

Advertisements

About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in BJ Roche, Business of Journalism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

  1. journalismprofs says:

    Web 2.0 in action, BJ!

    I’ve seen a lot of sites come and go in the past dozen years and the problem almost always was, as my old boss used to say, “what’s your second graf?” You’ve got a second graf, and much, much more.

    Keep the updates coming!

    chrs,
    Steve

  2. Drupal-ista says:

    Good that you found out. That´s one of the great challenges in Open Source content management world – to spread the word that they are available. Of course developers know and even some large enterprises just as Sun, Sony or IBM are using it. But the bulk of small publishers [and many medium sized] are just learning that you don´t need to know dreamweaver or have an degree in computers science to get a site up and running.

    That is the great thing about Drupal – you might need help to install it if you start from the scratch, but once is up and running you can maintain and extend it without a single line of code.

    Good luck for your projects and one the way to your first 10k unique visitors.

  3. David says:

    BJ!

    I see you’re a mint julep person too, just whiling away the summer, dipping your toes in the Deerfield River. NOT.

    Great name (yes trademark it!), and a great idea. Have you checked out the competition? What will make your site different, and better? Apart from you, that is. Or is it to be largely in your own unmistakeable voice? (That might work! VOICE is something these sites seem to lack, and you have it.)

    Would a regional focus help? Or carving out a niche, e.g. parents letting go of children and getting their lives back?

    Have you seen the Barbara Walters/Liz Smith site WOWOWOW.com? After I saw them promoting it on Charlie Rose, back in the spring, I looked it up and was appalled. It was shabby. They’ve improved it, but it still makes me dizzy, and takes forever to load.

    Best of luck, and bravo!
    David P.

  4. BJ Roche says:

    Actually, David, I realized I had a better idea AFTER looking at the WOWOWOW.com site. Posts by Mary Wells visiting one of her many houses around the world just didn’t cut it for me, and I think readers want more.

    It points out one of the interesting paradoxes of new media: Here’s a site with lots of resources, famous, powerful women, Tiffany is an advertiser, for chrissake, but it’s not all that interesting. The one piece that I noticed did get a lot of comments was about getting organized, and it was by a guest author.

    Plus: Number one impression (go look right now): is that: Jeez, how did all these 65 year olds keep that NATURALLY BLONDE HAIR?? My first story is about the challenges of going gray in plain sight, and in the company of fabulously beautiful young college students.

    When I started, I found a lot of red hat societies and half-baked sites and abandoned efforts. We’ll see whether this ends up one of them!

  5. David says:

    Dear Grayhair, At least you won’t have the problem one of my students had, when, fabulously beautiful as she was, she said she couldn’t come to class that WHOLE WEEK because her hair dye had created an unsightly blemish on her forehead. (Maybe I shouldn’t tell that kind of story on this site, if students read it. On the other hand, maybe we could make LAME EXCUSES a standing department. )
    David.

  6. commonweeder says:

    With your advice, BJ, I set up a blog and website. The website is proving difficult to maintain because I can’t get a grip on the technology so your information about Drupal is really good. As hard as it has been to maintain the website, the blog has been easier and I love the garden writer blogosphere. When I first started there was an on-line discussion about whether ‘old’ people blogged, but I see that there are more and more ‘old’ people who are tuning in to the new media. One of the prerequisites is hi-speed internet, of course, and that is a geographical problem, not an age problem. Although I haven’t gotten 10,000 uniques (YET) visiting my commonweeder.blogspot.com I have made useful contacts with other bloggers, and gotten a gig writing for another garden website. You are always an inspiration! And I appreciate the the pointers. On to new directions. In the new media.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s