A Reporter's Life
Do It Yourself
February/March 2010

by Eileen Douglas

I meet Jeff, a news producer, at the same party, the same time of year, once every year. And once every year he tells me the same thing. "I'd love to go off and do something on my own." He whispers it, sort of under his breath.

Jeff is one of the lucky ones who still has his job at a going news network. He travels all over the world, lives the journalist's life, and takes home a reliable paycheck. Yet he yearns to do all that, plus drop the hassles of the organized workplace, and be his own boss.

In the last year or so I have come across more than one person who has actually done that. Struck out on their own. On a wing and a prayer.

Another Jeff, Jeff Grimshaw, for example, recently launched a Web site called The TV News, www.thetvnews.tv a daily videocast that aims to bring the latest news about the television industry to those in the television industry. The webcast, in its early weeks a single shot of Grimshaw talking to camera reading the postings of the day, began its life with simple production values, but has now added graphics, stills and video clips. Grimshaw's plan, in time, is to offer interviews and pieces that cover all the main industry events. To be there, for instance, at the NATPE convention or the NAB get-together, and use video itself to bring the industry its own latest updates. The way he sees it, broadband is today where cable was in 1979, and by implication, that broadband will be -- not that many years from now -- where cable is today. Having worked, among other places, at Turner Broadcasting and in television in New York City, he sees broadband opening up tremendous opportunities, including tremendous opportunities for working journalists. He sees "the stars now aligned to do this."

As for how risky it can be to make any new venture work, especially at what has been such a shaky time for the economy, he points to his old boss and reminds us that when Ted Turner launched CNN back in the early 1980s, the economy wasn't so great either, and, as he reasons, if Ted Turner had waited until everything was just perfect he may never have launched CNN at all.

Then there is Sheila Robinson. I met Sheila as she was launching her new magazine, "Diversity Woman," www.diversitywoman.com which was born as both a print venture and an online Webzine.

Sheila is very direct. "People don't ask me, where did I get the money," she tells me. "They ask me where I got the nerve and the guts." When the idea for the magazine came to her, it kept emerging and wouldn't leave her alone. She says she didn't want to look back years from now, not having taken up the challenge, and then have to ask herself, "What if I had tried?"

She says she believed in her vision -- a magazine to help more women advance their careers -- did the research, and took the risk. She admits to a successful business-owner husband who believed in her and was an investor. But she also found her way to local bankers and SBA loans.

The passion that drives her daily, she says, is not that she wants to make a dollar. It's that she wants to make a difference. And she believes her magazine serves a cause.

Both Robinson and Grimshaw come from the business side of the business. Having launched journalism ventures, they nevertheless know their way around all that stuff that business people know. And journalists may not.

Do I recommend that journalists who aren't up on "business-y stuff" take a similar risk? All I can do is play reporter here and tell you some have done it. Some have succeeded. Some have failed.

If I check back after a time to see if these do-it-yourself journalism ventures have survived, I have no idea what I will find. To be honest, in this crazy world we live in today, I may end up too afraid to ask.

And next year, when I see the Jeff I see once a year at the same party, will he tell me he finally took the plunge, or, as always, that he wishes "someday" he could go off and do "something" on his own? Who knows?

All I can say is there are those among us who have gone where no journalists may earlier have thought they'd ever need or want to go. Perhaps it is a way forward for some who "want to do what they do" without answering to others, willing on their own to chance the fates.

© Eileen Douglas

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist-turned-independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for "ABC-TV's Lifetime Magazine," she is the author of "Rachel and the Upside Down Heart," and co-producer of the films "My Grandfather's House" and "Luboml: My Heart Remembers." She can be reached at http://www.douglas-steinman.com.

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