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Behind the Scenes: The Demise of Media Unspun

Media Unspun, a publication analyzing media coverage of technology business news, will suspend publication on Friday Dec. 13, unless a major sponsor or investors is found before then. Media UnspunThe publication was launched in January by the same team that produced the Media Grok for the Industry Standard, after it folded. In a Q&A with CyberJournalist.net's Jonathan Dube, Media Unspun publisher Jimmy Guterman says the only way for independent Web publishers to survive is by banding together as a network to "preserve our idiosyncratic voices, but share a business back end." He also says, "Journalistic Weblogs have to be two-way to work, otherwise they're either vanity publishing ventures or traditional columns pretending to be hip."

DUBE: After the Media Grok folded, how and why did you start Media Unspun?

GUTERMAN: In the last issue of Media Grok (Sep. 26, 2001), I wrote a farewell note and invited readers to send me their email addresses so I could let them know when various writers on the team got published somewhere, got a job, etc. When several thousand people wrote back within a day, I realized we might have a business. You can see our various hello's and goodbye's from our Grok era through links on this page.

DUBE: Why do you think it failed?

GUTERMAN: It wasn't a failure, and I'm not in denial. We had an excellent editorial product and we filled a real need. There are other very good daily newsletters that go over some of the same turf -- "Good Morning Silicon Valley" comes to mind -- but Unspun was all about combining the useful and the entertaining. On a personal level, I am pleased to have been able to pay some top business journalists for their work during a year when a lot of fine business journalists didn't make a dime. It's only on the financial side that the newsletter didn't thrive -- and I recognize that's a huge thing and that's why we're closing down. This is a business, not a hobby.

We knew launching a new publication about the technology business during a technology and publishing recession might be rough, but why not try? And we needed to launch as soon as possible after Media Grok's demise, rather than wait six months or six years or how ever long it takes for business prospects to brighten. Our readers said they wanted us to keep publishing.

They didn't say wait until NASDAQ is above 4,000 again.

DUBE: What did you learn from your experience running Media Unspun?

I was the editor of Media Grok, but I was the editor, publisher, circulation manager, customer-service rep, syndication director, tech-support guy, publicist, ad salesman, accountant, web lackey, and janitor for Unspun. I had an excellent staff of writers and a copyeditor to keep the editorial product strong; I had to do pretty much everything else.

So it was great for me to learn other parts of the business. I hope I don't lose my editorial bona fides by admitting that I enjoyed being a publisher.

I learned a great deal about the particular challenges facing email newsletters (everything from how to get past overaggressive spam filters to which ISPs deliver more slowly than others). The greatest pleasure was working with the editorial team, of course.

DUBE: The demise of well-respected publications such as Media Unspun is certainly disheartening. What do you see as the future of independent Web publishing?

GUTERMAN: We need to band together as a network: preserve our idiosyncratic voices, but share a business back end. I've written about this frequently, most recently in two pieces for Business 2.0:

1. Message to Online Publishers: Unite or Die
2. How to Save Salon

DUBE: And what advice do you have for other independent Internet publishers?

GUTERMAN: Either band together or don't expect to be building a business.

DUBE: You developed a unique way to use the Weblog concept, by creating one for Media Unspun subscribers to reply to or discuss articles published by Media Unspun. How well did that work?

GUTERMAN: Well, I started it too late; we should have had it from Day One. That shortcoming noted, it was wonderful. If I showed you the email the writers  and I get, it would be clear that Media Unspun is a community in which the readers are as engaged as the writers.

DUBE: Along those lines, what do you see as the future role of Weblogs in journalism?

Well, first I want to be clear that Media Unspun itself was not a Weblog. We're big fans of the freedom and diversity of blogs, but we were not a blog. Blogs go from a single person's mind to the Web with no intervention  (team blogs work the same way). Unspun has writers and editors, all of whom collaborate to create a product we intended to be professional as well as useful and entertaining. That noted, I think the current celebrity Weblog notion that MSNBC and others are fostering is short-sighted and won't work, either conceptually or in a business way. Journalistic Weblogs have to be two-way to work, otherwise they're either vanity publishing ventures or traditional columns pretending to be hip.

Read more of CyberJournalist.net's Behind the Scenes features.

2000-2003 Jonathan Dube, CyberJournalist.net
No material on this site may be reprinted without the expressed written consent of Jonathan Dube and individual authors.