Some people might say I was snooping. I think I was just doing old-fashioned journalism. There I was poking around the Washington Shoe Building in Pioneer Square, checking out a tip that fast-growing social gaming company Zynga was establishing an office there.
For reporters like us, there’s no feeling like chasing down a story and reporting it first with analysis and insight. That’s our bread-and-butter here at GeekWire. And that’s why we hope you — our readers — will come along for the ride.
[Editor's note: This is an occasional look at what’s going on behind the scenes at GeekWire, a new technology news site based in Seattle. You can read the first installment of the series here.]
While my journalistic highlight occurred in a brick building in Pioneer Square, Todd Bishop’s happened in the span of a few hours when he went from covering the technical details of Firefox’s decision to stick with Windows XP to the Jedi-wisdom of Yoda. [The latter story generated my favorite headline (and video) of the past week: "Attention Star Wars nerds: The force is with us."] A few days later, Todd was digging up an internal memo from T-Mobile USA CEO about the pending $39 billion acquisition of the company by AT&T, a Sunday scoop which landed on the front page of tech news aggregation site TechMeme.
That sort of content mix is important for us, fitting squarely with our mantra: Surprise readers with high-quality stories, and they’ll come back for more.
We do a little “curation” and some “aggregation.” But at the end of the day, we are journalists, first and foremost, looking to produce original content. That’s the fun part of this gig, after all. And we think there’s still room for it in the new world order.
It’s gratifying to see readers respond, engaging in the comments, spreading the links via social media channels and telling their friends about stories they saw on GeekWire. It certainly validates our theory that smart stories — whether offbeat or serious — will bubble up.
Media Partners Help Pave the Way
But it hasn’t been all organic growth.
We’ve also been helped in these early stages through a new syndication partnership with MSNBC.com, where selected stories we publish on GeekWire also appear in their widely read Technolog blog. KING 5 also has started to pick up our headlines, and we’ve got more media partnerships in store.
Those arrangements are important for an upstart like ours, validating the content we produce, establishing the GeekWire brand and bringing us new readers. To date, referring sites (including other news sites and social media channels) are driving 41 percent of our traffic, just edging out direct traffic at 40 percent. This mix will certainly change as we prime the site for search engines and start to get indexed in services like Google News.
But we’ve been very pleased with the response to date, with traffic more than exceeding our projections.
Of course, you are only as good as your next story. And we continue to run hard to find those gems.
Building Personality and Community
There have been some snafus, too. After all, we are just a two-person editorial shop at the moment running at lightning speed. A story I wrote last week had several typos — which a reader didn’t hesitate to tell me about. It reinforced the importance of slowing down, taking a breath and proofreading.
Another reader noted how it seemed weird that our mugshots appeared next to every story, highlighting the fact that there are just two of us on the editorial team. At the moment, we believe it is an important way to establish some familiarity and personality with the new site.
Over time, the author mix will start to change as we add new contributors and guest bloggers.
In fact, one short-term goal is to quickly get more voices and personalities onto the site, something we’ll need in order to strengthen the community we’re forming. (If you’re interested in guest blogging, by the way, email firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out our first guest post today from attorney William Carleton).
While we felt a bit like a deer in the headlights during week one, we’ve begun to hit our stride on the editorial front over the past few days, breaking news, scoring key interviews, producing videos and more. We still have the challenge of spreading the word about GeekWire, a marketing hurdle that all new startups face. But we’re working on those issues every day, thinking up creative ideas to bolster the community and get readers more engaged.
A number of loyal followers also have asked about our podcast plans, and we were pleased to kick that off this weekend with guest Hanson Hosein of the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media. (In full disclosure, I am member of the MCDM’s advisory board).
It was a blast getting back into the studios at KIRO 97.3 with engineer Erynn Rose, recapping the past week in tech and having a little fun with our “Name that Tech Tune” segment.
Hey, We’ve Got Revenue
Another big milestone occurred at about noon on Friday as we started experimenting with our advertising system. (After all, the first question my 10-year-old nephew asked me was whether we had made any money yet. Smart kid.).
By the end of Friday, our ad director declared that we had made a whopping $13.97 from our trials. Enough to buy a latte for everyone on the team, we joked.
Developing our advertising and sponsorship infrastructure remains a key focus.
We’ve been working on some unique concepts, and plan to start rolling out those efforts in the coming weeks to meet the demand of the inbound inquiries.
While advertising is an important aspect of the new business, in these early stages we’ve been focusing on the editorial and community building.
As we build that out, we still have to juggle the mundane tasks of running a business. I’ve yet to set up my new printer and scanner, a key project as our accountant needs some payroll documents.
We’ve also been struggling with the health care question. While coverage from our former employer is still active, we are working to nail down a new plan that covers our families. Those costs are more than we expected, not an insignificant amount for a small business like ours, running lean and mean.
Those are the blocking and tackling aspects of the business that we need to execute on. But for this past week, the key focus was establishing the GeekWire editorial voice and community.
We’re excited at how far we’ve come in a short period of time. And we’ve got a lot of fun editorial features in the works. Our biggest challenge right now is just focusing on the biggest and best opportunities as we try to juggle 100 things at once.
I am sure a few entrepreneurs out there know what I am talking about.