[First filed: August 07, 2009 @ 14:21]
A bit over a year ago I was living on seven mile beach with a girlfriend I loved very much and a wonderful dog. I was doing interesting work building a freelance journalism and PR practice that was starting to take off.
Most evenings we’d get home from work, take the dog to the beach, take it in turns to go for a surf, throw a ball for the dog, come home and cook dinner together before settling down on the couch to watch something fun.
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Then I chose to come back to Canberra to run RiotACT full time (having started it back in 2000).
In large part thanks to the pressures involved the girlfriend is now gone and taken up with someone I’d thought was a friend.
The dog is being sent off for trial stays with families that might want him. I’m living in a scungy share house.
And as of Sunday week I’m out of a job.
As life choices go, it’s hard to imagine one more catastrophically poor.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
(More, and a slideshow)
Confessions of a blogger:
There’s a lot of wittering in media navel gazing circles about how the internet allows anyone to start a media outlet.
They’re right to an extent. It lowers the cost of distribution to the point that googleads should cover anyone’s hosting costs.
They’re totally wrong about what happens if one part way succeeds.
Lawyers, accountants, and ad reps all cost money. Lots and lots of money.
Advertisers rarely read the websites their staff are constantly clicking on, they’re too busy running a business. So the poor old ad rep has to explain to Barry’s Blinds why they should get a share of the money being spent on established mastheads.
Then there’s the cost of your own time creating the content once the work grows beyond a spare time operation. Many people don’t realise that even the simplest story linking to other sources takes time to create. In better financed outfits there are multiple levels of organisation to correct errors, moderate views, handle the photography, edit the audio etc. I’ve edited the copy of “real journalists”. Believe it or not RiotACT has, by way of comparison, been astonishingly clean for a solo operation. (With a quick cheer to our readers who kindly email in any little booboos that sneak through).
The thousands of readers a day who keep coming back every day bear testament to that.
But if someone was to start out trying to build a news website today (if I liked them), I’d wish them an early failure.
A few months of tedious slog, the realisation that just because everyone can read your words doesn’t mean that anyone is reading at all, give up, get back to life without any serious damage.
But if they’re seriously unlucky they hit a nerve, build a readership, start setting the agenda for other media, and getting a few (but not enough) advertisers knocking on their door.
And then the aspiring blogger discovers they’ve laid down the welcome mat to a howling tide of nutters and weirdos demanding the megaphone (which the throng played no part in building) be shared with them.
Some nutters are easy to spot. They’re incomprehensible from the get go. Others come in full of enthusiasm seduced by a sense of community, and then when they don’t get their way on some minor issue flare up in an incandescent display of aggrieved self-entitlement.
In a bigger organisation dealing with “problem readers” gets compartmentalised. Someone else answers the phone, answers the email.
In a one man office the screaming mass flows in without help or support.
Someone has to make decisions, there’s only one person to do it, and the maladjusted will flood in with their petty gripes, neuroses, and conspiracies.
In the last year I’ve been threatened by murderers, been the subject of multiple facebook hate groups, taken no end of thuggish phone calls, been named as part of a reptoid conspiracy, memorably had a policeman fantasise about whipping me, been the subject of graffiti, and on a bad day will take dozens of petulant emails from angry nutjobs (not to mention my personal fave, the moderated comments made as personal abuse screaming “WHY HAVE I BEEN SILENCED!?”). Readers might be interested to learn that bad days mostly coincide with full moons, sequential hot days, or sequential days with limited sunlight.
Online business is filled with mirages as well as riches. The water is always visible, just another step ahead.
The bright road ahead:
This isn’t the end for RiotACT though. While I’m off to get another job there’s lots of life in the old girl yet.
As of Monday we’re entering a reduced operations mode. All comments and submitted stories will be in moderation for more occasional clearance by the team.
With a bit of luck those who come here for conversation rather than information will head off to afflict some other place, and comments will address (as they should) the original post. That isn’t to say that when valid and relevant points are raised later comments shouldn’t refer to and expand on them. I know a great many readers will view this part, at least, as a positive and welcome development.
I will, future employer permitting, keep posting stories of interest to me, but it won’t be as many and they won’t be as timely.
The good times:
Having said all that, regrets aside, the last year has not been a waste. I’ve met amazing people, made astonishingly wonderful friends. I’ve also been to a lot of cracking parties.
RiotACT has fired the starter’s gun for a lot of issues that would otherwise have been ignored. We’ve covered more real news with our microscopic resources than many other more lavishly funded and staffed operations in this town.
We’d like to take some small part of the credit for the resurgence of interest in local original music in this town, and from that the creation of the vibrant scene so many of us love.
We’ve challenged a lot of people’s preconceptions and even changed a few minds on important issues. (What surprised me to learn along the way is that a lot of people don’t read news to learn new things, they go to the news to have their existing prejudices confirmed. These people get confused and angry when presented with new ideas. Hopefully we’ve expanded their minds in some tiny way, they seem to keep coming back for more. Although they are still angry.)
In terms of readership it’s been a phenomenal year (plus a few weeks) for a website addressing only the Canberra locality.
Visits rose 100% from the previous period: From 876,942 to 1,760,884.
Pageviews were substantially better than 100% improved: From 2,455,179 up to 5,106,374.
Absolute unique visitors were similar: Rising from 289,891 to 580,394 (obviously there was some visitation from outside the ACT and people accessing the site from multiple machines).
Average time on site also rose a stunning 26 seconds from 4:15 to 4:41.
There’s not a website editor anywhere who wouldn’t kill for those kinds of growth numbers for an established website, and with no money spent on marketing.
Exposure in other media has also been great. We’ve been treated wonderfully by ChannelVision and the ABC’s Stateline. The regular spot on 2XX has been joined by two shorter weekly spots with Mike Welsh on 2CC.
So I’m walking out the door with my head held high.
(Although I should note that I’ll still be here for the next week documenting process and getting the new regime bedded down with the other members of the RiotACT team)
And the Oscar goes to…
Beyond that there are people I’d like to thank.
First beyond equals has to be RiotACT’s Che. No sane person could hope to have a better friend next to them in a crisis. He’s been going above and beyond in his offers to help me out of crap since we were teenagers and without his intervention I’d be royally screwed right now.
Jazz and Kramer have also put in huge amounts of work for little reward, take a bow guys.
The team at Culturazi.com have been immensely supportive and made a heroic offer to keep this show on the road in the last week despite in some ways being a competitor. Sadly it was not to be. But the effort is hugely appreciated Jim and Sharkey.
The Rat Patrol have been the finest bunch it’s ever been my privilege to cut, grind, weld, drink and ride with. I’m humbled to be able to call such an amazing group of people my friends.
It’s not possible to make a list such as this without crediting Matty Ellis of the Ellis Collective. A constant source of inspiration, support, and free beers. I’m eternally sorry that my photography has been a source of embarrassment. When the howling tide has risen, knowing that you were behind me kept me laying sandbags.
I’d also like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Velocity Internet. To my view they’re Canberra’s best ISP when you’ve got serious needs and need to deal with serious people. Without their quality hosting there would be no Riot.
A special mention also needs to go to Kieran from Adventure Paintball. He has been with us as an advertiser since the days when we sold ads for cases of beer. He’s also been an invaluable source of information for all matters paintball.
Any mention of advertisers is not complete without a hats off to All Classifieds. Unusual in our experience of Canberra business people they make rational decisions fast and execute them faster. A class act all round and we truly appreciate their unconditional support.
All of our thousands of regular readers need to give themselves a pat on the back. Not so much the wind beneath our wings as the oxygen in the fire.
[Pass me the tissues…]
Finally, at the risk of extreme cheese I really would like to thank my parents. Should I get the chance to raise children I can only pray that I’ll do half as good a job. Sorry about the lack of grandchildren but that work ethic you gave me has to date worked against it.
So what next for me? Well I’ve got good experience in both PR and Government Relations (And the mistakes one can make in this town without both are spectacular and regrettable. Try calling the minister a bastard on TV to get your media coverage and see how you go with getting a result).
Also an old hand at executing robust IT projects under budget, and on time. Solid photography skills, along with video and audio capture and editing.
Failing that; excellent in the photocopy room, and can reliably take phone messages. Will make coffee any which way you like it.
I can’t find a source for it, but my brother once recounted the tale of when a Hollywood producer told Errol Flynn “You’ll never work in this town again”. Flynn replied “Maybe I won’t, but I will work”.
(CV available on request, just email firstname.lastname@example.org)
So… [Drum roll please, don’t want to fluff my line now…]
It’s definitely been unforgettable.
[Always wanted to say this bit…]
Good night, and good luck.
(To take us out here’s a slideshow of my highlights from the last year. Recommended soundtrack Something Vague by Bright Eyes.)