The back story behind the Upstart Business Journal
by Chris Roush
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
American City Business Journals, which operates 40 weekly business newspapers across the country, made a big change to one of its web operations earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the Charlotte-based company rolled out the Upstart Business Journal, which replaced Portfolio.com, a business news site.
The new site is focusing on business news related to entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
J. Jennings Moss is the editor of the Upstart Business Journal and the editor of its predecessor, Portfolio.com. Moss was a deputy editor of the Portfolio site during its time as a Conde Nast publication.
Before Portfolio, Moss was managing editor of FoxNews.com and a senior editor at ABCNews.com. He’d earlier spent eight years as a political reporter in Washington, working first at The Washington Times covering Congress and the White House and then for The Advocate as Washington correspondent.
He got his professional start at The Tampa Tribune, covering cops and courts in New Port Richey, Fla.
Moss, a graduate of the University of Arizona who lives in New York City, spoke by e-mail with Talking Biz News earlier this week about the launch of Upstart. What follows is an edited transcript.
Why did American City decide to revamp the Portfolio site?
As we got deeper into the story about where the economy was headed and focused more on the role of entrepreneurs and startups in that, the Portfolio name started not feeling like a good fit. Even when it was a Conde Nast magazine, Portfolio got knocked for not being the right name for a publication that had very little to do with either personal finance or stock picks. That just became a stronger disconnect over the past year or so. The solution: come up with a new name that better matched the kind of stories we were going after.
What wasn’t working with Portfolio?
Besides the name, the back end needed to be rebuilt to make it easier to write and publish blog posts and to bring us into the Business Journal system.
What other content formats were considered?
We continue to discuss a mobile and possibly even a return to print at some point. But nothing was really considered and disregarded. The mission from the beginning has been to cover entrepreneurship and its impact on the economy.
How was the decision made to focus on innovation and entrepreneurs in terms of coverage?
That started to come about when Portfolio moved from Conde Nast to ACBJ in 2009. From a story perspective, I believed then and continue to believe today that what was happening to small business and with entrepreneurs would end up being the most significant economic trend we’d see.
From a resource perspective, we just didn’t have the same kind of money or boots on the ground we had during the Conde years so we had to come up with a different approach.
And by pulling from work of the reporters and editors at ACBJ’s 40 business weeklies, we could develop good trend pieces about small business whereas, we couldn’t really cover large corporations as effectively. And finally, the stories about entrepreneurship and innovation are just more fun to do.
How long did the overhaul take?
We’d been discussing the move for about a year, with the real technical and editorial work taking about three months.
For the Inc. and Entrepreneur side, we’ll be helped by the contributions from the reporters and the papers. That will take some time to ramp up, but eventually, our goal is to get to the stories of these entrepreneurs before the other guys.
Another difference is we hope to be more news focused than they are, though both of those publications have improved on that front recently.
Our other competitors are in the digital only space around tech, TechCrunch, Mashable and VentureBeat. We’ll be different there by not just covering tech, but looking at a broader range of companies.
How much of the coverage on the site will come from the ACBJ papers?
At the beginning, most of the original content on site will come from Upstart staff and freelancers with links from the site to the work being done in the markets. In time, we’ll have a stream of original contributions from the markets. That won’t come all at once, as we’ll be focusing first on those communities with the most entrepreneurial activity.
How big is the full-time staff?
Small. Only four full-time staff, including me, plus two part-time and one intern.
What about contributors who know this area?
We’d cut back on outside contributors in the last months of Portfolio, but I’m starting to build this back up. We have a continuing content relationship with the Young Entrepreneur Council and work with a roster of both journalists and business professionals as occasional contributors.
Would you say the site is more advice for people interested in starting and growing their own business, or news about such companies?
More news and features about companies and the people leading them, but with a healthy dose of advice.
Would Upstart’s content appear elsewhere, like in ACBJ business newspapers?
Upstarts links will be distributed to the other sites and in their email products, and we’re exploring having some of our stuff appear in print in the papers, but I don’t have a firm date for when that will happen.
Anything else about the site you want to tell us?
We’re happily selective with the stories we’re going to cover. If we can’t look at a person, company or idea and see how it’s creative or disruptive — how it’s a model of an “upstart”–than we won’t cover it. Business news doesn’t have to be dull. Ours won’t be.