BoomerangBeat Competition: theSkimm

I was really bummed when learned about theSkimm because they are what I consider the first real competition to BoomerangBeat.

As with all the “competitors” I find, I became obsessed. I researched how they made money, who invested in them, the founders’ background, stalked all their social profiles, learned about their planned revenue model and, for the past week, have completely analyzed their approach to content.

What is theSkimm?

theSkimm is a daily, weekday-only email newsletter geared toward women but “not geared toward women”. Some articles have described them as a news aggregator with summaries, which they kind of are. But for larger issues (like Iraq) they break it down almost exactly the same way I do with BB.

Who are the founders?

The newsletter was started by two twenty-something’s (28 year-olds, exactly my age too) who used to work as producers in the news industry. These two ladies saw the same gap in the industry I’ve been looking at – news served for the busy Millennial.

How are they different than BoomerangBeat?

  • They’re email only.
  • They provide links so you can learn beyond their summary.
  • They’re much more brief than I am. Even if we’re filling the same “hole” in the industry, I think we can each still appeal to different niches within our target population or different curiosities within those same people.
  • Their writing style includes slang in a very pop culture, modern sense … something I think will only appeal to females in their 20s and early 30s.  I’ve found my writing style with BB works for both the older and younger generations.
  • They’re following mainstream media headlines.
  • They include an entertainment angle (which I’m not interested in, yet anyway) in their newsletter which helps round out their content.
  • They’re active – they give you the news before you ask for it. BB is passive — waits for those that have questions to seek the answers.
  • They’re looking to emulate newsletter models like DailyCandy and Thrillist.

How are they the same as BoomerangBeat?

  • For larger issues, they do a good job of asking the question, then answering the question. I really believe this aides in understanding.
  • They’re female. This is something I was using as both a differentiator since this is very much a male-dominated industry.
  • They’re targeting smart, young, busy professionals (Millennials).
  • They don’t care about breaking news and do not want to be the go-to source for it.
  • They’re interviewing/connecting with other industry people (advisors) in order to learn. While I don’t have their connections, I’ve started reaching out to other organizations and people for the same reason.
  • We’re both trying to fill the same hole in the news industry.

What I think they’re missing

  • While they say they’re not necessarily just for women, they’re heavily geared toward women based on their writing style and design. I think this may turn male readers off, not to mention older generations that could find their content useful.
  • By being email only, they’re missing the SEO advantages of having content on the web.
  • I actually use research and analysis to see what people are asking, rather than following the lead of mainstream media – which is driven by corporate dollars. BB doesn’t, necessarily, which allows me to write about more obscure issues and address sensitive questions that the big guys may be ignoring.
  • According to Ken Doctor (of Newsonomics and a media business analyst), they don’t have a viable business model and he thinks it’ll be hard to “secure advertising for unoriginal content” and/or a “subscription news aggregator”. I may be missing this too, though (a strong revenue model). I’ve tried to reach out to Ken Doctor twice for some feedback and haven’t received an answer yet. I’ll keep trying. I would love his insight.
  • As for any business model, in one interview, they suggested they will look to native advertising to make money. I hate native advertising and honestly don’t think it has a place with actual news-news (Buzzfeed’s lighter content – sure, it works for). They’ve done this already with celebrity guest writers from the NBA to breakdown the Finals. With native advertising and what I’ve seen them do, they’ll need to get very relevant “advertisers” and only very relevant advertisers to stay true to their content and readers or they’ll lose them. People don’t care who wrote what, they care about the content. I’m also one of those people that believe native advertising is a passing fad and/or will only suit certain markets. It is not the be-all, end-all answer to advertising needs.
  • They’re not doing social well. Their feeds are a mix of their news bites and their personal brands. In my opinion, those are too opposite. I’d be interested in following their journey as entrepreneurs but the fact that that is mixed in with their news content feels like their lacking focus. I think they could benefit by separating the two and really honing their personal brands next to their business brand, not rolled up together.
  • Their content “condenses the news” in easy-to-understand tidbits. BB’s main goal is to answer real questions and help Millennials actually learn so they can vote in a more informed manner (which is obviously an issue, hence MTV’s longstanding “Rock the Vote” campaign). I’m not quite sure our content is different enough or that I can even claim I don’t just do that, but right now I do think they’re selling themselves a bit short with their mission.

What theSkimm has over BoomerangBeat

Probably obvious but it helps me to lay it out:

  • They did it earlier/faster than me.
  • They seem to be picking up steam and have a very large subscriber/fan base.
  • They have each other. I’ve heard it’s hard to get funding if you’re trying to start a company on your own.
  • They’ve been featured on the TodayShow and on Inc.com. There are several more but those are two of my dream placements.
  • They have $1 million in backing.
  • They’re from the news industry (NBC to be exact) and not only know the industry well, but have connections.
  • They’re TV/interview savvy — I’m far from it.
  • They’re the fastest growing email newsletter on the market.
  • They had the guts to quit their jobs and follow their dream.
  • Their advisor is the DailyCandy founder. I’m on the hunt for one.

This is what scares me the most

They’re from the news industry which I’ve said can be a bad thing (and have used as a BB differentiator).  People in the news industry are usually in so deep that they can’t see where the gaps lie with the general population.

However, these two were able to see outside of their blinders and realize that even smart, young professionals need it broken down in an easy to digest manner.

They’re filling the same hole I want to fill, just a bit differently than how I’m doing it. Better? I’m not sure yet, but certainly in a more popular way.

What I need to remember

There is always another piece of pie, the pie is not a finite commodity. Competitors can serve different purposes – GMA vs TodayShow, McDonalds vs Burger King, Seattle Magazine vs Seattle Met.

theSkimm’s style and language may not fit everyone and for those it does fit, it only “skims the surface” of larger events. To follow up, they provide links to other sources whereas I’ll answer more questions to give you a complete view of the scenario.

I also write for the open minded, a way to learn about the other’s side and why/what they may be thinking. I don’t write for those that already know their beliefs and just need a quick update. My goal is to aide in understanding so our generation can be more informed when we vote.

My Hiatus

I was going strong with BoomerangBeat until November/December of 2013.

My first run through the holiday season with a blog in tow, was coupled with learning I was pregnant for the first time and having to cope with the dreaded first trimester … which sucked the ever-living energy out of me.

Around March-April of this year, I began the transition into my second trimester and the energy that had eluded me all winter slowly trickled back in.

You’d think this would be a good thing.

Unfortunately, my renewed energy and ability to once again “do” brought along with it the question of “what am I doing?”

I guess after being physically dormant for four months, it’s understandable that my mind was curious.

Lying on the couch and sleeping more than I ever have as an adult only left me with uncertainty on where to re-start. Or if I could even do this with a baby coming.

Though the pregnancy was new, this internal dialogue was not. These mental interrogations have been common enough in my 20s that I knew this was just the beginning of a short term, mild anxiety attack.

Normally, these consisted of a few weeks of high stress, self-doubt and teenage-like breakouts. Recovering wasn’t too bad as my mind would naturally move on, allowing me to re-focus and pull my shit back together.

Not this time, though.

Pure Numbness

At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I knew I wasn’t depressed, I just felt numb. For the most part, my physical energy was back but my mental energy was nowhere to be found. All motivation and drive had disappeared.

Plus, I was so pre-occupied with the idea of a baby that I completely ignored my lack of motivation and drive for anything outside of that little world.

I don’t know what took me so long but by the middle of April, I finally called on Google.

My Self-Diagnosis

I finally came to terms with the fact that something wasn’t quite right and surfacing that was probably the best thing I could’ve done for myself.

I was going through a mental slump brought on by decision-fatigue, my anxiety episode, and skepticism about my ability to achieve the career goals I so looked forward to (baby or not).

Simply put, my brain just puttered out on me. I was left with zero focus, a severe case of boredom, and frustration.

Like I said, the anxiety episode was nothing new, but the slump was and it’s not like it’s just something you can recognize and then “snap out of”. Once you’re in the deep of it, unfortunately you need to just let your brain work through it on its own. At least for me, anyways.

I wasn’t sad. I was just … nothing.

The thing is – once you realize you’ve hit the bottom-most point of whatever it is you’re going through and you start to come out of it, you’re not in the clear. You don’t go from resting back up to 100 mph with the snap of a finger.

You know that saying, “an object at rest, stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion” – well it’s true, especially for the mind. I was naïve to think that once I got out of “it”, everything would be back to normal.

But coming out of it is just getting the garage door to open … you still need to start the ignition and get back on the freeway. Which takes work.

Starting is intimidating

And re-starting is even harder. You don’t have a blank state this time, you have something half-created that you need to re-prioritize back into your life. That and you have the guilt/embarrassment of negligence on your shoulders. Perhaps you even have a handful of fans or readers to answer to for your absence. You had set expectations then failed to follow through on them … sometimes publicly.

Humbling, embarrassing, and a tough pill to swallow.

The only way to gain that respect and trust back – whether from yourself or others – is to get back on the highway for good.

Inspiration in the For Dummies Brand

I want to be clear that BoomerangBeat is not “for dummies” and it is not a “dummied down version of the news” but rather accessible news. News for the busy.

Quote pulled from an Entrepreneur Magazine article.

Dummied down describes a deliberate diminution of the intellectual level of education, literature, cinema, news, and culture. Or to “revise as to appeal to those of little education or intelligence”.

Those that don’t fully understand what’s going on in news, or with politics, aren’t stupid. They’re not necessarily any less intelligent than those that can follow, they’ve just chosen to focus on other areas of life.

We live in a world of constant content, “breaking news”, sensationalized stories and headlines, misreporting, and propaganda. We are in the age of information overload and organizational mistrust.

Those of us outside the news industry bubble often lose the context of the story as media continuously caters those that are ready, at any minute, to absorb the latest detail.

The For Dummies Success Story

A short paragraph pulled from their website:

In 1987, new technologies were popping up all over the place. But computer manuals were dull and difficult to understand. A frustrated customer in a computer store, who knew nothing about computers, was looking for a simple, basic book about the difficult DOS operating system. “Something,” he suggested, “like DOS for dummies.” We knew the man’s frustration was shared by many other computer users, and we set out to do something about it. Thus, the For Dummies phenomenon began.

From the start, For Dummies was a simple, yet powerful concept: Relate to the anxiety and frustration that people feel about technology by poking fun at it with books that are insightful and educational and make difficult material interesting and easy.”

Sound familiar?

I re-wrote their story in terms of today’s technology and media landscape:

In the aftermath of the dot-com boom and bust (early 2000s), the web quickly became ubiquitous. New ideas of sharing and exchanging content rapidly gained acceptance in the form of Weblogs, RSS, and later, social networks.

The media’s obsession with 24-hour news coverage was bolstered by the popularization of social networking. This rapid development of messaging soon gave way to “up to the second” updates and a media-wide “first to report” race.

The information overload, continuous “non-news” broadcasts, and misreporting left many frustrated at the missing context and propaganda-driven agendas of major media outlets. So, I’m setting out to do something about it.

BoomerangBeat is a simple, yet powerful concept: Relate to the anxiety and frustration that people feel about the current state of the news industry and make difficult topics interesting and easy to understand.”

The Mission Statement

I’m not exactly sure what the For Dummies mission statement is but there are a few quotes I pulled that directly relate to (and inspire) BoomerangBeat. I rewrote them for my case.

BoomerangBeat is not for dummies. It’s a reference guide to the news for the rest of us.”

“Making everything easier.”

“BoomerangBeat is a website intended to present non-intimidating guides for news consumers new to the various topics covered.”

“BoomerangBeat is a simple, yet powerful concept: Relate to the anxiety and frustration that people feel about the news industry… and make difficult material interesting and easy to understand.”

The For Dummies books are incredibly popular for a reason. And just like I’m hoping to do with BoomerangBeat, their readers outgrow them too.

News for the Busy

I describe BoomerangBeat’s content as “news for the busy.”

If you’ve seen my articles (they can get long), you may think that statement is contradictory.

However, catering to the busy doesn’t/shouldn’t always mean you have to deliver shorter, faster, wherever-they-are updates.

It can. But it doesn’t always have to.

If you have no idea what’s going on in a complex situation, faster, shorter, wherever-you-are updates won’t necessarily help.

Without context, the chances of being overwhelmed are high.

We can’t forget that “catering to the busy” may also mean taking it back to step one, untangling the mess, and presenting it in an easy to digest manner.

 

Entrepreneur Magazine – Powerful Women to Watch 2014

I read Entrepreneur magazine religiously and while I’m often  frustrated by the lack of female representation on their covers (one to two a year with the second almost always being shared by a male counterpart), their January issue featured  seven of “The Most Powerful Women to Watch of 2014″ (these are the articles I often find myself daydreaming about being a part of).

Two profiles in particular stood out to me. While it wasn’t necessarily the women that I connected with, it was the role they were fulfilling in their careers that piqued my interest.

The two qualities – the bridge builder and the fixer – are the ones I identify with when it comes to BoomerangBeat.entrepreneur magazine - most powerful women to watch

Michele Weslander-Quaid – The Bridge Builder

As a Google executive, Michele’s defining characteristic was that of a bridge builder. “A big part of my job,” she says “is to translate between Silicon Valley speak and government dialect. I act as a bridge between the two cultures.”

In terms of BoomerangBeat, this is how I feel about news-speak. I want to be the translator between in-depth news stories/correspondents/mainstream media and the general public.

If you want the general public to understand and have an opinion (their own opinion) then mainstream media, and even several niche sites, are writing to the wrong level of consumer.

“Good content is targeted content. If you’re writing a basic cake recipe for beginner home cooks, you’re on the right track. If you’re writing a basic cake recipe for master chefs, you’re not.” [source]

The media is backwards. They’re feeding master chef recipes to beginner home cooks hoping they stick with it, understand it, and care about it. In a world of a million recipes, no less.

Where are the news 101 options?

We’re grouping those that don’t understand and are frustrated with those that don’t care. This is a mistake.

Caryn Siedman-Becker – The Fixer

As chairman and CEO of CLEAR (airport security), Caryn’s defining characteristic is the fixer. Her main objective is to rebuild the trust and integrity of airport security with their customers.

This is what needs to happen between the Millennial generation and the news industry.

We are constantly tuning out of mainstream media and into niche alternatives (think PolicyMic, Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Mashable).

While traffic and consumption looks healthy for these outlets, they’re still niche websites and thus, missing a very large portion of available audience and topics.

Enter: BoomerangBeat.

My Curiosity – The Base for BoomerangBeat

Curiosity is the engine of intellectual achievement. – Annie Murphy Paul

George Loewenstein, author of The Psychology of Curiosity, wrote that curiosity arises “when attention becomes focused on a gap in one’s knowledge. Such information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation labeled curiosity. The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”

Curiosity then, is a powerful feeling that pushes us to find the information we need to fill the gap in our knowledge.

Cognitive scientist and author Daniel Willingham suggests that in order to fill those gaps, we start by asking questions. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School?, Willingham notes that oftentimes teachers are “so eager to get to the answer that they do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.”

Knowing the question before you get the answer allows your mind to open as you consider other possibilities. It’s too easy to accept an answer when you have no idea what in fact you’re getting an answer to.  While questions stimulate curiosity, answers stifle it.

Though Willingham’s book is obviously directed at the educational system, I think it relates perfectly to how the media acts today.

Our brains get pleasure from solving problems not just simply knowing the answer. Even if we’re not directly told the answer, too many “hints” will cause us to lose the sense that we have solved it ourselves.

The media gives us answers. I’m sure you’re thinking “that’s their job”, but I disagree; to some extent, anyway. They, in all their glory and corporate money, tell us how to feel about a certain situation or event by giving us one side of the story, theirs.

Very rarely (if it all) do they show us both hands and facilitate our decision making process, our brain’s ultimate desire.

On the other hand, while our brains do get pleasure from solving problems (i.e., making our own decisions), we get little to no pleasure if we find the problem too difficult to solve.

Yes, we all have the resources today to find out what the liberals are saying or see where the republicans stand, to find the details that matter to the story, and to answer any question we have but sometimes, that is the equivalent to finding a needle in a virtual haystack.

For events as in-depth and important as the Iran Nuclear Talks, the NSA controversy, Obamacare, etc. it is simply too hard for people who are trying to learn to sort through the constant barrage of noise in order to connect the dots.

In his book Willingham notes “curiosity prompts us to explore new ideas and problems. But when we do this exploration, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem. If it’s too much or too little work, we stop working on the problem if we can.”

If we want a more informed public (or generation re: Millennials) we need to inform them better – not just give them their viewpoint.

Sharing BoomerangBeat with my network for the first time

Every week, I document the journey and thought process that goes into building BoomerangBeat. That might sound boring to you, but it’s in my nature to document everything I do. You never know who may find it useful one day.

Think that’s ridiculous? I’m okay with that, you should see how many pictures I take.

Click on the link to see the complete list of BoomerangBeat articles or to learn more about my project.

I really started writing in April 2013 but until that point I hadn’t really told anyone, except my sister and husband, about my idea for BoomerangBeat.

It was a rough start but the more I wrote, the more I figured out. Posts started to take shape, I discovered a trick that helps me choose topics and post titles, and I began to hit my stride (with the Snowden article no less).

Since then, I’ve only shared my mission with a handful of people and have essentially kept it under the radar with the people that support me most, my personal network.

Why? A false sense of embarrassment.

I’ve gotten a positive response from those I’ve directly shared BoomerangBeat with – both friends and strangers. But there’s still a part of me that thinks it’s silly and that I’m silly for believing in it.

I’m at the point where I’m ready to get over that. I need to get over that. Not only is this my built in support group, but most of these people are my target market. How much safer can it get?

Accountability

Sharing will also keep me accountable. After the government shutdown I had a few friends and random readers ask me if I had either written, or was planning to write, an article about what was going on. It was no surprise that the media sensationalism mixed with inflated and complex details, scared and confused the shit out of a lot of people.

The thing was, when they asked, I was in the middle of a BB redesign which I was focusing 100% of my free time on and had zero bandwidth to write an article that exhaustive.

But eventually I wrote one, because they asked me to. I knew I needed to anyway, but I was going to ignore it in favor of the design. They kept me accountable.

I believe in my project

I believe in my project and I think it has the potential to help a lot of people. However, I’m still learning the ins and outs of international affairs, politics, the government, its history, and everything else in between.

While that may by my virtue in this particular case (i.e., the reason for BoomerangBeat’s being), it’s also my vice. I’m still learning so I can’t help but wonder where and what gaps exist in the information I present. That’s the kind of reporting that gets ripped all the time.

I guess the worse that can happen is either absolute embarrassment because I’m still figuring it out, or I’ll release it to the sound of crickets. The best is acceptance.

I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Has anyone else out there been afraid to share their passion project when they were just starting out?

Holy Snowden

Every week, I document the journey and thought process that goes into building BoomerangBeat. That might sound boring to you, but it’s in my nature to document everything I do. You never know who may find it useful one day.

Think that’s ridiculous? I’m okay with that, you should see how many pictures I take.

Click on the link to see the complete list of BoomerangBeat articles or to learn more about my project.

So I just Googled “what is the edward snowden controversy” and got this:

what is the edward snowden controversy

Result number-fucking-one.

I even signed out of Google so I wouldn’t get personal results. I assume this has to do with Google’s Hummingbird update (Google recognizes question searches instead of just sparsing together random keywords).

Asking questions – it’s how I use Google and the reason why I format BoomerangBeat the way I do (even before Hummingbird, mind you). If Google recognizes this need, others are more than likely searching this way in volumes as well.

This will be a very good thing for BoomerangBeat.

Google News Feed Submission and Citizen Journalism

Every week, I document the journey and thought process that goes into building BoomerangBeat. That might sound boring to you, but it’s in my nature to document everything I do. You never know who may find it useful one day.

Think that’s ridiculous? I’m okay with that, you should see how many pictures I take.

Click on the link to see the complete list of BoomerangBeat articles or to learn more about my project.

Last week I submitted BoomerangBeat to the Google News Feed. Although my fingers are crossed, I’m not entirely optimistic that something will come of it.

However, through the application process I did learn something – BoomerangBeat is considered citizen journalism.

I realize how that sounds but honestly I hadn’t thought about it in that context before which made me really not want to check that box for fear Google wouldn’t consider BB a legitimate source. By checking it, I felt I was going to lose the game before I even got the chance to play.

But I did check it … after some research.

The negative stereotype

Let me point out that I never thought I was a professional reporter. I’m neither trained nor educated in journalism. But on the other hand, I hadn’t considered myself a citizen journalist either.

I was wrong to not.

Until now, I had a half-baked idea of what citizen journalism was and what it meant to society. While there’s no way to be entirely sure how this misconception manifested in my head, I had the idea that citizen journalism was the opposite of professional journalism and therefore, “unprofessional” by nature.

That notion, mixed with the rise of inexpensive mediums becoming available to the masses (read: social media and blogging platforms) lead to an out pour of random acts of journalism by the average Jane, allowing anyone (I include myself in this) to say whatever they wanted to say.

Real people, lacking the training and skill of reporting, writing and editing, now have easy access to a public megaphone. This is bad because it creates even more noise on top of an already saturated marketplace.

But it can also be good. If you think about it, citizen journalism in the age of technology is a fairly immature trade and with any new “craft”, there are bound to be some growing pains.

Citizen journalism is a positive thing

The Oxymoronic Citizen Journalism by Frederic Filloux helped change my perspective by showing me the positive effect it can have on society and how it can support professional reporters, not necessarily compete with them.

In the article, he talks about different ways that citizens weigh in – through online comment systems, submitting news tips, via their own blogs or social media.

The difference, he notes, really boils down to an issue of quality and those that fall into the “best range” are “solid, precise, and sometimes edited; they take the time to write their pieces and it shows.”

In contrast, and as noted above, there are those that can be “utterly superficial, lacking precise facts, or are agenda-driven and written with a shovel.”

So, when done well there is a place for the citizen journalists who function as outliers and seek to enrich the public with a different perspective.

A powerful combination

To further the idea that citizen journalism is a good thing, Filloux expands on the idea that the acceptance of public input and contribution can raise the level of participation and relevancy – when participation is relevant it has a solid place in the news cycle.

My hope is that news media big wigs will see BoomerangBeat as a benefit of, and protection for, the viewer or reader; that they interpret it as a contribution to the collective intelligence rather than their competitor for public trust.  

We need our journalists, but we need real voices too and that is what BoomerangBeat is for – to provide an avenue that heightens the story journalists are already telling.

Not so obvious when you’re in the thick of it

There is a place for citizen journalism in this ecosystem and there is room for them to make a difference.

As I write this, it does seem obvious but I feel like I have something to prove and when I think that way, doubt starts to affect the work I produce (or lack thereof).

So perhaps this is more of a reminder for me than it is evidence for you.