We Got A Newspaper!

‘We Got A Newspaper!’

June 25, 2021

Welcome to another edition of The NewStart Alliance! We’ve got A LOT to get to this week, including some excellent news from our inaugural cohort…

First up: NewStart fellow Crystal Good’s Black By God publication is officially in print! Her first edition of Black By God The West Virginian distributed across West Virginia last week. Here’s a look at how it went:

It has been great to see the reaction from the community once it got its hands on this inaugural Juneteenth edition. Crystal has worked so hard this past year to make her print dream come true while continuing to build her digital audience and platforms, and all of us at the NewStart program would like to congratulate her on making it happen. We can’t wait to see what’s next! 

If you’d like to check it out, you’re in luck. You can purchase a digital edition of the print publication here. There may also be some actual paper copies still available. You can reach out to Crystal on Twitter for more information.

If Crystal’s progress excites you as much as it does us, then you may want to consider joining our second cohort of the NewStart program and earn a master’s degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from WVU’s Reed College of Media. The master’s program starts Monday, so this is probably the last time you can apply until next summer. If you’d like to join us, check out the program details here, and then follow the instructions here to apply.

This Subject Line Left Intentionally Blank

Working Together for Something Better

June 10, 2021

Today I’d like to start off by introducing you to another fellow joining our second cohort of NewStart students. As you will see below, Jan Risher has worn a lot of hats both inside the journalism industry and adjacent to it. But rather than hearing it from me, let’s just have her tell you in her own words.

The floor is yours, Jan!

Why am I joining NewStart?


In short, I am joining the NewStart program because I’m a fan of democracy — and I don’t believe it will survive without a healthy free press.

My goal is for the program to provide the opportunity, time and place to be thoughtful while working with a diverse and smart group of folks developing a better way to do journalism and media. I am not under the allusion that a one-size-fits-all proposition will work. I relish the chance to wrangle the many and varied ideas I’ve been chasing and learn from and alongside others as we work toward something better.

The trajectory of my career has been more Jeremy Bearimy than a straight line, but the one piece that has been a constant throughout is storytelling.


I’ve been an English teacher, a public relations executive, a special events planner, a columnist, a reporter, an editor, a radio host, a television host, a ghostwriter and a business owner.


I continue to write a weekly newspaper column for The Acadiana Advocate, based in Lafayette, La. I was an investigative reporter, features writer, business reporter and columnist for The Daily Advertiser and managing editor of The Times of Acadiana — all in Lafayette, La.

As a reporter, I covered Louisiana politics, the Iraq war, Katrina and its long-term effects on the state and our community. In 2006, I won an International Fellowship for Journalism to travel to Thailand to report on their recovery from the tsunami compared to Louisiana’s recovery from Katrina.

My column writing goes way back (to high school actually), but in 1993, I wrote a weekly column for my hometown paper in Mississippi (the Scott County Times — a weekly) while I was teaching English in Slovakia. Upon my return to the States, I ended up in Washington, D.C., and worked for USA Today on the business side of the paper, as a special events planner. (The juxtaposition of the austerity of post-Communist Slovakia, piggybacked by the excess of the mid-1990s USA Today still makes me shake my head.)

Since 2014, I have owned Shift Key, a business-to-business public relations and content development company. At Shift Key, I’ve employed 37 out-of-work or under-employed reporters to write for newspaper special sections, magazines and various corporate America projects my company has managed. Additionally, we handle public relations for a number of clients and specialize in working with nonprofits and mid-sized companies to help them identify and recognize their stories and then find the best avenues to tell and share those stories.

In 2020, I started teaching virtual writing classes and developed a program to help students develop and write college or grad school entrance exams. In January, I launched a series of online memoir workshops. Having the opportunity to work business-to-customer has been a blast and I’ve loved an opportunity to teach again.

I also manage the Ex-Gannett Employee Facebook Group, which my husband (a long-time Gannett employee) started the week after he was laid off in 2008. The group now has 4,577 members. It is an interesting cross-section of memory lane, anger management, where-are-they-now, memorials and Monday-morning-quarterbacking (albeit years later).

Thanks Jan, and welcome aboard! 

If you’d like to join Jan in our second year of the program and earn a master’s degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from WVU’s Reed College of Media, there’s still time to apply. Our next cohort will start learning virtually at the end of this month, so if you want in, check out the program details here, and then follow the instructions here to apply.

Oh Snap: Startup Serves Local News to Young Audiences

Startup To Serve Local News To Young Audiences

June 3, 2021

After spending several years as the head of news at Snapchat, Xana O’Neill paused to ponder the problems the entire news industry is facing. She kept coming back to the notion that there is no platform 18- to 34-year-olds could turn to to get trusted information.

So she decided to make one.

Enter Forth, a news product that is geared toward the 18- to 34-year-old age group and has the look and feel of social media. The product unveiled its soft launch late last month.

There’s no doubt that publications have been perplexed about how to acquire the next generation of news consumers. Over the years that age group has gone from MySpace to Facebook to Snapchat to TikTok to Twitch to … well, platforms we don’t even know about yet. And all the while, news publishers have failed to find a cohesive strategy to meet those users where they live online.

On one hand, people put little trust in the news that appears on their social media feeds. But on the other hand, the younger generation is more likely to get its news this way because it doesn’t engage with newspapers, TV stations or even websites. This age group’s brand loyalty lies with the social platforms or individual creators, not publications or TV networks.

O’Neill has some insight into what makes this age group tick from her time at Snapchat. She also knows the news industry, having worked at ABC News, NBC Local, New York Public Radio and the New York Daily News. And she has ideas on how to get quality journalism in front of this mostly untapped audience and have them actually consume it.

So what makes Forth different? Well, there’s a lot to go through, both on the audience side and on the publishing side.

Let’s start with what the audience gets.

The content on Forth will be concise, but will provide context, O’Neill said. It won’t, however, rely on the clickbait that publishers on social media have resorted to for so many years.

“We wanted to see how we could change the incentive structure to not reward clickbait and to surface important local stories,” O’Neill said.

Here’s an example of the type of content that will appear on Forth: a Q&A with some of the candidates for the local council race. The content, which can be text, photos, videos and more, feels like social media, especially a Twitter thread, but it is actual journalism, created by real journalists. It’s just designed to be consumed in a social media environment.

At launch, Forth will focus on New York City’s Upper East Side. That’s the home base of O’Neill and her team, so it made sense for them to start close to home. Plus, there are PLENTY of folks in the age group they’re targeting there.

Forth will include both local and national content.

O’Neill said the plan is to prove the concept works there and then expand into other areas of the country that include a high number of 18- to 34-year-olds — places like Austin and Boston, for example.

The Forth app works by geolocating you. You’ll get content for free in that location.

“If you want to follow what’s happening in your hometown, or in California (for instance), then you can pay a subscription fee to see what’s happening in another market.”

So where will the content come from?

The editorial team at Forth will acquire it in several ways. One is by tapping into the growing creator gig economy. The Forth staff will post assignments (and the amount they’re paying) to a stable of previously vetted journalists who agree to adhere to Forth’s standards and editorial policy. The journalists can then claim the assignments, do the reporting and post their work to the platform.

The other way is by working with existing local newsrooms across the country. Forth has developed a Reporting Management System, which it describes as an “internal newswire.” Basically, reporters and editors can organize their news gathering internally on each story in the RMS — both reportable and non-reportable — through the web, via email, Slack or even a text message.  The reportable information can be posted to the Forth app and to social media, and can be embedded into a website in a live blog format. The RMS also can integrate with Slack, email and Google docs.

The Forth team can provide the RMS to newsrooms for free. That means those newsrooms can then syndicate updates to Forth and get a rev share in return.

As far as journalism business models go, Forth is an interesting one. It focuses on an untapped audience. And it tries to provide content in a format that makes sense to that age group. And at the same time, it blends traditional journalists with the emerging creator economy. 

“There are reporters who have been laid off in last year and still want to cover stories, and there are so many stories at the local level that are begging to be told,” O’Neill said. “But the platforms aren’t built with news in mind.”

Will Forth finally be the local news platform that resonates with a younger audience? That’s yet to be seen, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

For more information about Forth, email O’Neill and her team at [email protected].