Platts: Profiling a millennial…visionary Skippy Mesirow
Over the past decades, news corporations have faced an overwhelming amount of obstacles to stay afloat. In fact, many haven’t been able to make it work. In 2012, 2,600 newspaper jobs were lost. And, since 1998, 20 major newspapers in the country have gone out of business. There has also been a 50 percent decline, on average, in foreign bureaus. All of this has lead to news networks having to fill a 24-hour news cycle and being forced to create narrower content that caters to specific demographics.
With the news industry going through drastic changes, it’s becoming crystal clear that it’s time for a new approach to reporting, with a structure that doesn’t cut costs by eliminating investigative reporting or lessening foreign correspondence. And one that is not incentivized by advertisers or corporate interests. If we, as consumers, are going to get an accurate understanding of what is happening around the world, we are going to need more than flashy headlines, biased reporting and filler content. We are going to need an entirely revamped business model.
Enter Skippy Mesirow, a 28-year-old Aspenite who has spent the last two-and-a-half years reinventing this model and creating a news platform for it called Real World Reporting (RWR). This company eliminates three of the primary expenses that news companies like the New York Times have, which are cost of a newsroom, printing and delivery, since there will be no centralized office and all content will be on a digital platform.
“We eliminate all three of the primary costs for news media, which allows us to go create content in places where traditional media can no longer reach,” Mesirow says. “And, by virtue of our model, we are actually incentivizing quality journalism.”
Along with getting rid of costs, RWR will not have any advertisements or corporate interests involved. Leading to the main question any for-profit company needs to answer: how will it make money?
“Ultimately, we are moving to an incentives based pay structure in which journalists are compensated based on interactions with readers, which are a paid for service, and syndication of their content, which we will handle for the journalists,” Mesirow explains.
This essentially means that, while RWR’s content will be free for anyone to read, the company is giving the audience the opportunity to engage in an interaction with journalists (i.e. question journalists in real time, conduct interviews) by paying a fee for service. This gives them the chance to have their voice heard. Plus, they are assured their money is going directly to the journalist they are interacting with.
Mesirow came up with the idea for RWR in winter 2012. It really started to formulate during his travels. He’s ventured to roughly 40 countries in the last five years, giving him firsthand experiences in areas of the world that most of us only see on television. All of his travels have shown him that what we see on the news is not always an accurate portrayal of what is actually going on.
He recalls times when workers in Tehran, Iran, insisted on buying him breakfast or when a group of tribal nomads took him in and gave him shelter during a storm northeast of Ulaanbaatar, the capitol of Mongolia.
“There is so much commonality in the human experience,” Mesirow says. “Yes, there is conflict in the world and it’s important to know about it, but I don’t think that is the experience that people who are actually out there in these places have.”
Mesirow started coming to Aspen with his family when he was just a baby. Although he grew up in Chicago, he spent many of his vacations here. He even graduated from high school a semester early to get more time on the slopes, arriving in the Roaring Fork Valley less than 24 hours after grasping his diploma. He spent some years away from Aspen, working on various political campaigns in D.C. and Chicago, but has now been back for more than four years. He plans on staying long term, creating RWR from this mountain haven.
Taking on a vision of this magnitude is challenging no matter your zip code. But, while many may think that starting a worldwide company in a small mountain town is nearly impossible, Mesirow thinks it actually works to his advantage.
“Aspen is the smallest big city,” he says. “Here we have access to everyone, plus this company is designed to be decentralized. There is no reason to say we can’t stay in the valley.”
In order to make Mesirow’s plan a reality, RWR needs $425,000-$450,000 in investments for the initial seed round. This will allow them to hire a newsroom, 10 journalists and to beta test for three months by producing content in select areas around the globe. In order to start work they must first hit $225,000. On that day, the development team will be ready to start.
Mesirow has just found his first investor coming in at $90,000 and he has several other locals who are interested.
“I’m confident that we will make our goal,” Mesirow says. “Mostly because I’m not going to stop until we do.”
As someone who has studied journalism and works in the profession, Barbara Platts thinks RWR is a key towards solving many of the financial problems with journalism in today’s market. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.