Posted on October 21st, 2010 1 comment
It has been a while since I was a journalist, and truth be told most of my career has been more about supporting journalists or helping everyday people publish their stories without the aid of gatekeepers. But despite that, I am still a product of the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (class of 1994). I received a lot of help from CU in my younger years, and because of that I will always feel a sense of obligation to help other CU students realize their full potential.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the school’s advisory board for the past four years, and signed a controversial letter in the Spring of 2010 recommending the school’s closure. Many were surprised at this, but it was a nearly unanimous board decision that was made based on the key assumption that “discontinuance” was a necessary step to create a more ambitious, cross-functional entity that brings technology and media closer together.
I put my faith in the multi-headed hydra that is the University of Colorado to hold true to that promise, and I backed it with my reputation. I’m sad to say that based on how things are unfolding, CU is failing miserably at keeping that promise. But I think there is still a last chance for the school to do right by its students and alums like me.
Tonight I delivered the following message to the “exploratory committee” that is considering what to do with the pieces left behind after CU’s J-school is shut down. When I learned that the committee is considering an institute meant purely for faculty and graduate students to collaborate on projects they want to work on with no opportunities for undergraduate students, I could no longer stay silent.
My message to the committee, and to CU’s administration — especially Chancellor Phil DiStefano — is simple. Don’t allow this horribly bungled process to destroy an opportunity to create a new, world-class educational opportunity for students who may very well create the next Facebook or Twitter. And I have to tell you, you’re really close to doing that. I’m profoundly disappointed in you and the way you have handled this situation, but I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in hopes that you can make it whole.
The rest of my message speaks for itself:
Comments to the University of Colorado Exploratory Committee for Information, Communication and Technology
Dan Pacheco, October 20, 2010
Four-year member of the Journalism School Advisory Committee
My name is Dan Pacheco, and I am a CU alum and a product of the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (class of 1994). The education and opportunities I received at this school allowed my career to blossom in ways that have had a large and storied impact on the increasingly dynamic and cross-functional field we call “media.” While my work spans multiple industries – including journalism, but also Web technology — I’m often cited as an example to budding new journalists about what’s possible for them and their future careers.
You may have heard of or even used some of the projects I championed:
- Soon after graduating, I found a job on the team that launched Washingtonpost.com.
- I spent six years at America Online managing innovative community and user-contributed content services that were used by tens of millions of AOL members in their day.
- I pioneered the use of so-called “citizen journalism” and social networking within the newspaper industry at The Bakersfield Californian and have been invited around the world to help other newspapers launch similar programs.
- I am a past recipient of an $837,000 Knight News Challenge grant to democratize magazine publishing, and as part of that fraternity I regularly blog on the PBS Web site.
- Most recently, I have my own brand new startup off Pearl Street called BookBrewer, an e-book creation service which Borders just chose to power self-publishing for its audience of 37 million.
For these reasons and more, I’m regularly invited to speak to students about my career path as well as my views on the future of media. It’s also why I’ve sat on the advisory board of the J-school these past four years.
I’m not one of those wealthy individuals who sits on a board in order to direct the use of his millions (I have none), or because I’m looking for ways to fill my time (none of that, either!) To be honest, I’m so busy these days in my career that it’s an ongoing struggle to give extra time to CU on my own dime. Still, I give on average a few hundred dollars a year at the full discretion of the dean, and this week alone I talked to three different classes for 90 minutes.
I sit on the J-school’s advisory board for one and only one reason: I am passionate about helping afford those same opportunities to students who sit in the same chairs I did 15 years ago. And in this age of rapid change, it’s why I have increasingly advocated for different, cross-functional and ultimately more integrative approaches to journalism education.
But enough about that. Let me share with you my frustration with CU and the bungled process that is alternately referred to as “discontinuance” and “exploration.” Then, I want to clearly outline what I personally believe CU needs to do in order to prepare students for the Digital Now.
But first, let me just clarify something. I want to make it extremely clear what I as a signatory on the Advisory board’s letter supporting discontinuance intended by that action.
With one exception, we unanimously supported discontinuance because it was seen as an important and necessary step to create a more multi-disciplinary program that would afford new opportunities to primarily undergraduate students, and secondarily to graduate students. Where it included research, it would be more focused on solving the problems of today and tomorrow, and less on studying nearly-dead media models from the past.
I personally also wanted CU to be able to offer a top-notch program that was focused on experiential learning and even research and development. I wanted students from other, non-content-related disciplines such as computer science and entrepreneurship to be able to work together. Why? These are the disciplines that are currently causing the most disruption and change to media, and causing legacy media forms to fall. They are also its future, if not its present.
But I’m also an optimist. Before signing that letter, I spent four years advising the school on ways to effect such change from within. Despite a few incremental improvements, the pace of change has been abysmal when compared to what’s happening outside the halls of academia. From my perspective, change has been periodically and systematically stifled by various self-interested constituencies within the CU Journalism School and CU overall, and these groups have grown adept at routing around change. After one or two semesters of incremental improvement, the organism always inevitably settles back into its old rhythms.
So it should be no surprise that after four years, I gladly jumped at the opportunity to support an even more radical change. I and all of my advisory board colleagues were led to believe that through discontinuance, CU could take down the cozy walls that allow professors and students to maintain practices that last made sense 20 years ago, then reorganize those disciplines in a more natural way that reflects the world we live in now.
And what are the changes that I personally felt needed to be made? To anyone outside of the Armory building, they’re obvious:
- A breakdown of artificial barriers between CU’s content, technology and business programs, just like in the real business world.
- More experiential learning opportunities for students that focus not just on learning the how and the why, but providing hands-on opportunities to create new monetizable information products that are focused on specific audiences and communities of interest.
- Less focus on research per-se, and more focus on research and development. It’s long been my belief that by pairing CU’s best and brightest student programmers, business and marketing mavens, and content creators that this school would create the next Facebooks, Twitters, AOL’s, Yahoo’s, and even Googles that would change the way people send and receive information.
- And perhaps most importantly, a continuance of instruction around the civic responsibility side of content creation – which is another way of saying “journalism.” Things like truth, accuracy, fairness and media law are more important than ever in today’s fragmented media world. By including the basic training and values of journalism at the center, we could also ensure that these future platforms create the kind of change that’s good for society. That is what journalism is fundamentally about in the digital age.
That was my hope from this process. What I’m seeing does not reflect those goals in the slightest. In fact, it disgusts me.
What I see happening after the discontinuance process began is so far from the vision I and many other advisory board members shared that it makes me want to publicly wash my hands of the entire affair, set the record straight about my own intentions, and leave you to destroy what was otherwise a golden opportunity to create a world-renowned university experience.
However, as I said I am an optimist. So I reach out to members of the exploratory committee and offer my hand to help you help yourselves, and by doing so to help students. I hope that you will rise to that challenge and really help the undergraduate student body, rather than create an expensive playground for faculty and graduate students.
Let me end by putting this in the personal perspective of a father.
I have two bright, beautiful little girls, 4 and 7, the first of whom will graduate from high school in 10 years. Like many children, both are extremely interested in creating content and having other people validate it – which is to say, they are future publishers. My youngest recently used her father’s “BookBrewer” product to publish her own eBook on Amazon.com, and was amazed when she saw it not only up in the Amazon store, but that it was purchased by four people.
Ten years from now, if my daughter is still interested in media and wants me to spend her college savings account to send her to a school that will help her be successful in communication-focused businesses, what will I be comfortable paying for? Let’s say I have two choices:
- Door number 1: A program that teaches her about the latest communication technologies, and also gives her the opportunity to work with students with complementary skillsets (such as coding) to create new ways to share information, and uses business students to apply cutting edge revenue models so that those products can ultimately continue beyond their university years. In a city like Boulder, which is now a world-renowned tech startup Mecca, I know such a program would give her both the skills and experience to choose her own job, and even the working knowledge to start her own company should she so choose.
- Door number 2: A media studies program that teaches her nothing about creating anything, but sets her up to be a critic of other peoples’ work. It sits alongside a research institute that has no opportunities for her other than, perhaps, making photocopies (if copiers even exist then). She graduates with few choices other than to enroll in graduate school in hopes of getting a Ph.D. and maybe being a professor, who maybe one day gets tenure (but most likely won’t).
My challenge to you: put yourself in the shoes of my bright young daughter and look at the students who thousands of parents pay good money to send them through your doors every year. Put them first, and you will also put CU first, as well as Boulder and Colorado.
Conversely, if you sacrifice these childrens’ future for your own career goals you will end up in exactly the same boat that the Journalism school is in today. You will be even more irrelevant, you will be deemed a failure, and you will close. I will gladly put the last nail in that coffin.
One year after the second worst financial crisis in the modern world, when unemployment is hovering at 10 percent, the University of Colorado simply can’t afford to sit comfortably in its ivory tower and remove opportunities for undergraduate students to learn and grow. This state-funded institution needs to do the opposite: give students an edge in the growing field of entrepreneurial technology-driven media.
This is what I expected of you when I supported the discontinuance process. Given what I am seeing, I now regret ever signing that letter. The most I can do now is to appeal to those who have been given the ball and urge them to do the right thing for the CU student body.
Entrepreneur and Former Journalist
Posted on October 17th, 2010 1 comment
This has been one of the most amazing, rewarding and surreal weeks of my life.
Borders has chosen BookBrewer — the first product of my startup, FeedBrewer — to power the engine for its eBook self-publishing service. You can read about our partnership in the official press release, or in media coverage from a variety of sources including Fast Company, Publishers Weekly and PC Magazine.
We made the announcement at BlogWorld Expo, one of the largest confabs of bloggers and new media enthusiasts in the world. The response at our booth was enormous and even overwhelming at times, with people lined up to talk to me, my team and Borders’ eBook manager Kelly Peterson about how they can turn their content into sellable eBooks. Their response is not surprising, given the explosive growth in eBook sales in recent months.
Some highlights on the partnership:
- On October 25 the same technology and user experience will be surfaced on a separate site called Borders Get Published, Powered by BookBrewer. You can enter your e-mail address on the form on Borders.bookbrewer.com to be notified as soon as the service launches.
- Books published through both BookBrewer and Borders Get Published will be available for purchase on Borders.com and viewable in Borders-branded apps (such as Kobo), but will also appear in other eBook stores that BookBrewer has relationships with. Those include Amazon.com and KoboBooks.com, with more on the way.
- Borders will use its marketing muscle to encourage thousands of new authors to get published, and will promote promising new authors in its weekly emails and on its Web site. This is a huge boon for self-published authors because Borders reaches more than 30 million people per week in e-mails alone.
BookBrewer, which only launched last week, will operate as its own entity. We will serve customers through both sites, and will roll out more strategic “Powered By BookBrewer” services throughout the year that benefit our company and partners, in addition to other services for authors and content providers.
Some people are surprised that Borders would want “their” eBooks to show up in competitors’ stores, but it makes sense when you think about the self-publishing customer. They want their content to be everywhere that people want to buy it.
I can tell you from spending two days in a booth with Kelly Peterson and talking extensively with others at Borders that they’re one of the most customer-focused companies around. They understand that authors — a category that now potentially includes each and every one of you — don’t want their content to be defined or confined based on which service or programs they use to create it. The customer always comes first for them, and with self-publishing the book always belongs to the author.
Kelly put it best over dinner: “If you buy a piece of clothing at a store, you expect to be able to wear it everywhere, not just in the store where you bought it.” You can see that evidenced with the wide variety of eBook readers and apps Borders promotes, beyond the Kobo reader the company invested in last year.
I’m also excited to work with Borders because they, and bookstores in general, are part of the fabric of local communities — that rapidly disappearing third place that has been so important in the history of civil life. Other types of third spaces exist online, but at a local level physical meeting spaces are still important. Digital community engagement is the common thread in my most meaningful endeavors (Bakotopia, Printcasting and AOL Hometown as just a few examples), and as a previous recipient of a Knight News Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation I’m a proud public champion of helping the news and information needs of communities in the digital age. I see BookBrewer and Borders Get Published being strongly connected to those goals.
On that note, I want to once again thank the Knight Foundation for its role in the Printcasting project, which evolved into my company FeedBrewer, Inc., from which the Knight Foundation will one day benefit thanks to a voluntary 6% gift to the Knight Media Innovation Fund. While the Knight Foundation didn’t provide any funding for our proudly “bootstrapped” BookBrewer (and we did not ask for any), BookBrewer is an example of how non-profit seed funds can light a spark that continues to burn later. It’s my sincere hope that future successes from BookBrewer will go to help fund other startups that help local news and information.
The technology for BookBrewer is all new and distinct from Printcasting, but the thinking, methodology and customer insights evolved from it. In fact, thinking back, the biggest thing we learned from Printcasting was that even first-time print publishers really wanted to be multi-platform digital publishers, but didn’t know that until they got their feet wet. In the space of a few weeks after publishing a PDF magazine, they would start asking us if they could publish the same stories into Facebook or as a blog, and they would tell us that they saw print as only a small part of their future business. They also started asking about eBooks as the Kindle and, later, iPad grew in popularity.
The feedback we’re getting with eBooks validates that. People occasionally ask us if we can provide print-on-demand paperbacks for their books, but when we say we’re currently focused on digital books they’re fine with that. Most just want to make sure older readers who don’t have eReading devices, iPhones or iPads to have a print option (and we will be looking into that, by the way).
What I’ve learned through this process is that when you have an idea that you’re passionate about, people will step in at the last minute to help you out. I think the BookBrewer product engenders a desire to reciprocate after authors see how much it can do for them. We even had the leader of a writer’s group in Florida buy an ad in a conference program for BookBrewer with her own funds — a first in my 15 years of working on digital products.
I also want to thank Jon Nordmark, the co-founder of Wambo.com and founder and former CEO of Denver-based eBags. He facilitated Denver’s inaugural class for Adeo Ressi’s Founder Institute, an intensive technology and mentoring program. For four months, I would spend every Tuesday night from 5:30-9 p.m. with him, other startup CEO mentors, and founders of 17 other companies. We would sound ideas off each other, refine them, give and receive brutal feedback, and delve deeply into the business behind our businesses. While I had a lot of ideas before, I can safely say that without the Founder Institute program I never would have been able to create this product at this time and get it in front of Borders. Nordmark also helped with the Borders introduction.
Fellow Founder Institute graduate Todd Levy, co-founder of BloomWorlds, and his girlfriend Laurelie Lee Ezra also stepped in at the last minute to man our BlogWorld Expo booth and talked to hundreds of people about BookBrewer as if it was their product. I will never forget that, and can’t wait to talk more about BloomWorlds once it launches. Todd, when you need more people to evangelize for you at a conference, you know who to call.
And then of course there’s Don Hajicek and Andy Lasda, my amazing team of co-founders, who have worked tirelessly on this alongside me with no pay other than generous equity. You learn a lot about people when you’re down in the trenches with them, and these two are solid. In addition to their incredible development and product design skills, they’ve shown incredible faith and dedication. And a big thank-you to our advisors, especially Kit Seeborg from BumperTunes.
Last but not least, there’s my family. My wife Kendall Slee and two daughters have given up many nights and weekends with me, and also helped with ideas and feedback. (My 7-year-old Lauren even published an eBook that was for sale in Amazon, and she’s now perfecting a second edition.) My mom and dad even pitched in at the end to handle the logistics of ordering last-minute t-shirts for our BlogWorld booth.
But I guess you should expect that from a community-focused product. BookBrewer is and will continue to successful thanks to the community of people behind it. Hopefully that also includes you. Start brewing your eBooks so we can help you Get Published and featured by Borders! This video shows how easy it is.