Upstart is six months old today

16 December 2009

Written by: Lawrie Zion

All of a sudden, it turns out, upstart is six months old.

For all of us on the editorial team, working on this publishing project, which is supported by La Trobe University, has been a unique and invigorating experience, and an opportunity to be part of the future of journalism.

We had hoped in the early stages to update the site at least a couple of times a week. Some 270 stories later, the enthusiasm to become part of the upstart experience has meant that we’ve ended up being able to post something new nearly every day and sometimes more frequently.

Upstart is, and will, we hope, continue to be a work in progress. And since June we’ve been tweaking the design and adding new sections such as Sport, which has in turn launched the beginnings of a paid journalism career for our racing correspondent, first-year student Ben Asgari. His first story, “A Beginner’s Guide to the 2009 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival” – remains the most visited story on the site, and launched an ongoing series of previews of all of the main spring racing meetings in Melbourne. Meanwhile another first-year student, Ben Waterworth has contributed items on everything from football to cricket and hockey.

Although upstart has only been up and running for one university semester, we’ve endeavoured to design elements of our La Trobe curriculum to facilitate a range of publication opportunities for students. In the first semester 2009, Honours and Master of Global Communication subject called The Working Journalist was designed to develop a series of profiles of journalists, a number of which have now been published on the site. Since October, text and audio interviews by first-year Audience and Communications students have been steadily streaming onto upstart. And this year’s graduating Bachelor of Journalism students provided the material to kick off our #topjournobooks series by writing reviews of books that they believe every journalist should read. Meanwhile, upstart’s Film Festival section has also presented two batches of films made by students of our Media and Cinema Studies program.

All up, more than 50 students at La Trobe have had their first piece of published work appear on the site in its short life.

We’ve also been lucky enough to receive articles, reviews and stories from all around the country – both from students and emerging journalists. This is a heartening development. Although we’re all based at La Trobe in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, upstart aspires to evolve into a platform for emerging journalists from all over the country, which is also part of the mission of the Working Journalist project.

Building an audience for an entirely new media outlet presents all kinds of challenges. What’s been so exciting in the case of upstart has been how we’ve been able to utilise social media sites to achieve this end. After establishing an active presence on both Facebook and Twitter our strategy has been to post links to new articles as we publish them. So far, our Facebook fan page has almost 300 fans, while our Twitter page  now has more than 550 followers. In this era of niche media, this is a terrific base from which to further build the upstart audience in 2010.

The evolution of own social media networking strategy has meant that we can get a real sense of our “audience”, which as well as including lots of journalism students, also features established journalists and media executives from a broad range of outlets. In October, we were all reminded of this in the best kind of way when ABC Managing Director Mark Scott retweeted a piece about blogging by Meghan Lodwick, citing her use of the excellent Mark Twain definition of an expert as “an ordinary fellow from another town”.

Speaking of blogs, we’ve also been keen to encourage the bloggers amongst us by providing links to the sites of upstart‘s growing army of contributors, and from the “back end” of the operation, we can see just how effective this is in generating some very healthy two-way traffic.

Much remains to be done, which is all part of what makes upstart such a stimulating publication to be involved with. As we write this we’re perhaps a bit too immersed in the silly season to have come up with a coherent set of  New Year resolutions, but we are keen to ensure that during 2010 you’ll begin seeing a broader range of multimedia content on the site, along with the development of resources guides for journalists and journalism students. And as well as providing a platform for developing publishing portfolios, we hope that upstart will continue to be diverse, engaging, challenging, informative and entertaining.

In the meantime, please feel free to throw you comments into the ring, and don’t forget, if you like to pitch an article or send us something you’ve written, please email us at Upstart is going to keep publishing your writing all through the summer, and we especially want to hear about what you’re seeing or experiencing.

And have a safe and happy festive season. We know we intend to.

Lawrie Zion (editor-in chief); Chris Scanlon (managing editor); Tom Cowie (editor); Erdem Koc (founding editor).