Learnings From A Decade

Hi there, it’s been a long time since the last newsletter. However, I still was shocked that it’s been already three months. Time flew by like a fighter jet, and sometimes I felt like a passive passenger, not a pilot.

The most critical decision in the past months was probably to close down my online magazine Negative White after a decade of voluntary efforts. There are two reasons for the decision:

Increased Workload

By the end of June, I got appointed as product manager for Blick.ch. I’m excited about this tremendous opportunity, and I love to work more on projects, development, and strategy.

However, it adds a ton of mental workload to my already tight schedule as Head of Community and product manager for our newsletters. I felt that I had to re-organize my energy.

Lost Joy

But what really drove the decision was the lack of joy, a general sense of fulfillment in work on Negative White. Sure, there were moments of happiness and success. Nevertheless, the moments when I felt overwhelmed and stressed by the things on my to-do list occurred ever more frequently.

In the very first newsletter issue I sent through Revue, I wrote about three key metrics: joy, relationship, and money. Joy was always the most significant driver for Negative White. Its decrease, therefore, led to the rational consequence: the era had to end. Don’t get me wrong; it was a tough decision nonetheless.

In 2018, I listed some of my learnings that Negative White provided in this newsletter. They’re still valid, but I’d like to offer a synthesized summary here:

Experimentation & Agility

Negative White has always been a laboratory for me, a place to conduct experiments to gain a deeper understanding of how journalism works. Back in 2010, when my brother and I started the project, we had no clue what we’re doing.

Over the years, the experiments got more sophisticated. We launched new services and killed them quickly if they didn’t work. Organically, we developed an understanding of content and things like user experience, although we didn’t have the professional language or expertise.

This fast-paced agility is something, a legacy media company with all its constraints could not offer. Our approach was always learning by doing.

Product Mindset

Journalists often struggle to develop a product mindset. There have been many articles in the last decade about how journalists “have to think more about the business side.” At Negative White, I did not only write and produce articles but also wrote newsletters, handled social media, organized redesigns and services, did accounting. And much more.

The experience of this holistic approach to a journalistic environment shaped my interest in more than just mere reporting. I’ve developed a curiosity for strategic work in a media company. For me, the product mindset has become self-evident in everything I do.

Distribute Responsibility

My biggest failure. I wasn’t able to effectively distribute responsibility. In the end, it’s also the reason why Negative White is closed down now. When Negative White launched, we were two guys. At its peak in 2013, the editorial staff was 31 reporters and photographers.

By May 2020, we were still fifteen people, but no one could take over my position. Too many tasks were tied to my knowledge and time I was ready to invest. I haven’t managed to let go of power and duties to build up a successor or even just to reduce my workload.

It is hard to let go, especially when it’s a passion project. Doing so would be the main thing I’d change if I could start all over again.

Now, with all the knowledge I gathered in a decade, would I still do it again? Yes, definitely. And I highly recommend everybody pursuing a career in journalism to start something of their own, even just a personal blog. The benefits exceed all the pain, stress, and struggles on the way.

Managing Negative White was similar to the Scout experience: There are many skills you’ll acquire that don’t show immediately. However, they fill your backpack, and once the time is right, you’ll be able to pull them quickly out of the pocket. Just be patient and persistent.

When my superior approached me in May about the position of product manager, she said: “You have this rare product mindset I’m looking for.” Today, I’ve to thank Negative White for providing me with the opportunity to create this mindset.

Best and stay safe, Janosch

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