World Youth Skills Day: Two Young Entrepreneurs on How They Made it in Media¶
Landing a career in the media can be tough as a young person today. With heavy job competition, multiple pathways into the industry and the landscape shifting all the time, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
At Sourcefabric, we’re always interested in supporting - and hearing about - innovative ventures in media and journalism. That’s why, in recognition of World Youth Skills Day - celebrated this year on the 15th July - we spoke to four inspiring young leaders in the field to find out how they got their start, the advice they’d give to other young hopefuls and the things they learned along the way. For part one of two, we got hold of Tassos Morfis and Sky Dylan-Robbins, two entrepreneurs respectively building and managing messaging platform Epsilon and creative video community The Video Consortium.
For Tassos, who undertook the Tow-Knight fellowship at the City University of New York (CUNY), Epsilon seemed vital to him in 'an era when most people are becoming overwhelmed by the news'. He decided to focus instead on 'the follow-up in journalism' by building a messaging platform that connects journalists to their audiences with chatbots. 'The fundamental question spinning in my head for some months was “Why don’t we have customer care in journalism too?” Chatbots are on the rise and they are the perfect assistants for journalists.'
Where do you see the project going? What are your hopes and aims?
While I validate that there is a real need [for the product] in the market we need to move forward to a prototyping phase, which means paper prototyping again and again and interviews with newsrooms in Europe and the US so we can understand how they perceive feedback and engagement.
I hope that in a few years you will be able to talk to your Alexa about an article and journalists will be able to receive this feedback in real-time, helping them with either their reporting or with better stories.
And what was your experience of applying to graduate journalism school like? Did you apply for any grants or bursaries to cover the costs?
I never had any good experiences with academia, I’m an engineering school dropout; a failed production and management engineer who became a reporter shortly before I graduated. But for the last couple years because of the technological advances in journalism I’ve been working with developers and designers and I learnt so many things that I wanted to apply them also to an academic base so I can work easier in multidisciplinary teams.
What fascinated me mostly about the Tow-Knight fellowship is the work Jeff Jarvis and Jeremy Caplan have done with at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the media startups they helped flourish ... when we worked together I realised why they were so successful. Hands-on, inspirational and also down to earth, focusing on execution and the real needs of the market...
I’m grateful to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism for giving me a full scholarship covering all the tuition costs and to the Onassis Foundation in Athens that sponsored my work in NYC and covered all the expenses of living six months in such an expensive city as New York!
Coincidentally, The Video Consortium was also a concept born in New York, this time 'at the back of a bar in lower Manhattan.' Sky was helping to jumpstart video at The New Yorker back in 2015 'right before the explosion of short-form video content' when she began to think about the idea of a creative network for filmmakers and visual journalists. After meeting other documentary-makers several times, the idea quickly snowballed and became a real network. 'Since then,' she told us, 'the Consortium’s grown to a global video community with a job board, private forum, workshops, directory system, and monthly gatherings and screenings in five cities (and soon six—London!).'
Since setting up The Video Consortium three years ago, what has your experience of running the platform been like?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive and humbling—we’ve grown organically, and completely through word of mouth. And, the community runs off the hard work and contribution of its members, and we haven’t yet sought any outside funding. Of course, this has been quite difficult at times, too. We all have full-time jobs, so balancing a rapidly growing organisation with everything else, as we all know, isn’t easy. But I do believe—and fellow nonfiction video creatives would agree—that our industry is more cohesive, more tight-knit, and collaborative because of this great community we’ve built together.
Are there any mistakes you made along the way that you would warn other hopefuls how to avoid?
As we’ve grown, when certain tasks or needs have fallen through—and since we’re a nonprofit without paid employees—the responsibility of getting things done has fallen to the person who heads it all up: me! ... My biggest advice would be to seek out that golden dream team really early on, so responsibilities can be delegated in a strategic and manageable way.
What skills would you say have been essential to your success as a young media entrepreneur, and what’s the best way to pick those skills up?
Strong communication skills and staying organised have been so essential for us. ... And, communication-wise, being open to exchanging knowledge and information with others, and not being afraid to walk up to someone I don’t know and having a warm and open conversation with them—and taking that ethos to our community gatherings—have been only the most useful, and rewarding. On top of that, responding to emails super promptly and having regular check-ins with team members has consistently been a number one that pays off.
Finally, what do you believe are the biggest challenges facing young media entrepreneurs today?
There’s just so much going on, you know? Getting into a flow, and focusing on what matters, is so hard these days. And there are so many distractions out there! ... I recently turned off notifications for everything on my phone and on my computers, and it has, truly, changed how I work. Those pings ruin workflows ... A big question for all of us, I think, is how can we create a true work-life balance within our increasingly busy lives—and when we are working, not get distracted and just focus on the stuff that’ll move us forward? Cheers to finding equilibrium.