Monthly Archives: September 2013

Providing online religion for the masses

The ichthys, an ancient Christian symbol

The ichthys, an ancient Christian symbol

In the past three years, a quintet of engaging religion news sites has cropped up across the country. Why? By the end of the past decade, it was clear that newspaper editors were cutting costs wherever they could and the religion beat was often the first to go. Numerous cities were without any non-sectarian religion coverage whatsoever as religion reporters were either laid off (which is what happened to me) or transferred to other beats (Jeffrey Weiss for the Dallas Morning News is a key example). One writer who was laid off from her Connecticut paper was Tracy Simmons. She dreamed up her own religion news web site for the Hartford area called and did quite well, eventually winning an award in 2011 for best religion news section. She was a pioneer in independent religion news sites.

Pick your faith

Pick your faith

Meanwhile, the Religion Newswriters Association, the professional group for people who cover religion for the secular media, was thinking of ways to launch similar sites. Their affiliate, the Religion Newswriters Foundation, formed a nonprofit, Religion News LLC, and got a three-year grant ($3.5 million) from the Lilly Endowment to pay for staff, web site maintenance and other expenses. The majority of the Lilly grant was to cover the expense of acquiring and running/expanding a site known as Religion News Service, a nationally syndicated wire service with a Washington DC-based staff. The money also went toward developing a website template/technology that RNS would use. Part of the grant also went towards the founding of a handful of city-wide religion news sites. The major caveat for the latter is that those sites would not be in a city where there was an existing religion writer at the local paper. Tracy Simmons was the first person hired. She requested a move to Spokane, as the daily paper there had no religion writer and the closest such reporter was in Tacoma, more than 200 miles away. She also had some family in the area; hence a move to Washington state.
The site was called Religion News Spokane. Now it’s FAVS for Faith And ValueS. SpokaneFAVS was unofficially launched in August 2011, then went official in the spring of 2012. It was followed by one in Wilmington, N.C., overseen by Amanda Greene, who left the Star News (the local paper) for the effort which gave her an opportunity to be at home with her children. Then came the Columbia., Mo., FAVS, which is overseen by Kellie Kotraba, a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate who is assisted by students at the university. Then there was one started in Toledo, Ohio, overseen by David Yonke, who left the Toledo Blade to start the FAVs site. The most recent launch (Sept. 6, 2012) was the Hartford FAVS, overseen by Ann Marie Somma, a local Hartford journalist. The platform for all the sites is WordPress.
The sites in Wilmington and Spokane have managed to partner with local radio stations or papers to run some of the pieces in their print and online editions. FAVs include everything from religious art walking tours, comments sections, guest columnists, religion questions of the day (last Friday’s was “Does God Have Favorites?”). Part of their strength comes from their linkage to RNS. In addition to local religion news, each site gets an RNS feed, so that the local editor doesn’t have to come up with all the content. They also share content with each other.

Hanukkah menorah

Hanukkah menorah

Each FAVs editor has 20-40 community contributors and they have 3-7 stories a day on each site (much of it from RNS). The editors do fundraising, community engagement, reporting, advertising plus oversee their volunteers. Pay is roughly $30K a year, so either the writers have to be married to someone who’s bringing in a salary or do adjunct work at local universities to make ends meet. However, they do get benefits through the University of Missouri where Debra Mason, the executive director of the RNA, also teaches journalism. The FAVs effort is headed up by Tiffany McCallen, the former associate RNA director and now community manager for Religion News LLC. She is based in Ohio. She’s had queries from other RNA members about starting more sites but plans are not to do more until money for the next three years is assured. Religion News LLC is in the final year of the Lilly grant and they are applying for renewal soon.
When I asked Tiffany about reaction to the sites and feedback, “We’re getting a wide variety in different places,” she told me. “The formula is different in each city. Consumption of news is different. In Spokane, there is a great hunger for this kind of news. Tracy is changing peoples’ lives out there. We are getting testimony after testimony from people about it.” People in Washington state tend to be very engaged online, where as in Wilmington, “It is more Old South,” she said. “They are not as tech savvy. Amanda has to engage with her community in person.” So Amanda put a request on the site asking faith communities to each contribute a square for an interfaith quilt. A local quilt chapter put it together and a local museum displayed it. That helped stoke interest. Other editors have thought up progressive dinners, cemetery tours, film festivals, online church listings, ads (which on FAVs are a lot cheaper than those the local print newspaper has) and coffee talks on certain topics.
But it’s not just the faith crowd that likes the FAVs sites.
“Every city is interested in religion news,” Tiffany said. “They like the interfaith aspect…the free-thought folks and the nones (people are not affiliated with a house of worship) like being included in the dialogue. Seems like atheists consume religion news enmass.”

Yes, atheists read religion news

Yes, atheists read religion news

Typically, she added, it takes about a year with one of these sites to figure out how your audience is responding to you and then craft a strategy on how to turn it into a profitable venture. The goal is to get each site sustainable, increase salaries and hire help for each of the editors. (They do get some help from students who are social media interns who will do the posting on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) All the site operators have to be entrepreneurs and get up to speed fast on advertising and fundraising. It helps greatly that Tiffany is a graphic designer who turns out brochures, banners, business cards, web ads and at least 10 marketing messages a month for each of the five FAVs sites, helping them save loads of money.
I drew several conclusions from our conversation. There is definitely a market for this sort of site, as many cities lack any sort of centralized religion coverage or religion bulletin board. The only other comparable effort that either of us knew about was “A Journey Through NYC Religions,” which only concentrates on the country’s largest city. But the FAVs effort is the only such project that works on a national scale.
The biggest challenge is funding. One problem with seeking funds from community foundations is that some won’t fund anything to do with religion, even though the FAVS sites are not in themselves sectarian. However, the idea of non-profits subsidizing journalism is a growing one and may be the only way efforts such as the FAVs sites can work. See Rem Rieder’s column in USA Today about such philanthropic support. Religion sites, like symphony orchestras, will need ongoing support even though the idea behind FAVs is to attract enough local advertising that each site can eventually be financially independent. When I was a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle, one of the greatest services we performed was running tons of announcements, which is how folks figured out what was going on. Any site that provides this service to a community will survive, now that few newspapers are providing it. Contributing to the ongoing religious vibrancy of a community, especially for smaller religious groups that have trouble making their voices heard, is a worthy outcome for funders. All the FAVs sites show plenty of community engagement and impact, so hopefully some of the big media foundations, like the James L. Knight Foundation, will step up to the plate.
Lastly, it would be very difficult to run one such site alone. All five sites rely greatly on the RNS feeds and Tiffany’s support. One writer in one city could never produce several stories a day to fill such a site. AOL’s Patch system of hyper local sites is similar. The individual city editors get support from each other and a staff of managers funded by AOL, plus national ads. Even so, Patch just laid off hundreds of people, so the FAVs folks have a right to be cautious and not over expand. There’s been an exodus lately of religion writers from large newspapers, which has piqued discussion about whether the American public wants religion news. The success of the FAVs sites proves that they do.


Online Education: The Solution to Nigeria Educational Problem

By Inaju U. Inaju

 The quality of university education in Nigeria, some argues, is taking a nosedive due to many avoidable problems like corruption, greed, poor planning, and bad management of the polity itself. Some pundits posit that what is happening to Nigerian higher institutions are reflections of the overall ineptitude with which the country is managed.

 Be the foregoing as it may, I posit that one way to mitigate the overall problem that bedevil Nigeria is by improving the quality of its educational system.  It is against the foregoing that I strongly believe that if the country or investors can leverage the opportunity that technology provides to avail the Nigerian youth with an alternative but quality tertiary education, it will amount to a win-win situation all around. Online education is one way Nigeria and indeed Africa can rid itself of young men and women who do not have marketable academic qualifications.

 The businessperson that invests in the online educational venture in Nigeria will make profit; there would be no shortage of students. The country’s youth will be guaranteed uninterrupted education that is laser focused.

 It is important to add here that Nigeria has great academic institutions but the bane of these tertiary institutions has been academic and none academic staff strikes and students’ perennial riot that leads to months of students staying away from classrooms. The question then would be, what makes the schools great if the students are not in class. What makes them great is the quality of lecturers that they parade, if we can provide them with a system that will enable them to do their job without interruption, they can stand up to any institution on earth.

 In the last 13 years or more tertiary institutions in Nigeria have experienced strikes that last for months in some cases.  Many students, especially girls, drop out of school for one reason or the other and some loose focus. Studies that would ordinarily take 4 years to complete now takes 5 or more years and in most cases, students are rushed through their studies and graduated before they are ready in order to create room for those waiting to be admitted. It is indeed a broken system.

 As a way to remedy the situation, ensure that students don’t break their studies because of these avoidable problems, guarantee completion of degree programs within a stipulated time frame and ensure continue quality education after first degree, alternative means of delivering quality education need to be explored. At the moment that alternative is online degree program in selected areas.

 My argument is based on a first hand experience. I am pursuing a master’s degree online with one of the most reputable institutions in the world and I can vouch for the efficiency of the process and system.

Why this would work in Nigeria?

 With a population estimated at a hundred and fifty million people, Nigeria is the most populous country on earth when one talks of the black race. It has more than 25 federal Universities scattered across the country. It has polytechnics and collages of educations as it continues to strive to educate its citizenry.

 The population of Nigeria, like most African countries is young, they are eager to be educated and are willing to pay for good education but the problem has been that the schools as it is fails to deliver on the promised quality education because of the mentioned problems.

 According to Punch Newspaper, one of the most widely read papers in Nigeria,

 Although, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) appears to have joined the few trade unions which have declared the highest number of trade disputes almost overtaking the dock workers, not many Nigerians raised eyebrows which was an affirmation of sympathy for the union. This sympathy is not necessarily for ASUU but also for the victims of the obvious negative impact of their action which include hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students, their parents and the nation at large. One peculiar feature of ASUU’s trade disputes is that they have often triggered off other national disputes…

 Such other national disputes that are triggered by ASUU strikes include sympathy strikes by unions like the None Academic Staff Union and the Nigerian Labor Congress. The impact of such labor strikes on the education of the students cannot be overemphasized. Many of the students, if not all, will be happy to pursue their degrees online. Added to this is the large number of the Nigerian labor force that cannot afford to quit their job to further their education. An online education will resolve the problem and provide immeasurable chance for people to develop themselves.

 When people do not develop themselves intellectually after a time, no matter how intelligent they may be, diminishing returns set in and everyone loses, the nation, the organization and the list goes on. To forestall this avoidable gap in our educational institution, ensure educated workforce, I affirm that online education is the answer. It is the future and any investment in that direction can only yield bountiful harvest both in liquidity and academically fortified workforce.

 Before enrolling with the University of Memphis as an online student, I searched online for any University in Nigeria that offers online courses and there was none. Even as I write there is still no single higher institution in Nigeria that offers online studies at any level in Nigeria. I have no idea why this is the case.

 The little discussions I had with my own alma mater tells me that the professors and the University are interested in delivering online education, however, it seems no one is willing to make the needed investment in that direction, it is against this background that I am pitching this proposal for support to quit my job and focus on developing the idea further.

 The good news is that many schools in the West are already doing a great job delivering quality education through online courses. This is good news because we do not have to reinvent the wheel. We can only learn from good practices and avoid the pitfalls that those before us would have fallen into.

 As I write all federal universities in Nigeria has been shut down for more than 2 months due to disagreement between lecturers and the Federal Government over conditions of service for the professors. All efforts to resolve the problem have proved impossible so far. The students are at home. Anyone that is delivering online services at this material time is bound to reap bountifully.

 A brief history of the Nigerian Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU), the umbrella body of the lecturers of the federal universities in Nigeria strikes will drive our point home.

Since 1999 there has been about 13 strikes, some lasting as much as 5 months. (See table below)

The gaps created by this strikes has given rise to private universities but the problem with private Universities is that they are priced out of the reach of the average Nigerian family and there are not enough of them to cater to the needs of those who can afford them.

Strikes and Year. (Note that we did not factor in, students’ riots and none academic staff strikes)


Length 1999-2013


5 months


3 months


2 weeks


6 months (ended in 2004)






3 months


1 week


4 months




1 week


3 months (ended in 2012)


2months, 2weeks, and still counting.


An online degree that is properly priced will eliminate the strikes and riots; it will deliver education that is as effective as the traditional institutions. It will ensure that students graduate at the right time.

At the moment students are admitted into Universities without guarantee of when they will graduate, added to the foregoing, an online University degree means that you can actually recruit lecturers from anywhere in the world to deliver lectures and this would lead to shared knowledge, quality education and output that will respected worldwide.

In order to create interactions and peer group fraternization, leveraging technology, especially social media to create a visual interactive opportunity for students will lead to networking, something that the youth of today are already savvy about. This would create an effective out of class visual interactions that will lead to, not only shared experiences but also shared experience that is anchored on writing and reading and not verbal.

To ensure that classmates get to meet and know each other, Students will meet physically for 2 months every year when the traditional schools are on the traditional long break.

Success of the Program. 

The success of the program depends on many factors; it depends on strong Internet connectivity, which at the moment is not a problem in most cities and medium size cities across the country.

In order to minimize cost, the program will be in partnership with either mobile telephony companies or with some international Internet service providers, but the best way would be to invest the money needed to set up an Internet provider company that would will be accessed across the country. 

For students that do practical, there will be one academic year on the campus focusing primarily on practical; this is independent of the long brake meetings that happen once every year.


The future of education is online, a time is coming when students will be schooling online and working in the daytime even at secondary school level.

Technology is changing the way we do business, communication now is through gadgets, understanding it and thinking outside the box as far as education is concerned would be the oil well of the future. Investors who are smart enough to invest in this medium in Nigeria now will be the financial leaders of tomorrow.



Media Startup: Chattarati

One of my favorite startups happens to be one that has come and gone — but not without making an impact on the Greater Chattanooga area. launched in 2004 by John Hawbaker and if I’m not mistaken – David Morton.  If I am mistaken – then I must say, Morton’s involvement as an Editor and contributing writer made him quite visible as a representative of the startup.  

The site’s last activity appears to be somewhere along the way of as of December 2011.   

I first encountered David and John while I was a reporter. I covered many areas – which often required sitting through committee meetings, agenda sessions and then actual official meetings where important votes were measured.  It is here I first noticed the guys of Chattarati – consistently there, taking notes. When I found out these guys had 9-5 jobs and were writing for a website intrigued me.

I found the website popular and engaging as it utilized social media tools and even had an downloadable app which engaged its target demographic. The website’s content gave insight into civic issues and politics. It appeared to be a strategy to engage young professionals to become more than “impacted” but to become active stakeholders in the process. The website also gave a bit of insight into culture and events about to happen or happening in the region

Chattaratti’s Hawbaker, Morton, their partners and contributors brought a fresh eye and passion to its readership. It was a platform which focused on an unmet need of the young professional age demographic. I admire their attitudes, dedication and willingness to go the extra mile to gather information to ensure the Chattarati audience had information in hand to develop informed opinions and maybe act upon them. I admire their drive to be neutral and accessible, willingness to put themselves out there for constructive criticism to better their brand and presence.

Hawbaker and Morton partnered with a public affairs program project I was producing for the local PBS station. The website would provide an advance post promoting the show’s pending broadcast and link up to a stream for viewers to watch after its first broadcast. It was a move which I found to draw a younger audience. It expanded the show’s feedback as well as my network of engaged political minds to reach out to for show bookings (guest panelists)

In addition, I witnessed these two partnering with tech savvy individuals and utilizing free streaming networks to offer live views of major guest speakers, political panels during election time and special community events of interest. 

I do not know the exact reason to the startup’s end.  In my search for what remains of this website’s digital footprint. I found the domain still registered to Hawbaker and as a for profit model blog site with a Twitter following of 2,952.  I found where some of its content still exists on feedburner

At this time, I can only guess, the key members of its content team found challenges in balancing the content demand of its consumer’s with contributors or rather found it challenging to push out content and balance family life and professional life.  


Politically Innovative in Tennessee

After an unsuccessful bid for Tennessee governor in 2010, Mike McWherter wanted to stay involved as an active Democrat and promote the values of his party.  McWherter is the son of well-loved former governor the late Ned McWherter,  He is a successful Jackson businessman and a civic leader.

He teamed up with former newspaper editor and blogger Trace Sharpe (Newscoma), and the “Out of the Blue” Daily Buzz was born.

His mission was simple. He wanted to send important legislative and government news of the day to areas across the state, especially to places that weren’t getting statewide news about government.  McWherter also wanted to make it easier to navigate all the different sources available online.

The Daily Buzz was a summary of the “daily buzz” of current Tennessee affairs and provided a rundown of critical issues facing the Volunteer State.  Shortly after beginning the daily email blasts, they created a website

In starting the “Daily Buzz”, McWherter said he “hopes this information will be useful in generating “coffee shop” talk throughout our state and provide you with commentary to engage in meaningful dialogue with your friends and acquaintances.”  And he encouraged subscribers to forward the blasts to their friends.

McWherter said during his campaign for Governor, he realized a need to capture traditional and new media content in an easily accessible format.  “We needed a way to measure the thoughts of various constituencies, and in launching this communication tool, my goal is to help keep them informed,” said McWherter.

McWherter said he was unsure how long he would continue the “Daily Buzz” until he recently joined the Board of Directors for the Crockett Policy Institute.   The Crockett Policy Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit organization, dedicated to improving the lives of Tennesseans by promoting practical, workable and fair solutions to the challenges facing Tennessee and the surrounding region.

The new “CPI Daily Buzz” is an expanded version and began on September 3rd with a mission to promote the thoughtful, reasonable, and civil discussion on practical solutions to the issues Tennessean’s face. Trace Sharpe was named the executive director and still sends out the “Daily Buzz.”   McWherter said “We think Tennesseans are tired of the extreme partisan rhetoric and ready for creative and thoughtful ideas, from whatever source, that can make life better for us and for our children.”

The CPI Daily Bzzs will have a focus on jobs, education, energy, and governance seeking to encourage reasonable and bi-partisan approaches to solving problems in those four areas.  To subscribe visit

In addition to McWherter, other CPI Board members include former Congressman John Tanner as chairman and members Dan Dziekonski, Dr. Amy Harris, John Castellaw, and Joe McLean.


Memphis Music Foundation

Memphis Music Foundation

The Music Foundation is a great resource we have here in Memphis. They have found a niche that had been lost for quite sometime. The people that are involved in this program highly trained and educated. The Music Foundation makes sure they cater to different people at different stages. Artist developing, business managements and the marketing are just a few of the areas they have for up in coming, artist, moguls, and journalist. One of the main areas they have is called the Memphis Music Resource Center where they teach young adults, not just musicians about the art of media. Theses people are passionate about media and the new forms of media that’s reaching a broader audience. Usually for this kind of education, most people have to go to college where they spend tons of money on this kind of valuable education. However this start up company allows young adults who might not be as fortunate to go to college or who just want to learn more, be able to get this information and education from well experiences people in the field. Their revue comes from Donors and sponsors. They relay on the money of people who believe in what they are doing. Some of theses donors might be doctors, teachers, or small business owners giving a little to corporate sponsors giving large amounts. For marketing tools and outlets they mostly use the Internet. E-newsletter that they mostly commonly used as well has Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The staff at The Music Foundation makes sure to reach the younger artist will still paying homage to what came before

Memphis Music Foundation

Chattanooga’s Entrepreneurial Scene

Chattanooga, Tennessee is well built and sturdy nest where the incubation and nurturing of ideas is active every day.

If a motivated individual has an idea and wants to find a little help getting the idea off the ground – resources appear to be accessible within the community that now calls itself “Gig City” (a reference which emerged sometime after the municipal electrical utility expanded into fiber optic internet and cable services).

Naturally, a visit to the Greater Area Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce will introduce you to the INCubator which is a 125,000 square foot building with “competitive lease rates” and resources such as clerical, a business library, computer and video centers and business counseling services – free of charge.

In addition to the aforementioned, there’s something called “The Company Lab” or rather “Co.Lab”.

The Co.Lab is one of the area’s resources, facilitating a collaborative environment for putting the wheels in motion.  In addition, there is the Co.Lab Accelerator which is a 100-day program which acts as “mentor-driven startup accelerator “and is designed for high-growth potential companies.  The Co.Lab Accelerator gives those involved access to potential investors as well as potential customers.

SpringBoard is an eight week, business planning course designed for creative and small business owners

GigTank is a summer accelerator for “next generation technology startups that utilize Chattanooga’s unique ‘Gig’ network”.

Co.Lab regularly hosts and sponsors relevant events and projects for anyone interested in all things entrepreneurial.

48Hour Launch is bit like sleepless competition for the most motivated and creative startup minds.  This after hour’s event has gained recognition for its straight-up planning and launch of startups is a favorite in the community.

Experience Talks Seminar series shines as it is where you see that once a startup is launched – the entrepreneur still has support.  The seminar series is intended to existing businesses and brings in local entrepreneurs to share stories and tips that helped lead to success.

Will this float? This seems similar to a popular reality show Shark Tank.  However, this is actually an event which promotes the spirit of entrepreneurship and brings the community together.  This is set to take place in November 2013.

A visit to the EVENTS Calendar of Co.Lab’s website will introduce you to a list of dates startup entrepreneur are invited to have coffee, pitch, network and share.

Now, there is much more support and adventure in Chattanooga.  However, it is as diverse as it is expansive:  explore at will! 

Legacy Case Study: Chattanooga Times Free Press

Smart phones, Wi-Fi accessibility and the growth of a social networking revolution underscore the growing awareness legacy organizations bear.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press is a legacy organization located in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Over the last decade, it’s made extensive adjustments and shifts in its approach to meeting the demand of its readership.

Some of these adjustments appear to be part of the growth associated with the merger of the two local news publications, The Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press.  In 1999, the two papers were purchased and merged to become what is now known as The Chattanooga Times Free Press (TFP).  A unique quality emerged as, to this day, the publication prints two editorial pages; one representing a liberal view while the other represents a conservative perspective.  This, combined with its journalist’s work garnered the attention of peers as the TFP was named by Editors & Publisher’s trade publication – as one of 10 newspapers “doing it right”.

Five years following the merger, the TFP launched its online presence which was only available to current subscribers.  At this time, this website only offered a few sections and links to those seeking online information.  Four years later, a redesign debuted with an emphasis on breaking news but added the components of video and multimedia to the online reader’s experience.

Nathan Gayle was on the redesign team.  Gayle witnessed quite a bit of the internal brainstorming and goal setting as management in news, sales and throughout the organization sought to keep up with the changing times.

Gayle says the organizations response to the changing media landscape came every time a manager returned from conference and with them, bringing a new way of doing things.

Just one example of this, “new way of doing things” line items would be the efforts to target the “boomers”.  Gayle says one initiative targeted the baby boomer demographic – pushing web stories and supplemental video out at “an alarming rate”.

Gayle says on the front in, coverage of stories about people doing normal things went on like business as usual.  However, the writing and the focus of the stories would be adjusted to target this one demographic.

Gayle adds, that the numbers and feedback indicated that not everyone in the readership appreciated being classified or covered under the “boomer” umbrella.  In addition to this initiative’s challenges – came the challenge of balancing the web with print to be relevant to both the target demographic of “boomers” and the youth market.

Around 2006, the Times Free Press hired a professional news videographer and editor, Christian Bruce.  In addition, it supplied its journalists with small video cameras to gather video elements while out in the field on their stories.  When a story hit the website, a reader could read the story, could listen to simple audio files (MP3) or be able to watch video from the event or interview.  In the field, the reporters found a new challenge in the gathering story elements and gathering video.  Among peers in a press box, some of these traditional print journalists admitted the burden of this added task as well as frustration of shooting video without the true expertise of videography.

Eventually, it appears the video requirement may have gone away as the frequency these print journalists were seen lugging the extra gear, subsided.  In 2009, TFP’s Publisher and General Manager, Jason Taylor shared  his thoughts via video on the publication’s growth since the merger as well as its efforts to expand to different platforms.

Today, visible adjustments are seen in the print and one the web as headlines or section names occasionally mimic that of text message abbreviations.  There is now a “2-minute read” section offering those seeking a brief look at the latest news can find it quickly.  For those seeking a quick audio/video experience, there is also a short online, one anchor news read accessible to those with the streaming capability.

There are many facets to the ‘keeping-up’ aspects to technological advancements for print media, legacy institutions.  While the TFP was the first of Chattanooga’s news media to engage on social media by sharing and having conversations (via Twitter) – its greatest transformation and evolution exists in and ON its online presence.

No Salt with this Pepper

ImageSeptember 24, 2013

11:27 am

By Ken Thomas

            When Cole Pepper moved to Jacksonville in the late 1990’s he knew he had found a permanent home, a place where he could settle into his career as a sports radio broadcaster.  After all, Jacksonville was now in the elite group of cities that are a part of the National Football League.  The Jacksonville Jaguars were the most recent franchise of the NFL and Pepper was just hitting the prime of his young broadcasting career and perfect timing as he quickly became a member of the Jaguars radio broadcast team.  Pepper’s relationship with the Jaguars became an integral part of his identity in Jacksonville as Pepper established himself as a valued member of the community as a guest speaker at numerous functions in the city and guest spots as a Television sports anchor when needed.  Pepper has used his broadcast exposure to develop quite a following on social media while at the same time he continued to build relationships on behalf of the Jaguars broadcast team. 

            In April of this year, that all changed as Pepper was abruptly dropped from the Jaguars broadcasting department, without warning, and faced the reality of being out of a job after a 15-year association with the Jaguars. 

            The overnight reality put Pepper into a tough spot because it caught him off guard, but he wasn’t unprepared for such an event.  Pepper, who grew up surrounded by the marketing profession, had learned a lot about the marketing industry through his father.  Pepper’s dad owned a marketing and public relations firm in Kansas City and is currently a faculty member at Kansas University.  It only took Pepper a short time to establish a plan of action and set it into motion after just a few months on the sidelines of broadcasting. 

            Pepper had used his broadcasting exposure to lay the foundation for his own brand, one rich in marketing and social media.  During his broadcasting career in Jacksonville, Pepper collaborated with a local BBQ restaurant to create a BBQ sauce, which he marketed in specialty stores and at the restaurant.  When the restaurant shut down, Pepper’s sauce was still in demand so he turned to social media, and began using those platforms to marketing and distributes the sauce to his customers.  When Pepper lost his job earlier this year, he once again turned to social media as a means to continue marketing the sauce under his brand.  Using his experience and connections in the community, Pepper established a blog ( as the primary platform for his insight into the Jacksonville sports scene, which included the Jaguars.  He also used the site to highlight the BBQ sauce and everything BBQ in another blog. 

            Throughout the last five years, Pepper has kept an eye on developing his own brand and his key to success in developing a personal brand was simple, opportunity and exposure to a customer base.

            “I think as you develop your brand you need to convince people you are an expert of two things you can claim to be an expert in.  Mine is sports and BBQ and I think that the biggest parts of creating a brand are opportunity and audience, do you have the opportunity to tell your story somewhere and is the audience the right audience for what you are trying to do.” Pepper said.

            Throughout the transition from broadcasting to blogger, Pepper has presented a positive outlook on life no matter what the situation even in the face of instability or failure.  Pepper has some advice for folks who might find themselves in a similar situation that he was in, be nice and listen to your customers.

            “Be nice to people no matter what circumstance you are in, I’m more aware of the effects of not being nice than a few years ago, be objective and listen to your audience and give them what they want but don’t pander to them but address the topics your audiences are interested in.”  Pepper said.

            Of course, just listening to your audience isn’t the only key to success for a blogger and as Pepper has quickly found out, making a living as a blogger is quite different from a broadcaster.  As a broadcaster, he was somewhat isolated from the advertising and sponsor side of the business, but as a blogger, he said it has become the backbone of his business model.  Pepper has leveraged the relationships he built during his broadcasting days to embrace and engage his audience and sponsors to ensure financial stability, at least for now, though he knows there’s a lot of work ahead to sustain an income from his blog.

             “An engaged audience is much more powerful than one that isn’t and it comes down to money and you need that engagement to showcase to your sponsors and that’s where the money comes from.”  The number one fear sponsors have is that they will spend money their business will not recoup and if you can use your other sponsors, which is part of your audience as well and the best clients are the best advocates for your brand, it’s a little easier to prove competency in your brand and the money will follow.”  Pepper said.

            In the meantime, Pepper has ventured into the sports marketing world by cultivating another relationship with Client Focused Media ( a marketing, advertising and design firm based in Jacksonville.  He has partnered with the company and its president, Mike White, to form White Pepper Sports Marketing, the newest division of marketing for CFM.  For Pepper, the timing was right to fulfill a need he came face to face with many times, sharing business ideas with a new audience.

            “We help businesses tell their stories to sports fans, which make up a portion of their perspective customers.  There’s a company I’m working with right now that has a corporate sponsor with the Jaguars just to get their name out there, but they don’t do anything else because they don’t have a full-time marketing person.  So I can bridge that gap, and fill that void to leverage their more traditional advertising agency duties, ad buys, graphic artwork, etc. and tell their stories to the audience they want.  That’s where my skill set comes into play as partner in White Pepper Sports Marketing.”  Pepper said.

            While White Pepper helped create a more stable financial situation for Pepper, it wasn’t the only incentive behind its development.  It was just another piece of the puzzle for supplementing his other endeavors.

            “White Pepper is not just a content approach to my blog; it’s a PR/Marketing approach to expand it.”  Pepper said.

            If you’re interested reading Pepper’s blogs or finding more information on the former broadcaster, you can find him at,, or on twitter @colepepper.
















Non-entrepreneurial Jackson

I live in Jackson, a city of 65,000 that’s 80 miles east of Memphis on I-40. A few days ago, I was chatting with my church small group about this assignment and asking the attendees (who’ve been around longer than I) if anything entrepreneurial takes place here. They all thought. Well, there’s lots of bakeries, specifically cupcake places, one said. Another chimed in that her friend had started a cupcake place but that business had failed. One mentioned rental properties, since housing is cheap here. I asked about tech, and they all remembered Aeneas, an ISP that’s headquartered here. They weren’t exactly overflowing with ideas.

The green star marks the spot.

The green star marks the spot.

“Jackson is very intolerant ideologically and socially,” said one man who I’ll call M, who runs a hardwood flooring company. “Creative types are frozen out. They don’t last long here.” I was so interested in hearing more about this that I asked him and his wife, whose first name also begins with M, to lunch today.
“Football and beauty queens; that’s what’s important to people here,” the wife told me. (Readers may not be aware that Jackson hosts the Miss Tennessee pageant every year.) As we talked, I realized that entrepreneurship is a frame of mind. Jackson, M&M said, has small manufacturing businesses and small retail. But it has what they called low human capital (few folks are well educated despite there being two universities and one community college in town) and low physical capital (not much in the way of heavy manufacturing) here. There’s no venture capital. There’s also very little creativity outside the box. We all remarked about bicycling; how the flatness of west Tennessee ought to lead to tons of great bike paths but there’s nothing of the sort here and no interest at building any. Apparently there are old railroad beds locally that could be converted into bikeways but there’s no thought of doing that. I noted that the town is on a river, but there’s no development alongside the river as there is in San Antonio or Portland, Ore. Thus, even some of the natural things that Jackson has going for it are not exploited.
M&M seemed to feel that for creativity to flourish, there must be a community that makes room for it. When different people encounter each other, ideas happen. But, said M&M, Jackson is like two separate cities: One rich and white living mostly north of the freeway and one black and poor living south of I-40. Creativity also respects dissent. Jackson surely does not, as I found out last year when I wrote an editorial in the local paper urging the Madison County school board to not start schools on Aug. 2, one of the earliest start dates in the country. I then appeared at their meeting to press the issue and got a very icy reception. I then wrote an essay for talking about Tennessee having the earliest school start dates in the country. I know the school board was furious about that piece because they called my then-employer, Union University, to complain about me. No thought, mind you, of me possibly being right about it. No, I was a northerner, an outsider, a troublemaker.
M&M is involved in a local hiking club and it was remarked that hardly any of the members are from west Tennessee. They are all out-of-towners who experienced hiking elsewhere. But the locals don’t hike. Where I used to live in Maryland, local communities were on Yahoo groups, which aided greatly in getting to know your neighbors and in trading/swapping possessions back and forth. There’s no such thing in Jackson that I’ve run into. The place is like a time warp except for modern vices such as sex trafficking, which very much goes on in Jackson thanks to its I-40 locale.
Entrepreneurship, I’m realizing, needs a village. It needs the right atmosphere in which to flourish. And where the people resist change, it will die.

*****BREAKING NEWS! – On Oct. 1, the Entrepreneur Center of Southwest Tennessee is having a ribbon cutting and open house in downtown Jackson. Who’d have thunk it?

Legacy Case Study-Small Town Newspaper

The wave of changing technology has created real challenges for legacy media organizations.  The changing media landscape has forced media outlets to adapt to survive.  In Martin, Tennessee, the hometown newspaper The Weakley County Press was founded in 1884.  The staff there has made community the focus and that has made all the difference.

Managing editor Lynette Wagster said a community newspaper belongs to the community.  “As a whole we are surviving better than national newspapers because we continue to focus on our “communities,” she said.  “We have seen that going BACK to “hometown” news coverage is where we need to be.”    Wagster said keeping our community involved is the key to any community newspaper’s success. “When you aren’t involved in the community, when you no longer care about the “little” things going on,  you will ultimately lose,” said Wagster.

An example of that local flair is an annual reader voted “Best of Weakley County” section.  After the votes are in, a special tab is created with the winners and that is a new revenue source.  Over seventy categories are featured in the tab ranging from best restaurant to best teacher.

But even in a small community there are still challenges.  One of those is balancing the news to meet the needs of our diversified community.   “We live in such a diversified community – farmers to professors, college students to factory workers – it’s hard to please everyone,” Wagster said.

“Publishing new and different views offends our older readers and publishing the conservative news turns our higher educated readers away.”   The Weakley County Press still publishes photos of beauty pageant winners, big game kills, what happened at church Sunday, and who grew the biggest squash in Weakley County.  “So many who have moved here from larger areas don’t understand the value of our those community columns,” said Wagster.

Wagster also says readers have noticed a smaller page count as more advertisers skip the ROP advertising in lieu of inserts. “This is where we focus on feature pages promoting even more community events,” she said.

Wagster said they have a Facebook page and post links to their stories there.  They just completed a major renovation of the entire website and as of now it’s still free.   “We are late on charging for the website and have lost revenue there,”  Wagster added  “Web advertising  is now a challenge to us.”