May 19, 2013

A day in the life

I wanted to write this because I've found that few people I know personally actually understand what I do on a daily basis. This explains it.

I wake up in a pissed-off mood. I'm not a morning person. I often wake up to emergencies—usually an email about some big news I missed during the night.

If news is breaking, I want to be on it. We're in the business of breaking news, and it's very important to me that we get stories out fast. Speed and accuracy are the most important factors.

I kick off my day by going to my computer, which is always on. I'll scan my email for news, and if something big is happening, I'll decide if I want to cover the story or assign it to another writer. For instance, let's say a source sends me a tip that Google is about to acquire Facebook—I'm making this up, of course, but that would be a big story. I'd start calling people at Google and Facebook to see if it's true.

Sometimes, it will be true, but the company will ask me to hold off on publishing. Negotiating with companies over how news breaks is essential to what we do. A source might say, "Yeah, we just got bought, but can you please not write about it for a week, because it might kill the deal?" Unless I know a lot of other journalists are sniffing around, I'll generally hold off. We probably lose some of those stories, but it's the right thing to do. People won't tell you things if they don't trust you.

After I've put out all the fires and there's nothing left in my inbox that I have to address immediately, I'll take a shower, get dressed, and go for a walk or jog. Then I come back, lift some weights in my basement, and make lunch.

I live in the city of Hamilton, Ohio. It's calm, and most of my family lives nearby. The VentureBreak team is scattered across the United States, along with one former writer in the UK. We all work remotely from the comfort of our homes, though someday I hope to move the whole pub to Silicon Valley and open an office there.

After I eat, I head back to my desk to go to work. I usually spend a good part of my day talking to sources, either on the phone or on IM/email. Chasing down stories is my favorite part of the job. My style is to break down the door and clean up the mess later. That works pretty well for the most part. When I call sources I've known for a while, there's no salutation—I just get right to the point. I expect them to tell me what I want to know very quickly, and they know that.

My team and I truly love entrepreneurs. I've always been fascinated by entrepreneurship, and, more specifically, what drives entrepreneurs. I talk to both the winners and the losers. Most of them could go and get a decent job as a lawyer or an accountant. Instead, they risk everything for almost certain failure. The losers are actually more interesting sometimes. You can learn a lot from failure.

I don't develop relationships with people I don't actually like. Music labels are a good example. They are notorious for working the press—they leak stuff and develop relationships, and it can be quite fruitful as a journalist to get to know them. Not me, though—I hate 'em. They sue their customers. I see the world in black and white: I don't like them, so I won't talk to them. My regular sources are all people I genuinely like.

I generally don't like PR people. I like talking to CEOs directly. If a PR person suggests I meet the CEO of a new company, I almost always say yes. However, when they start talking about setting up dinner, I say no. That's a huge waste of time. Let's meet at Starbucks or get on Skype video and talk about your company, but I don't want any small talk about your family, simply because I don't know you. If I go out to dinner, I want to do that with my friends, my family, or my girlfriend.

We strive to publish every day of the week, with weekends being our relaxed days. When I first started VentureBreak, I would post several times a day. I've always been manic about it. You know that experiment where the rat hits the lever and the treat comes out? After about a week of writing, I got my first comment from someone who wasn't my mom. That's the treat. Then people started subscribing to my RSS feed and connecting to me on social media. That constant feedback is my reward. That is what makes blogging and online publishing amazing: I just click a single button, and instantly anyone with an Internet connection can read what I've written, and respond. Most comments are thoughtless reactions, but there are a golden few that are worthy of discussion, and I always chime in.

I also manage the business side of things at VentureBreak, which is getting better and better. We don't charge for our content, so instead we sell ad space and other products like ebooks. I try to devote some time each day to ensure we're making enough to keep the lights on, and that, predictably, is probably the least fun part of the job. It's a necessary evil, though—it keeps our content free for our readers to consume.

I used to only use email to communicate with the other writers, but I've found that Facebook Groups are much more productive, promoting engagement and removing the hassles associated with email. Anyone can post, and everyone will see it. If someone did a great job, I'll give them a public high-five. Or if someone did something wrong, I may politely point it out so others can learn from the mistake.

I work a lot, and I work hard, but I am not a workaholic. A workaholic is someone who puts their work ahead of other things that should take priority. I try not to do that. I live a real life too, and that comes first. After all, I'm a human being before anything else. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend Sabrina, and I try to be outside as much as I can, but Ohio weather doesn't always allow that.

In the evening, I'm usually back at the computer. That's when I write thought and opinion pieces. Sometimes I'll spend two or three hours on one post. I like working at night—there are no interruptions. I usually listen to music while I write—mostly hard music like Eminem and Rage Against the Machine.

I stay up later than I probably should. My bedtime varies, depending on what I'm working on and how tired I am. Before I go to bed, I like to read something, even if it's just a few pages. Sometimes it's fiction (often Stephen King), and other times—when I'm feeling curious—it's an in-depth explanation of some phenomenon, like why the sky appears dark at night.

Then I fall asleep, happy.

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