Commentary Feature

Lessons From Working at a New Media Startup – Year Two

Thats me! Image: Cait Milberry.

It’s hard to believe that Huddle is now two years old.

When it launched back in September 2015, I don’t think any of us knew how it was gonna play out. But here we are– bigger, stronger, and…still very much a startup.

But that’s okay. In fact, that’s a great thing, because that’s exactly what we are. We’re still here.

Last year for our first birthday, I wrote a piece about the “Five things I’ve learned from working in New Media (in New Brunswick).” I reflected on the experience of discovering where Huddle fit in the province’s rather limited media landscape and how after being groomed to work in older, traditional media, I was adjusting to my new workplace.

I didn’t touch much on the “business” side of the business publication. What it was like working day-to-day to keep the ship afloat. I think this was because Huddle was still so new, the novelty and excitement of working at a cool, new media company was still ripe.

But since then I’ve learned that like many of the startups we write about here at Huddle, there are going to be some growing pains. Add that on top of the nature and pressures of working in media in general, safe to say you learn some important lessons.

These lessons, perhaps, are more important than any of the ones I learned in year one, probably because most of these are personal. But writing them out right now, I realize they could be universal to anyone working at a startup, or anyone working hard anywhere trying to carve out a meaningful life for themselves through their work. They may by no means apply to everyone, but I know I’m far from alone.

So, here we go:

Get to know your team. Lean on your team. Take on the world:

Cara and I.

A lot of people don’t know this, but Huddle is a really small team on the content side. Up until this past May, there was just two of us doing EVERYTHING on the day-to-day content operations. Reporting, writing, proofing, watching the news wire and running social media. It was just Cara and I running the ship. Oh, I forgot to mention, Cara also worked remotely in Fredericton and I’m in Saint John, so we were seldom in the same office. Google Chat was our jam.

Despite this, Cara and I got to know each other very well. I don’t just mean as friends, though we did, but also how each other worked. The strengths and the weaknesses. We were fortunate in the sense that we balanced each other out. We were a well-oiled machine.

Even though we were in different cities, we knew where the other was, what the other was working on, what they were going to do. We leaned on each other. We trusted each other. Even though there were some tough moments, we backed each other up. In the words of one of Huddle’s patron saints (I just made that up, that’s not a thing), Beyonce: we slayed. We made some mistakes of course, but we ran this beast. I think we did a damn good job considering.

No matter if you’re a duo or a full team, you need to work together. You need to trust each other and you need to have each other’s backs. That’s how you become powerful. You don’t need to be BFF’s, but you at least need to believe in the same vision and respect one another. If you can do this, you can accomplish what many would consider impossible.

2) Working for a startup is hard. Working for a new media startup is harder:

When you’re an early-stage startup, dealing with things like being short-staffed, feeling burnt out and that things are moving too slow are to be expected. It sucks, but it’s expected.

Yet, when you’re dealing with those things while trying to establish yourself as a reputable niche media publication, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Deadlines, managing social media, having to jump on relevant breaking news events and taking the time to report on things properly, while at the same time being told that you need to do more when you are already stretched so thin. I sometimes wonder how we did it, but then I think back to #1.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I struggled at times. We struggled at times. I knew the solution was on the way with getting an editor, someone above us who could devote the time to help us and guide us day-to-day and help with producing stories, but that process took much longer than anticipated. That sucked, for everyone.

These things cause extreme stress and anxiety. I dealt with both over the last year. I couldn’t personally make things happen any faster, nobody could. There are processes to things like getting more staff when you’re a new company. But the one thing I knew I could do was to address how I was feeling and work to take back control.

That’s when I learned my next lesson.

3) Take care of your mental health:

Working at a startup is stressful. Working in media is stressful. Working at any kind of job can be stressful and overwhelming. When you’re struggling with your mental health to any degree, I found that for me, it’s important to try to do your best and take charge of it. Whether it be speaking to a professional, taking medication, doing yoga, keeping a journal or just venting to a trusted friend, whatever healthy method you find helps you, do it.

Also, don’t allow anyone to make you feel bad about seeking help or making changes. There is no reason to feel ashamed. There is no reason to feel guilty. Anyone who makes you feel that way can get bent.

4) Find some sort of balance:

Like taking care of your mental health, I’ve learned that having work/life balance is crucial.

In the startup world, there’s this harmful mentality that you always have to “hustle.” You need to always be working. It’s bullshit. In media, there’s often the expectation that you always have to be on call, whether it be to jump on a story, or answer your editor’s questions. Both of these things will stress you the hell out if there isn’t some sort of balance.

Over the past year, I’ve made a few small changes that have made a world of a difference in bringing more balance to my life. These days, I don’t check my work email until I get into the office in the morning and I turn it off when I leave for the day. I also limit the time I am available on Huddle’s Google Chat. A couple times I week I make a point to have an afternoon coffee break with my friend Cait. Just being in the sun or in a different location clears my head and helps put me in a better mindset.

I know I am very fortunate to be able to do these things and not everyone is privileged enough to do them at their workplace. But no matter where you work or what you do, it’s so important to carve out some time for yourself and to be with friends or family.

You’re more than your work. There is more to life than work, no matter how much you may love it.

5) The definition of a “business story” is pretty broad, and that’s cool.

When Huddle launched two years ago, there was a lot of focus on stories about business in the traditional sense. They usually fell into three categories: startups, small businesses, big corporations. There’s nothing wrong with this, obviously, but if we are going to talk about business, you can’t avoid the events, people, and other external factors that encourage and allow business to start and thrive.

I’m not talking about politics, though there’s a place for that too. I’m talking about things like Saint John Moonlight Bazaar or the Hula mural on the city’s waterfront, things that don’t directly relate to business but are important players into how a community views itself and how others view it. They usually fit into the catagories of “tourism” and “arts and culture,” which are in themselves huge industries for the province.

Huddle started tackling more of these types of stories when we finally got our editor Mark Leger, who I’ve known and worked with as far back as my earliest days of journalism school. He wants Huddle to take more of a broader look at what “business” and “entrepreneurship” are and in turn, reach and inspire new readers. I’m all for that. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

6) I don’t ever want to have a “normal” job:

Sure, this past year has had some trying moments and I’m sure there will be more ahead. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t phase me, because I love my job and I love what I do.

I get paid to talk to amazing people in the region actually doing shit. People who are making a living from their passion, creating cool things and working to change how we as a province and a region view ourselves. I often leave interviews feeling incredibly inspired and hopeful. I have the ability to be myself, pitch my own ideas, and most importantly, I get to write.

I work at a place where my opinion is valued and I have a say in the direction of things. I get to help build something. That definitely beats working in a corporate cubicle and having to wear dress pants every day.

Nobody knows what the future holds, but I think I’m going to try to stick around here a while.

Cherise Letson is the Associate Editor and a Staff Writer at Huddle.