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Independent journalists struggle to find revenue

Despite her best efforts, former journalist Maria Padilla struggled to monetize OrlandoLatino.com, a news website about the Puerto Rican community in Orlando that shutdown in August 2015 after approximately 6 years.

“Monetizing the blog is a selling job, which as a journalist I’m not completely comfortable with,” Padilla said. “Call me old school. So I need to earn a living doing something else.”

Padilla’s struggle to cope with the demands of a changing media landscape is not unique. Journalists across Florida have dealt with its impacts in various ways.

Frank Torres, an Army military veteran who became involved in veterans’ affairs and political analysis after being discharged, runs a website called The Orlando Political Observer that he claims attracts several thousand readers a day. Although he did not provide exact figures, Torres says his ad revenue greatly from election to non-election season as advertisers take note of his increased traffic.

“I’m not wealthy,” Torres confessed. “I wish I could tell you I was, it is definitely a struggle. I can echo [Padilla’s] challenges in trying to monetize the blog.”

Torres attributes his success to being able to maintain multiple sources of revenue. Besides his site and the advertising revenue it brings, Torres’ work is syndicated across multiple outlets, which he refused to name over web traffic concerns. Additionally, Torres has monetized his speaking gigs, varying his price based on travel expenses and the nature of the engagement.

“Journalists have to do everything,” Torres explained, “They have to market, sell … blog, take video, produce quality audio. It’s a tricky operation to get going.”

Padilla has a different take on the situation.

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“I think it might be easier to monetize the blog if you set up a certain apparatus,” she explained. “You have somebody else who takes care of that end of it, the money-generating end of it.”

Torres also feels that up-and-coming journalists are not being taught the right skills by “old-school” journalism school faculty that spend more time on writing skills and less so on the concepts of syndication and entrepreneurship.

Victor Hernandez, director of media innovation for media outlet Banjo, agrees with Torres’ assessment.

“Very few [schools] are hitting the nail on the head,” Victor explained as he got ready to helm a workshop for Society of Professional Journalists students. “It doesn’t mean that over time, that won’t begin to swing in the right direction, but not enough truly are able to embrace this or are even anywhere.”

The University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, for example, does not currently require student journalists to take entrepreneurship courses according to a representative from the school.

Ashley Cisneros, a former Florida journalist whose job was cut during the 2008 recession, started her own digital marketing and advertising agency that helps businesses maximize their reach through social media and content.

“[Companies] need content,” Cisneros explained. “My agency has specific writers on staff [and] my customers use that content – the newsgathering, the writing, the research, all of the things that journalists do. They’re paying for that so that they can meet their goal.”

Though skills overlap, the purpose of an effort like Cisneros’ is still different from that of a site with a purely journalistic goal.

Padilla was recently chosen as one of the Orlando Sentinel’s 100 most influential people in Central Florida.  She is considering re-opening her blog despite her continued financial concerns.

“I still get asked about it all the time … I’m convinced that there is a market,” Padilla said.

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