Q&A with Work.com editor Daniel Kehrer

Suppose your blog or website has garnered some journalistic credibility and engages a steady audience, so now you want to know how it can earn you a living, subsidize your income, or at the very least, pay your hosting bill. When and how does your blog or site become a business? How do you attract advertisers? How should you keep track of money spent on content, function and design? Want to optimize search results and drive traffic to your site? As an independent Web publisher, can you manage it all–editorial, accounting, advertising?

Utilizing the Web for small business solutions is an obvious resource, but a basic, unguided search can yield an overwhelming and extraneous amount of information. A recently launched website called Work.com aims to focus those results by publishing and updating how-to guides that illustrate tangible and practical solutions. An offshoot of the successful search engine business.com, Work.com is both an internally-rich content site and a search directory, continually updated and ranked accordingly. The current offering—around 1100 guides–covers topics on everything ranging from developing a business plan and establishing a business account to obtaining a business license and tax id number.

We asked Work.com content editor and syndicated business columnist Daniel Kehrer to take OJR on a basic tour through the site, and explain some of ways that it can help independent web journalists who need a crash course in business management.

Online Journalism Review: Who’s writing the Work.com guides?

Daniel Kehrer: When it first [began], we launched a huge effort to create a thousand of these things, so we hired 70 or 80 freelance writers all over the country to work simultaneously at a rapid pace. Now we’ve toned it down, so we still have a small core of freelance writers working on a paid basis. We also have people showing up on the site because they want to share their expertise by writing guides. Then we also have experts in various fields writing specific guides.

OJR: For the users who are writing guides, how do you ensure that information is factually accurate?

Kehrer: People come in and write the guides and we do an initial rating, and then [the work.com community] will also rate people, so the guides that are bad will fall out the ones that are good will rise to the top. But initially everything gets read by the [editorial department].

OJR: Before it goes live?

Kehrer: It actually goes live but we look at it really fast and so if something is just not up to par, we may e-mail someone and say, hey we looked at your guide and we think you can get a much better rating if you do this, that and the other–so we may in fact offer advice. Right now it’s easier now because of the volume, but it might just have to be the user ratings eventually. That’s the way the system works- the highest rated guides would show up first and the lowest ratings might not show up at all. So it creates a self-policing mechanism.

OJR: How can Work.com help independent Web journalists in ways that conducting a basic search can’t?

Kehrer: It will provide a much more focused approach if it has anything to do with operating a business as a journalist and an entrepreneur. The site has information on all the things that go into establishing the business side of setting up a website: managing the money, establishing a credit card, paying people, opening a business account. They can find precise recommended solutions in a much more focused way.

OJR: The site features broad topics- everything from hiring employees, government resources, website design- how do you plan to stay current on such a broad range of topics? Isn’t there a danger of oversimplifying or missing relevant information?

Kehrer: It’s just the opposite–we’re so focused that we may have 15 different guides on one narrow topic. The system allows everyone to comment- and we encourage this- if there’s something missing or out of date, users can post a comment and the guide writer will hopefully update the guide. If a particular guide doesn’t have [the latest information], that guide will disappear and something else will take its place. So there’s a built-in mechanism for keeping things, fresh, up to date and ever-expanding.

OJR: How do you think journalists can maintain ethical integrity if they’re managing both editorial content and advertising on their websites?

Kehrer: You could ask the publisher of The New York Times the same thing- it’s the same issue for everybody who’s involved in [journalism]. You always have to have to ultimately decide that ethics comes first. If your information doesn’t have credibility, and you don’t have credibility, then you’ve got nothing.

OJR: You’re the author of “100 Best Resources for Small Business.” Are any of those resources applicable to journalists who want to become online publishers?

Kehrer: Sure, and a lot of those resources are now on business.com. A lot of it deals with general business start up information. Certainly if you’re a journalist/entrepreneur who wants to start your own website, you need to do some of the same things as anyone who’s starting a business. You need to write a business plan; you might want to take some training classes on business management; you might want to know where to seek free counseling.

You can incorporate quickly with an online service. You can go to various places to get your website set up as one big package, and you can find places that will help you with a marketing plan of some kind. Also, if you’re a sole-practitioner, even if you don’t employ anybody, you still have to get a tax ID number.

OJR: Various business laws and tax laws are complex and vary state by state. How familiar does a journalist/entrepreneur need to become with these issues before launching or trying to earn a profit online?

Kehrer: You can get bogged down in this stuff and that’s kind of the danger. You don’t need to know the intricacies of all the tax laws. You need to know that you have to file a tax return as a business and if you don’t do that you’re in big trouble. If you hire someone else to do some writing for you and pay an independent contractor you’ve got to report the income on a 1099 to the IRS.

There are guides on Work.com that have answers to all of those things in the taxes section. There is a long list on licensing on finding an accountant, on getting tax software, and finding local, state and regional tax requirements.

OJR: If you were to publish a guide for journalists who want to launch profitable websites what you would include?

Kehrer: Packaging does count. Hiring a Web designer is going to cost a lot of money, but there are various hosting packages that include [customizable] software.

OJR: Say you aren’t a techie–do you recommend being able to access all aspects of the site and update it yourself?

Kehrer: Yeah, I do actually because I believe in simplicity and control … and the technology has advanced so nicely that there are so many tools available online with a minimal amount of technical knowledge required. Keep it simple and…that will let you focus on the writing.

About Sarah Colombo

Sarah is a recent graduate of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where she obtained a Master of Arts in journalism. She served as the managing editor of OJR's news blog during the 2004-2005 academic year. She has also been published in a variety of online and print publications, including the Daily Breeze and Premiere magazine. Her professional interests include cultural affairs reporting, arts and entertainment and anything multimedia related.