Starting from scratch: how to launch a news website

With only months to go before I enter a hurting job market, I’m hungry for all the advice that I can get from seasoned professionals. The one bit of guidance I hear more than anything else is this: Do your own thing! Start your own newspaper/magazine/online news channel! Make a name for yourself instead of waiting for the jobs to come to you! This is all good advice, but much easier said than done and I’m left wondering, where do I even start? Luckily, the Online Journalism Review has some pointers.

The OJR’s Robert Niles recently posted a checklist of steps and tools that you’ll need to tackle before you’re ready to take over the world. It’s a given that you’re going to leave school with the ability to read and write and ask great questions, but there’s a little more to launching a site than that, and most of it isn’t taught in j-school.

The first, and most important, step, according to Niles, is to begin establishing your brand, and you can’t do that until you have a name and then a domain name. Niles suggests something as simple as if your site is going to be a one-writer show, and recommends for the domain registration, which is a very popular domain name registrar.

Niles advises that you avoid any frills like hosting or email accounts, though I disagree on the last point. Free email services, like Hotmail and Gmail are running out of decent user names, so if the price is right, I would recommend setting up a professional email address with your domain name, unless you’ve already got professional sounding free one (impossible to do if your name is Melissa Wilson, or something similarly common).

Niles goes on to list several other important steps to establishing yourself online, including setting up a blogging tool, learning about readership metrics and having business cards printed. He also goes beyond the start-up and mentions things that you should be thinking about for down the road, like setting up a more advanced development platform.

It may seem daunting, but if your goal is to start your own news website, it’s worth the work. You only really get one shot at a first impression, so take the time to get going and hopefully your investment will pay off.