At this year’s ONA conference, I’ll be on a panel called “I failed and so can you.”

I’ve always been a big fan of failure. I think journalism should hold a “fail camp“ (inspired by Ethan Zuckerman). When I restarted the blog carnival, a site that I’ve organized where bloggers can convene to all write about the same topic, I dedicated a month toward failure. I’m working on a new project (details to come soon, promise) and I think/hope failure will be a big part of it.

We talk a lot about barriers to success. But we also say that we can
only succeed on the shoulders of our many failures. Therefore, I’d like
to point out what I think are the barriers to failure (and therefore
also to success). If we don’t fail early and fail often, we won’t push
forward. So below are some barriers to failure. Luckily, most of these
are easily overcome if you can identify them.

7 barriers to failure


1. It’s not a problem until it’s a problem

The “What Ifs” are a terrible thing. It assumes that every bad
scenario you can think of needs to be handled right away before you even
start. This is the opposite of the sage philosophy from “Getting Real”:
It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.
I put this barrier first because it’s a particularly poignant problem
in the journalism community. We are natural skeptics. Our instinct is to
think about who might be secretly benefiting, who is maliciously
stealing public money, what “problem” is there underneath the surface.
That’s great in reporting but the WRONG attitude to starting something
new. The “What Ifs” are unproductive. Deal with “this is” when it
happens. I am very familiar with “what ifs” because I get them every
time I explain Spot.Us to a journalist who has never heard of the concept.
i-5805b6c720f8ef77a3cc48c0e98d3ac6-what if pic.png

  • Concerned journalist: What if a neo-Nazi wants to fund a story? OH MY GOD, David — HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO JOURNALISM?
  • Answer: Well, we limit how much a person can donate, so you need a group of people.
  • Concerned journalist: Well, what if a GROUP of neo-Nazis want to fund a story?
  • Answer: Umm … well, you need a reporter who puts their professional reputation on the line doing that story.
  • Concerned journalist: Well, what if the reporter is a Nazi? Jesus, David, didn’t you think about that?
  • Answer if I have energy: If there is a group of neo-Nazis and a reporter, they don’t need my site to do the story they want to do.
  • Answer to stop the obvious “what if“ cycle of the conversation: You’re right. I should shut down the site before that happens.

Bottom line

If the reason you aren’t doing something starts with “what if” — it’s a bad reason not to move forward and perhaps fail. It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.

2. Tradition!!! (sung loudly while swinging your hands in the air)