Will solopreneurship disrupt the newsroom?

How can the creator economy disrupt the newsroom, and what should the newsroom be watching out for?

Erin Mikail Staples is a community and product thinker that is obsessed with the viability of the media solopreneur. Over the last year, she’s been conducting research in partnership with Studio 20 NYU determining its viability. This newsletter serves as a breakdown of findings discovery and interviews of the media solopreneur.


The Viability of the Solopreneur

It seems easy enough, start up a Substack, kick off a podcast, or host a few events — you're well on your way to profitability. Wrong. While often touted and advertised by social platforms as a way to democratize creation or put the tools into creators’ hands, there's a ton of time, energy, effort, and resources that go into making a creator a success online.

While it may seem pretty straightforward, oftentimes, we over-glamorize this future, causing people to be disheartened when they start their journey towards being a solopreneur and don't have results right away. Individuals who are making a living full-time by being a creator have some shared traits or steps that they've taken in order to be a success.

The bigger issue of building a media ecosystem that supports the way that the mass public consumes content. Currently, we’re experiencing a bit of a dissonance between media outlets creating content and media being consumed, which some have theorized, leaves a window open for an independent solopreneur to step into this arena.

Creating a new generation of content

Newsrooms have chased the precious Gen-Z audience for a while, with declining subscriptions and income coming in from advertisements. They’ve tried getting hip with the ‘gram, they’ve tried (and maybe succeeded — looking @ you Dave Jorgenson) on TikTok, they’ve tried new formats, but rarely do we see a media trend or movement kicked off by a newsroom or news organization.

I’ll argue that while the goal may not to kick off the next renegade dance, we may want to think about how can we get the general public aware of what is going on in the world. I keep going back to the words spoken in one of my grad school journalism classes when we were having a theoretical conversation of what is journalism’s role in society in the 21’st century — journalism’s role in society is to start conversations.

How can we start conversations if we’re acting in a way that discourages engagement, community, and feels out of touch with the rest of the content that exists on the web?

Thinking community first

As we move into this next generation of content, I’ll also argue that some media organizations may have had it wrong. Your role isn’t to serve your community, but be part of your community. In our own community networks, we look continuously for places to find events, resources, and information. How can we model our news organizations and content organizations to better inform the communities that we live in?

This brings up the point and the viability of this creator economy and the media solopreneur. Naturally, solopreneurs are better at engaging with their community because they rely on it. When you don’t have a team dedicated to the sales, distribution, and promotion of your content, it falls back on your shoulders.

So: Is the independent route viable for long-term success or is it just a band-aid for a looming larger crisis?

Well, if we’re talking about solopreneurship being a solution for saving our newsmedia ecosystem, I’d argue that we still have some work to do. Things like investigative reporting, local newsrooms, breaking news and stories that may be a little bit litigious are a bit more difficult as a solopreneur.

While there is plenty of room for new creators, some of the research shows that maybe we need to rethink the operations of a legacy organization and what can they learn from creators. How can we build better relationships between the two?

The roadblocks lying in our way

After surveying a wide variety of creators, influencers, journalists — from those we consider Substack royalty to those who started only to realize it’s not for them, we now know more about what makes a successful endeavor as a solopreneur, how we can support our solopreneur/creator economy, and what tips and tricks can we apply back to a legacy newsroom.

Over the next few weeks, and in an upcoming presentation, I’ll be chatting more about these areas, and providing quotes from individuals that were surveyed. Join me in gaining a better understanding of how we can both support the creator economy, and improve legacy structures we still rely on for important newsmedia information.

Final thoughts

If you panic-refreshed your screen during this previous election, especially in a local news outlet’s webpage — kick them a few bucks and subscribe. Local newsrooms are integral to our democracy. Here’s a great round-up of links to local newsrooms doing the work.


Media Hackers is a newsletter ran by Erin Mikail Staples, and takes insights conducted in collaboration with the NYU Studio 20 program directed by Jay Rosen and Zoe Fraade-Blanar.

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