Failure is not an option

Feb 23 2015

Throughout my last year in the Reese News Lab, I have learned a little bit about a lot of different things. I’ve learned how to put together a pitch; I’ve learned how to sell something; I’ve learned how to make a business model; I’ve learned how to apply for grants; the list goes on. One lesson I’ve recently learned is that complete failure is nearly impossible if you’re working with Reese News Lab.

I have been working with a group called the Powering a Nation Visionary Team for over a year now. When this project began, we were assigned the difficult task of finding money for something no one wants to pay for: objective journalism about environmental issues. Without relying on advertisements for our revenue model or receiving money from sponsors with an agenda, our options were very limited. Somehow, though, my team managed to raise $11,500 for Powering a Nation when many people thought there was no money left for this project.

Recently, my team learned that Powering a Nation will no longer exist in the form it has for the past six years. At first, my group was frustrated and confused. We have put countless hours into this project, and we were disappointed that it could not continue in the way we had always thought it would. My first thought was simple: We failed.

It took a short conversation with John Clark, executive director of the Lab, and Sara Peach, associate director of the Lab, to realize that this wasn’t true. Among other things, my team’s progress on this project has helped shape a new dual-degree program between the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology at UNC. With this degree, students will gain the knowledge necessary to produce stories very similar to what Powering a Nation has done in the past.

Throughout our research, we gained valuable knowledge about how a program that focuses on environmental journalism could fit into the UNC community. We also spoke to countless people about this project and made connections in industries ranging from solar to utilities to breweries. I know that these connections have taken a genuine interest in what Powering a Nation and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication are trying to do. I also know that these connections will be readily available to us in the future.

Some people may say we “failed” because we didn’t come up with a revenue model to sustain what Powering a Nation has been in the past. I disagree. I know my group went farther with this project than many other people would. I know that, because of the work we did, the new dual-degree program has been improved based on our findings.

Working with Powering a Nation has taught me that the textbook definition of failure is not applicable in our case. I don’t think the work that I’ve done with Powering a Nation over the last year has been useless or unproductive, and I’m proud to say that I was a part of the creation of the new dual degree program. I know the students in this program will be the leaders of the environmental journalism front and that they will produce work at the same level of quality as Powering a Nation, if not better.

Previously:

Which skills do you need in a start-up? All of them.


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