Ten years ago, Josh Dawsey was a 17-year-old high school senior with a unique extracurricular activity: running his local newspaper in Aynor, South Carolina.
The 28-year-old has since moved from reporting on local politics for the town of fewer than 1,000 residents to covering the White House for the Washington Post. But the Aynor Journal, like far too many community newspapers, shut down several years ago.
The media industry is taking a new shape in the face of challenges ranging from declining ad revenue to political hostility. But the members of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Media List prove that the work of journalists, storytellers and media entrepreneurs is more vital than ever. Some, like Dawsey—who broke the news that President Trump had referred to African nations as “shithole” countries—are reporters who work to keep the public informed. Also among the list’s ranks are founders of outlets with innovative business models as well as editors and executives keeping publications alive by adjusting to changing reader habits. All of these individuals, though, demonstrate that even this competitive landscape presents opportunities.
The candidates for the Media list were evaluated by a blue-ribbon panel of judges: Liz Claman, anchor of Countdown to the Closing Bell on Fox Business Network; Morgan DeBaun, cofounder of the black-millennial-focused outlet Blavity and an Under 30 Media Class of 2016 alum; David Perpich, president and general manager of Wirecutter, a product review site owned by the New York Times Company; and Jon Steinberg, founder of the streaming news network Cheddar.
Like Dawsey, list members Bradley and Brandon Deyo got their start in high school, putting together highlight reels of their basketball games. The twins soon realized that high school sports coverage was lacking and launched Mars Reel, a small production studio, in 2010. Today, Mars Reel is one of the largest media brands in high school sports, with more than 30 million monthly viewers on social media. Twenty-seven-year-old Bradley, who serves as COO, says their greatest achievement is their $4.7 million seed round given that only 1% of venture-backed founders are black.
The women behind the women’s lifestyle and entertainment site Betches went another route, completely bootstrapping their startup after launching it in 2011 as a small WordPress blog while they were seniors at Cornell. Twenty-nine-year-old cofounders Jordana Abraham, Samantha Fishbein and Aleen Kuperman forged brand partnerships on the strength of their social media following—Betches has more than 6.4 million followers on Instagram alone—and have expanded the company into a multimedia empire, with podcasts, live events, newsletters and New York Times bestsellers. Forbes estimates that Betches’ revenue exceeded $5 million in 2017, mostly from partnerships with brands such as Bumble and Netflix.
While Mars Reel and Betches were both fueled by social media, Austin Rief and Alex Lieberman of Morning Brew are focused on a comparatively old-fashioned medium: email. They come at it with a twist, though. “Traditional business coverage is commonly dry and dense, and fails to capture the attention of the next generation of business leaders,” says Rief, Morning Brew’s 24-year-old COO. (Lieberman, the 25-year-old CEO, puts it more bluntly: “Traditional business news sucks.”) The daily newsletter, geared to millennials, livens up the tone of coverage and boasts 700,000 subscribers.
Danez Smith, whose poetry contemplates brutality, gender and race, won this year’s Forward Prize for best collection with Don’t Call Us Dead, becoming the award’s youngest-ever winner at 29. That said, Smith, who identifies as gender-neutral, has their eye on the long haul. “Though there is a lot of attention being paid to younger poets these days, it’s a game about longevity, a marathon,” Smith says. Their third book, Homie, is due out in 2020.
The reporters on our list have demonstrated that holding public figures accountable can result in concrete change. New York Times reporter Caitlin Dickerson, 29, has been a force in the coverage of deportation and detention policy and the status of separated migrant families. Previously, at NPR, she led a Peabody Award-winning investigation into a secret mustard gas experiment conducted on American troops during World War II, prompting a law to compensate test subjects for their resulting injuries. The media industry itself has had to face this same level of scrutiny: Senior Variety correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister, 28, one of the top journalistic voices leading the #MeToo movement, co-authored the story that revealed sexual harassment allegations against longtime Today show host Matt Lauer.
List members are also showing legacy publications how to adapt to the new financial realities of the industry. Amy Schellenbaum, 27, has revitalized the 146-year-old Popular Science as online director, relaunching its site and overhauling its editorial strategy, slashing output from 25 stories a day to seven, in favor of more reporting and deeper analysis. It was a risk to choose quality over quantity, but the site’s traffic from Google has already doubled, she says.
Like so many other list members, though, she sees a higher purpose to her work than chasing clicks.
“Popular Science primarily reaches the middle of the country and the South, which makes its mission unique,” she says. “We keep people loving science, so they’re more likely to believe science when it concludes inconvenient things, like that human-caused climate change is real or that vaccines are vital. We want to be the most inclusive science and tech publication—not only for our business but because humanity’s future requires we accept science.”
These are just a few of the young entrepreneurs revolutionizing media. For full coverage of the 30 Under 30 Media list, click here.
More Info: forbes.com