Published, With a Lesson

Right now, newspapers with my first feature story are coming off the presses. I am marking today as the day my new career starts. And, it all came about because I decided to do this blog; tuning my research and writing. The lesson learned in the process of doing today's feature article for the paper was one from a different angle, and an important one.

It all started Monday when a man came into the paper to place an ad for his new business. He was an everyday sort of guy, excited about putting his idea in motion and had it all straight in his head. It didn't take long to get caught up in it and want to go along. The whole premise of his idea was that it would save money. That's hard to resist, especially during this recession.

I don't doubt for a minute that his purpose for starting this business is based on what he believes is a viable solution and business opportunity. Just like anything and everything out there, the usefulness and legitimacy of a product is based on a scale, or a curve. He may have something here. So, he tests it, but not on a large scale, and not in a scientific way that would limit outside variables - in other words, it would be impossible to say for sure that his gadget was or wasn't responsible for improvement or any harm done. His answer, and what he is banking on, is that yes, there is a web site that says the research has been done, it says it's safe and legitimate and viable. "Go look," he says, "it's all there!"

Back in the office, I type in the site's address, and without reading a word of what the site said, my heart sank. It was one of those long, long pages, full of advertising jargon that says nothing but one thing over and over, complete with a cheesy background graphic and juvenile looking design of flashing images, big red underlined words and mile long paragraphs. Not for the faint of heart.

He fell for this crappy site. He bought into it. Now he's hoping to launch a business based on the ideas on this horrible site.

How a site is designed makes or breaks an idea or product. Think of it like the difference between Time or Life magazines compared to your local community shopper or pennysaver. It's like the difference between handing out business cards vs. scratching out your name and phone number on a napkin. It's like the difference between your 2 year old's finger painting and a Monet or Van Goh. Would you think a diamond ring is really a diamond if it came wrapped in aluminum foil or a cardboard box?

Sure, it's possible for a legitimate idea to be presented on a crappy web site or a community shopper, but it would be far more effective of a business strategy to have a good site designed and an ad run in the NY Times. A good site, a good presentation validates the idea. Yes, it's possible to find a legitimate idea on a crappy site; it's just not probable.

That horrible site led to more research, and the Internet served up a lot of other sites that debunked the idea. So did the professionals I called and asked. The article I wrote was balanced, presenting his ideas and the responses, the pros and cons - let the readers decide. That's my job.

I suppose that this is my introduction to "hardened reporter." My lesson? Do the research before getting your hopes up.