Courtesy of the J Sharpe Agency
Never let anyone tell you that blogging is largely inaccurate, unimportant, or doesn't require skill.
It's actually quite the opposite -- the proof is in the reading. With print publications nearing extinction, chances are you are reading a digital publication more than you're picking up a paper, and the majority of them are probably blogs that you have developed an affinity and a loyalty to reading.
There's nothing wrong with that. We all need a source of entertainment, particularly during trying times in our lives and in the world
Fred Mwangaguhunga is not your average blogger; he's an educated entrepreneur. He recognized at a very early point in the world of blogging that things were going to change, especially our reading habits.
Media TakeOut, founded by Fred, is one of the most visited urban websites out there. The site's focus is celebrity gossip and it's developed a reputation for consistently delivering a good eye-catching headline.
It truly makes for a fun read about people who we love and are entertained by -- Media TakeOut shows us that just because they might be rich it doesn't mean they are above engaging in common foolery.
Fred and I chatted about the ins and outs of his highly successful gossip site and the business knowledge behind it. Also, he provides a few words of advice to others who might want to become that next successful blogger.
Tell me about the genesis of Media TakeOut. What brought you to the conclusion that this site would focus specifically on gossip?
I was trained as a lawyer and attended business school. After I graduated, I worked on Wall Street at a corporate law firm for four years. While I was there, I always knew that I wanted to go out and start a business. The first business that I started was an online based laundry called The Laundry Spa. It catered to clients that had clothing made of high-end fabrics; online they would be able to schedule pickups and deliveries. We had spent all of our ad dollars on a relatively new thing called blogging. They were very niche, they applied to certain groups, and the demographics that visited them were exactly the same people that we wanted to sell our laundry service. So, we advertised very heavily and practically our entire ad budget went on these blogs. Because of the fact that we were spending our ad dollars there, I watched them. I was watching the price of the ad units go up and up and pretty soon we could no longer afford them. Fast forward a year later when I sold the business, I was able to see that there was definitely growth in the blogosphere beyond what it was. We were one of the first to recognize that and jumped into the market.
You went out on a limb at the right time. A lot of people really ridiculed the idea of blogs and thought that it was going to go away. Very few people thought that it would grow to be such a juggernaut that it would interfere with print publishing.
Most people that could look at it objectively could see that it would affect print publishing. I think that what ended up happening was that a lot of people didn't want that to be the case. So, they tried to drum up these things about blogs not being real and hoped that if they said that over and over again in the press that it would in fact come to pass. I think if most people had looked at the cost structure of the blogs and looked at it from an objective business standpoint then it could easily be seen that this was something that wasn't going away.
Do you do a lot of the writing on Media TakeOut yourself? Or do you hire writers? How involved are you in the editorial process?
We definitely have a staff that goes out and does research on the story, but again it is a small business so I'm intricately involved in everything. When the story goes out usually I take look at it and approve it before hand, so I'm definitely very active in all aspects of the business and what you see on Media TakeOut. I can't take all the credit though; we have a bunch of talented people here.
Many people consider Media TakeOut more reliable than tabloid publications that focus on gossip like Star, Globe, or The National Enquirer. Then there are people out there who frown on anything that's gossip based because they question the truth behind it. What would you say makes MTO differ from those publications?
I think the major difference is that we are writing about a world that we know and love. That comes through in our reporting and our writing. I have good relationships with reporters at all of those publications. Sometimes, they'll call me and ask, "Can you tell us who's in this photo?" Sometimes it'll be something really obvious but they might not know what it is in the photograph. A perfect example was when The Dream was caught cheating on Christina Milian, when the photos were going out -- no one knew what to do with them and they had no idea that the woman in the photo wasn't The Dream's wife. We were able to get those photographs, put them out and break that story. A large part of our competitive advantage is that we know, love, eat, breathe, and understand what we write about. The same way they might feel about Taylor Swift is the way we feel about Keysha Cole. They might not even know or have an understanding of who Keysha Cole is. We know her and we love her. I think that's part of the main difference between our publication and that of our competitors.
Yes, I see that there is a focus -- a needed focus on the black entertainment community; a focus that your competitors have never expressed any interest in. So, from the starting point of a story -- there's so much trending out there these days. How do you decide what to focus on?
When I first started Media TakeOut, I didn't want it to be one of those places where you have a guy at the top that just kind of imposes their will on what a story is. We've constructed a content management system that takes into account and measures the response of the audience. It counts clicks and takes into account the subject of the story. That allows us to grasp whose getting even more popular and stories that are gaining momentum. It's data-driven and I can't imagine that anyone else has better data than we do on entertainers that are gaining momentum and those that are losing momentum -- that's how we come to the conclusion as to what our focus will be. Before anyone who knew who Kim Kardashian or Rihanna was, we were able to see that there was something about these two ladies that intrigued the public. Because of the fact that we were the first recognized that, we capitalized on it.
How do you go about getting your exclusive stories?
Sometimes they come to us, sometimes the celebrities give them to us, something might happen in public that will prompt us to go and investigate it. There are other times where it might be an anonymous tip and we don't know how or why we got it but we're happy that we did. There are a lot of ways that we get stories. At the point when they fall in our lap, it becomes a question of what we do with it. Do we rush it out there? Or do we take some time to investigate it further. That's another thing that separates us is that we do take that additional step to investigate things further.
What would you say to all of those out there who are trying to figure out how to build a website, establish a brand and get their names out there? What is your advice to everyone out there who has an idea but doesn't know where to begin?
If you are willing to put your time and effort into creating and keeping up with a blog, right now as we speak, there is a high likelihood of success. Success means that you could make a pretty good living doing it. If you're committed, then you will have a very good chance at success. One thing that I'd say that would increase your success would be not to follow the path that everyone else is taking. There are all of these bloggers out there who are of the mind that you have to get a good social media person, do SEO, get on some blog rolls -- not that any of that stuff is wrong because they are great things and they can help you. However, it can steer you away from what you really need to be a successful blogger. It's like someone who comes up to you and says they want to lose 300 pounds, and you tell them to drink lots of water and take this supplement and that supplement. What really needs to be done is eating less and working out more. My advice is to develop a skill and get good at entertaining, at the end of the day you'll be up against hundreds of thousands of other bloggers -- you need to give readers a reason to go to your blog over your competitor's blog.