From Fifth Avenue to Tahrir Square: How a single reporter shakes the media industry


It isn’t possible not to like Richard Gutjahr.

He’s always smiling, joking, and charming. His kind of storytelling is based on a great experience as a television journalist and inspires anyone listening to him.

He’s about 40 years old, but he successfully plays with his childish attitude and says sentences ready to be broadcast. He promotes his own lifestyle of journalism.

When my editors met Richard Gutjahr in Berlin for the very first time, they were sure he was an alien.

Although employed as a journalist at a traditional public television station in Munich, he told them strange things like:

  • Build your personal brand with a blog on the Internet.

  • Share with other people publicly what you’re thinking about.

  • Create your own videos.

  • Get paid by vendors with stuff you can honestly recommend.

My editors asked: Is he still a journalist?

Yes, he is. He is probably the most modern one. That’s the reason he left the comfort zone of his television station.

I’m thrilled by his story: From Fifth Avenue to Tarhir Square, a single entrepreneurial journalist can shake the industry – and even the known paid content models.


Before you judge him as one of these guys willing to change the world without making money, be aware of his business of entrepreneurial journalism as told by Jeff Jarvis and the way he’s changing traditional reporting.

No, he doesn’t just get a salary like journalists are used to getting. He’s paid incrementally by his performance as a blogger, speaker, and consultant. And, by the way, he endorsed a totally new paid content model called LaterPay.

He started his new career in Germany nearly five years ago when he wasn’t allowed to report on great media stories, such as the introduction of the iPad.

When Apple started the sales in New York City, hundreds of people sat on Fifth Avenue, waiting for the opening of the store. Richard Gutjahr was among them. He covered live what was going on in the queue, which was ignored by the traditional media companies. He published texts, photos, and videos.

His readers went crazy about the stuff he reported.

Only one year later, when the rumours started that a revolution was about to take place in Egypt, his boss told him, “There are no hints from the news wire, thus there’s nothing to report at all.”

Gutjahr, encouraged by social media postings, spent his own money to travel to Cairo. Coincidentally, the revolution started when he arrived at Tahrir Square.

At that moment, he was the only Western journalist blogging all day long directly from the location.

His boss saw him live reporting on the national television news that night. The traffic of his blog grew and grew. He was constantly quoted by other media channels all the time and became a television hero all over Germany.

Of course, you can say he was just a lucky man at the right place at the right time. But whenever a story broke, he did it over and over again, from the refugee camps at the Syrian border to the NSA data center in Utah.

He became a role model worldwide for what are called laptop reporters. These are crazy guys who can deliver what is needed in the age of the new news media consumption nowadays. They have little in common with expensive editors sitting at desks.

These laptop reporters have a network of followers on Twitter larger than the audience of a regular newspaper. They’re well connected on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, and they’re on Instagram, Pinterest, and WhatsApp.

Whenever they have a story fit to read, you cannot miss them. Laptop reporters are media entrepreneurs, and Richard Gutjahr is one of their heroes.

Compared with Fany’s newsletter approach, his business is small. But it isn’t less compelling.

“The old business model of our media industry doesn’t work anymore,” Richard Gutjahr says, “and the new business model doesn’t yet work – we’re lost in between.”

He tries to explain what journalists need to be prepared (e.g. an iPhone, a microphone, some helpful tools) to work as entrepreneurial journalists and earn affiliate money in this kind of position. Paid content is just another tool to do so.

If you’re a comedian performing on the streets, people will pay for it directly after you have left the stage. Why not in journalism?

LaterPay is a micropayment system that let readers pay per use – without upfront registration and without a subscription model. You pay what you read, and anyone can install that system, either on a blog like Studienkredit or big Web sites like Welt Online.

That’s really a solution for content as Apple has created it for music in the iTunes store, and it was started by someone who thinks out of the box.

What we as publishers can learn:

  1. Encourage your editors to look for new stories they aren’t used to.

  2. Give them this small amount of money (about US$200) to buy stuff needed to report directly from the location.

  3. Discuss with your editors what their idea of paid content is. Don’t forget: Editors probably know the audience better than anyone else.
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