Way of Living – News
July 13, 2021
Pam Frederick joined us for a Way of Living conversation about her journey towards being the owner, editor and publisher of the Tribeca Citizen, a local news website which exclusively covers the downtown neighborhood of Tribeca, Manhattan. After sharing her reflective thought process when making the decision to buy the TC, she discussed the unique experience of running it during the pandemic. Pam’s choice to start over and buy the Tribeca Citizen after teaching journalism for many years provided guidance, inspiration, and productive questions to ask yourself for anyone looking to start anew.
As a new college graduate, Pam needed a job, so she accepted an early offer, and ended up working as a print broker and graphic designer for nearly six years.
At this time, she lived in Chelsea, could walk to her job, and worked four days a week. Overall, she had a good lifestyle, but she woke up one morning, and felt unable to leave the bed. She recognized intense dread at the prospect of going to her job and knew that she needed a change.
She sat down with herself and gave herself the time to reflect, creating a list of what she truly enjoyed doing. She recalled her beloved role as a journalist in high school for the school paper, remembering the fulfilling nature of journalistic work during those teen years. She asked herself, “I’m 28, do I really want an entry level job?” Armed with a firm “no,” she decided to attend journalism school. She applied to Columbia and was initially rejected, so the following year she applied to Columbia again as well as Brooklyn Law School. She was accepted into both and intended to earn both degrees back to back. After a year at Columbia, she loved it so much that she decided to stick solely with journalism.
Pam was an adjunct professor of journalism for 20 years. She had structured her life so she could raise her children and teach journalism on the side in a part time capacity. Despite her experience, adjunct professorship does not lead to a full time position.
Pam applied to three positions with no following job offers. At an inflection point in her life, she once again was trying to figure out what to do next.
One December morning, her husband called out to her, “I think you should buy the Tribeca Citizen!” Pam happened to have also read the recent issue in which the founder posted that he was selling the Tribeca Citizen. She replied, “I think so, too!”
About twenty people were bidding over the local news website. By mid-January 2019, the Tribeca Citizen was Pam’s.
How Pam Decided to Start Over
Pam loved that the Tribeca Citizen was a ready-made business, and she knew she was capable of doing everything required to produce the blog, as she had already run two newspapers for 5 years in the South Bronx while teaching at Columbia.
Beyond her journalism experience and enthusiasm, from a financial perspective, she was assured by her husband and friends who worked in finance and advertising that it was a sound decision.
She asked herself the question: What is the worst that can happen? Pam considered and concluded that she could embarrass herself by ruining a business, which would impact her ego. She could also lose the money used to buy the Tribeca Citizen. None of these consequences were unmanageable.
She also used her husband’s prompt: Play the tape forward; a future-minded visualization technique. This exercise required her to engage in the necessary thought process to assess the risk versus the rewards. It became apparent that she should buy it.
Anchored by the mindset that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing, Pam navigated early challenges, which after two years on the job, hardly exist at all.
Local Journalism During the Pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, Pam immediately emailed the founder of the Tribeca Citizen. She was frightened that there would be nothing to write about – an encapsulation of every journalist’s nightmare. He reminded her that she’d be able to write about all the closings and reopenings of neighborhood businesses, the bread and butter stories of the site.
It ended up being an incredibly busy year for Pam’s work in the Tribeca Citizen, as the turmoil of the country was experienced at an acute, microcosmic level in the neighborhood of Tribeca. Approximately 65 storefront businesses in Tribeca closed permanently, and every time a business closed, even temporarily, it was news. Downtown Manhattan was also the site of protests following the murder of George Floyd, which necessitated coverage, as did all the businesses boarding up their stores.
Businesses During the Pandemic
Many business owners compared the economic repercussions of COVID-19 to those after the tragedy of 9/11, and they all felt this was significantly worse. Previous traumas, like 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy were singular events in time, in which people could rebuild immediately after. Everyone felt as though they were making progress the very next day. By contrast, during the pandemic, businesses were perpetually frozen in time because there was no finite end date. They couldn’t financially plan and were receiving mixed messages from the government. Many had difficulty getting the PPE loans. Restaurants were faced with the ethical dilemma of asking chefs to risk their lives on the subway for a $15 per hour salary.
Several businesses tried to pivot – Duane Park Patisserie shifted their strategy towards mail order. Overnight, the owner went from 18 employees to 4 and was trying to keep the lights on.
Out of necessity, some owners successfully discovered new ways of doing things. For example, Downtown Dance Factory was tasked with the challenge of teaching children dance online – they made it work.
Local News Outlets
Pam shared that local journalism no longer supports the old school model of big staffs, and at this point, it’s also unnecessary. The TC model is easily replicable and she believes deeply that this “one person band” structure is extremely efficient, manageable and replicable. Running the Tribeca Citizen can indeed be done by a single person: the costs are minimal, you can begin building something special on day 1, and the business will continue to grow over time. There are no startup costs, just monthly maintenance costs, and she makes a nice salary. It’s eminently doable.
She did stipulate that the Tribeca Citizen was worth buying because of the wealth of the neighborhood; advertisers want their readers to be wealthy, as the majority of TC’s advertisers are in real estate.
Pam ended with her emphatic belief in the Tribeca Citizen business model for additional journalistic outlets.
Additional information about the Tribeca Citizen and Pam’s journey can be found at this link.