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Disruption opens opportunities for pioneers

| Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

“YaJagoff” can express exasperation or endearment, as any Pittsburgher knows. But John Chamberlin also sees it as his brand.

He hosts the YaJagoff Podcast , and as the name implies, he focuses on all things “yinzer,” from pierogies to basement potties. It is one of five core offerings from the Pittsburgh Podcast Network, which has started making money in its fourth year, executive producer Frank Murgia recently told me.

“It finally feels like it's a real thing and we're starting to see opportunities,” he said.

Recent years' disruption that has shaken news companies also has produced media pioneers. Large outlets are becoming nimble by experimenting with innovative platforms and content. Startups are redefining the industry with concepts no one has tried. This energy creates opportunities for older journalists seeking to rediscover the craft and for students who want to engage in storytelling and try something new.

“Young people who are serious about media now are pioneers,” Pulitzer-winning author Dan Fagin recently told a roomful of students at Point Park University.

Journalists with knowledge of a particular subject can leverage an internet audience into a career. The more complex or distinctive the topic, the better the chances for success, Don Marinelli, innovation director at 535 Media LLC , told another group of young people: “If you're into something and you think there's no way you could do it, follow it.”

Such thinking has created an explosion of new ideas for media companies across Western Pennsylvania. The most successful have business plans for making money. In the city's East End, Ann Belser has returned to basics with Print , a traditional community newspaper featuring neighborhood stories too small for bigger outlets. She recently profiled a resident who stands most afternoons on a sidewalk, pointing at a no-turning sign drivers frequently ignore.

Recent Penn State graduate Alyse Horn works as managing editor for a small online outlet, Storyburgh , that seeks unique and under-reported stories. AmyJo Brown , an investigative reporter for traditional newspapers much of her career, has an idea for a new media site, Grant's Hill, based on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County politics and data. And change has come so quickly that The Incline , which celebrates its one-year anniversary this week, seems older and established by comparison.

This tapestry of diverse voices signals a shift from the past, when a few outlets could hold monolithic control over a media market's local news. The growing news ecosystem has not yet proven that all of these outlets together can replace the breadth and depth of past coverage. But they are providing more viewpoints, Vince Stehle, executive director of Philadelphia-based Media Impact Funders , told me.

“We seem to be on an upswing of efforts to create resources where the most severe declines of an industry have sort of shocked the system,” he said, “and sparked a number of people to do something about it, to start things, to create things, to apply their skills in a new way.”

Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

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