In the journalism field, going into business for yourself tends to mean becoming a freelancer -- selling your own sweat and toil for an hourly or per-project rate, what an old editor of mine called being a self-exploiter. By contrast, true entrepreneurs, at least to my mind, are those who create organizations to achieve goals and pursue opportunities.
That's why my favorite exception to the journos-as-self-exploiters trend is Paul Della Valle, the owner, editor, and publisher of Lancaster Times Inc. of Massachusetts. Della Valle, a cantankerous character who blows a mean blues harp, was for years the best columnist at the biggest newspaper in Worcester, Mass.
In 1996, he cashed in a $20,000 401(k), and with the $14,000 left over, he and his then-wife Joanne started the newspaper their New England town had never had: The Lancaster Times. They set up in the family room with one part-time writer, one HP computer, and one printer. That was it. "It had always been a fantasy of mine to start a newspaper in my home town," he says.
What Della Valle didn't realize is that he was also becoming an entrepreneur. "The biggest challenge of the whole thing was learning the business end," he says. "I learned it's important to grow if you don't want to be working 80 hours a week to make 20 grand."
When he started, Della Valle and his wife (they've since divorced, but remain business partners) would lay out the paper on cardboard, cutting copy with X-Acto knives. Now the entire paper goes out in a .pdf file, and all the photos are digital. "We can take a picture and have it in the paper in a minute," he marvels.
Today, Della Valle has seven full-time employees, two magazines, and two newspapers, all bringing good journalism to the people of Central Massachusetts. Last year, the Times won more awards from the New England Press Association than any other paper in its class.
At about $500,000 in revenues, "I'm making a good living, all things considered," he says. "And I get to work my 80 hours when I want to."
To me, Paul is what it is all about: Growing a company to realize a dream.