Some weeks ago, Sydney-based tech reporter Renai LeMay tweeted his plans to leave ZDNet Australia. He then told us, on the day after Australia Day, that he had launched Delimiter, a technology news wire service in direct competition with the AAP. A week on from launch, Matthew da Silva chatted with LeMay about why he did it and how it’s going.
Matthew da Silva: How did you feel when you realised that going solo was about to happen?
Renai LeMay: I felt a little bit nervous and a little bit excited, but mainly just entertained. I’ve worked for major organisations for about five years and I’ve worked for a few publishing companies before that. All up, I’ve worked for seven or eight companies, maybe, since I’ve been in Sydney over the last ten years.
I guess what is happening is that, like all companies, you grow to a certain point and then you find… that you can handle it pretty easily. One of the things I was feeling as I was starting Delimiter was I’ve got so much to learn and so much to go for over the next few years that it’s a real feeling of being entertained and enlivened by life.
MdS: So it’s a challenge?
RL: Yeah, exactly, it’s a feeling of seeing that challenge ahead and really wanting to meet it.
MdS: You produce all of your material yourself. Do you feel overwhelmed?
RL: I do feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment, I think mainly because even though I’ve got nearly everything I want set up now for Delimiter, I still have some little things to fix on the side. And also just getting the word out there, talking to a lot of people in the industry — my contacts in the industry — letting them know what’s going on.
At the moment I’m balancing writing with all the basic startup stuff that every business does. [It’s] just [about] getting the word out that you’re there and starting to talk to customers and make sure that the infrastructure is right, getting your finance all on-track.
I think that will settle down in the next few weeks. It’s actually hard to startup a new journalist business, because you really have to migrate a lot of your contacts across to the new business. You have to really educate hundreds and hundreds of people that you, personally, have moved companies and what that means to them and how you’ll be dealing with them.
I am a bit overwhelmed at the moment, definitely. But I think that will settle down in a couple of weeks.
MdS: You said on Twitter that you’ve got to be super detail-oriented as a startup.
RL: If you’re starting a new company, you want to establish certain standards. To me it means responding to every email, responding to every Twitter message, every phone call. And even being proactive, as well, like talking to people who would expect you to contact them around this point.
No contact is too small, I guess, for me, in my business. It’s really about all those micro-transactions that really matter.
MdS: Original reporting can take a lot of time. How much do you rely on material from PR sources? Do you try to do original reporting on the back of it?
RL: The easy answer to that is, when you start off, at the moment I’m relying quite a bit on PR sources. And the plan is to gradually reduce that while still covering important things. It’s a common trend in journalism businesses [that] you start off rewriting press releases because you need to re-establish contacts with all your sources of information. After the first couple of weeks, you start to push up the value chain. You move up to high-value content.
A press release rewrite, for me, only takes a very short amount of time, like 10 minutes, 20 minutes – something like that. For example, I’m putting together a major feature article for next Thursday. That will be completely independent material, independent of the press release cycle.
MdS: If you want to be able to offer something unique, migrating up the value chain would be not only desirable, but essential, because your customers can get the same material from other sources.
RL: To a certain extent my customers want that basic stuff. My model is predicated on [that]. A lot of publishing houses don’t want to allocate journalists just to cover basic press release stuff. The obvious example would be: ‘Telstra releases new broadband plan’ – [which tells us that] Telstra releases a small upgrade to expand on its broadband plan.
That’s something Delimiter wants to cover because all the editors are interested in it. To take journalists off the high-value content and put them onto that is kind of a waste of a publication’s time. A lot of the stuff that I will be writing will be lower-order content because that’s what publishers need. They need someone to churn through that basic stuff so they can move onto the high-value stuff.
For example, the iiNet trial: the judgement is handed down on Friday [and] I’ll be at the trial reporting on that. That will help publishing houses use that content and they can build off the top of that.
MdS: You differentiate yourself by claiming to ‘own’ the area of Australian technology.
RL: AAP is probably the only other provider of a technology wire service in Australia. To my knowledge, I don’t think they have a dedicated technology reporter, or if they do I don’t know who it is. And the technology content you get through AAP won’t be as high-quality as what I’ll produce because I’m quite experienced.
I was a senior editor in the industry and a senior journalist, so I can obviously produce a higher amount of content even if it’s just rewriting a press release. I can write more content into that press release than other people can.
MdS: How many publications do you envisage might be interested in your material?
RL: It’s hard to say. So far, I’ve received quite a lot of interest and that ranges from the biggest publications all the way down to the small.
For my business to break even, I only need to sign up two or three customers. I think I’m already well on the way to doing that. Ultimately, if it goes really, really well it could be up to six, seven publishers. That would be fantastic.
MdS: Have you got any clients at this point?
RL: I do, yes.
MdS: Where did you grow up?
RL: I’m originally from Broken Hill. My high school life was spent in Broken Hill, unfortunately. It’s an interesting town, beautiful in many ways but frustrating in many ways as well, like most country towns are. Before that I came from South Australia. I’ve been in Sydney for about ten years.
MdS: What was your first computer?
RL: The first computer I ever spent any serious time on was an Apple IIe, I believe. That was a computer that my father brought home – he used to be a teacher – from his school, in the holidays. We used to play games like Karateka and Carmen Sandiego on that. I still play a lot of computer games and I guess I’ve been playing them ever since he first brought back that Apple IIe.
MdS: Your science fiction blog is a bit dormant right now. How’s that going?
RL: Yeah, I just don’t have time to update it. It’s going to make a return. It has had a bit of a redesign and it’s definitely going to return because it has got a dedicated audience. I’d like to start pumping out maybe a couple of articles for it per week, especially reviews. I’ve got some of that coming up soon.
Matthew da Silva writes feature stories to fulfil a dream after working in communications and technical writing roles for two decades. He grew up in Sydney, lived in Japan for nine years and now lives on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland. He blogs daily at Happy Antipodean.