Women Entrepreneurs in Digital News – Erin Polgreen

‘Nerds into Newshounds’: Symbolia illustrates, illuminates the News using Comics

Prior to her work as a consultant, Polgreen worked at The Media Consortium, where she oversaw strategic program development, editorial collaborations, and educational curriculum that supported a network of more than 50 leading independent media outlets. She has also served as associate publisher of In These Times magazine, where she oversaw advertising sales, marketing and communications strategies.

Erin Polgreen turned a hobby into a journalism venture. A lifelong comics fan, Polgreen launched Symbolia: The Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism, which blends investigative journalism with comics and illustration to give new light to complicated stories.

“I’ve been speaking, researching, and working with comics journalism for the past two years, and am excited to begin a new chapter that combines my many interests,” Polgreen said.

Symbolia, according to Polgreen, will “curate and combine lively voices, visuals, and interactive elements to convert a new generation of nerds into newshounds.”

Comics and infographics have been used to tell stories about subjects as diverse as the Haiti earthquake recovery and the student loan crisis.

“Using comics, we can engage a new generation of news consumers in issues critical to their lives,” she wrote in her grant application.

Symbolia is designed to reach new readers and experiment with new ways of storytelling. Polgreen plans to make Symbolia available via Apple’s newsstand for a regular subscription fee, and has plans to expand to the Amazon and Android markets. Each issue of Symbolia will explore a specific theme in several stories, which will combine first-person reportage, infographics and comics.

“Symbolia [will] be the first tablet endeavor of its kind,” Polgreen wrote. “… Symbolia will offer the opportunity to rebrand what journalism can do by cultivating a highly experimental, interactive environment.”

The benefits of illustrated journalism are many, according to Polgreen. News is presented in an interesting, accessible format, and the form is ideal for sharing on the Web or on mobile devices.

Polgreen hopes to secure content partnerships for Symbolia and is exploring connections with media outlets, book publishers, and digital comics platforms. She envisions Symbolia as a potential syndication service.

Polgreen looks forward to helping comics journalism grow by hiring young artists and journalists as contributors. She also hopes to have at least half of her contributors be women.

“As a woman and comics fan, gender parity is of critical importance to me,” Polgreen wrote. “There are many women working in journalism and comics, but they are often underrepresented in the masthead and in bylines.”

The IWMF grant, Polgreen said, would help her move herself and other women into three male-dominated industries: journalism, comics, and technology.

Polgreen’s plan for generating income from Symbolia is under way; she has already secured at least $14,000 in funding. Additional sources of revenue from Symbolia may include: subscription fees, partnering around content creation with legacy media, in-app advertising, and sponsorships of themed issues (from foundations or advertising partners).

Eventually, Polgreen hopes to push Symbolia out via digital comics platforms to tap into new audiences, expand to other tablet operating systems, partner with other media outlets to solicit and produce content, and build up an advertising/sponsorship model to bring in further revenue.

“I’m honored to be selected as a grantee for IWMF’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative,” Polgreen said. “The funds and strategic support will exponentially scale up Symbolia’s capacity to cultivate an audience, reach new readers, and quickly launch on multiple tablet devices.”

Recently she added, “It’s invaluable to have something like IWMF in my life as an entrepreneur. Talking and connecting with other women who have run startups is invaluable, and the programming IWMF provides has dramatically shifted the way I think about building news organizations from the ground up.”

Erin Polgreen is a media strategist, constructor of collaborations, and director of programs with more than seven years of professional experience cultivating media innovation. A lifelong fan of comics and sequential art, Polgreen has advocated for the intersection of comics and journalism as a vital means of engaging news consumers in complicated stories. To this end, she is the founder of Symbolia: The Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism.

Polgreen’s experiences as a consultant include developing community, fostering technological innovation, and increasing the reach of independent media. She frequently speaks about editorial collaboration, comics journalism, and media innovation at venues such as the Public Radio Program Directors Association, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the National Conference for Media Reform, the Society for News Design, and SXSWi.

Follow Erin Polgreen (@ErinPolgreen) and Symbolia (@symboliamag) on Twitter

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