On Tuesday, April 11, the UConn Department of Journalism hosted political journalist and entrepreneur, Jake Sherman at the Toscano Family Ice Forum. Sophia Dover, a sixth-semester student at UConn, moderated this discussion.
Sherman explained that he originally pursued his career aspirations of working in sports journalism. However in 2009, after considerable trial and error, he decided to pursue political journalism instead. This landed him a job with Politico, a news organization that has drastically grown since Sherman’s involvement.
After over a decade of working with Politico, Sherman and three others felt that the foundation began growing too big and crowded, to the point where their attributions fell at risk of underappreciation. In January of 2021, they decided to establish Punchbowl News, a news station that would differentiate itself by centering its focus on congressional leadership.
Through the guidance of Dover, Sherman shared his journey in establishing Punchbowl News and how he plans on continuing its success in the future.
Sherman admitted that at the onset of developing Punchbowl News, he and his fellow cofounders had no idea where to start — like any new entrepreneur. Their early stress arose from the belief that they had to make really large amounts of money in a really short period of time. Additionally, they faced the challenges of the incredibly competitive environments of business and journalism.
Another challenge Punchbowl News faced was its size.
As Sherman explained, “In big news organizations, if you suck, they can find a place to hide you.”
However, given the size of Punchbowl News, every person they hire needs to be the absolute best at whatever they do. Because of this pressure, Sherman explained that burnout and stress often arose in their work, as journalists are constantly playing a game of catch-up with world events.
Sherman aims not to let his company fall victim to the mindsets of flashy journalists that have infected news stations nationwide. He explains how big-name journalists today “chase shiny objects.” He explains that these journalists go after stories that will cause controversy because they are likely to acquire a large sum of views. While Sherman believes that the media has an obligation to cover politics, he does not see the benefit of expressing bias and letting said bias tarnish news delivery.
To keep his employees motivated, he constantly reminds them as well as himself that “you are only as good as your last story.” He does this to highlight the fact that in an organization as small as Punchbowl News, everyone is depending on each other. If one person falls, the rest of the company may very well come down with them.
At the end of this discussion, Dover opened the floor to questions from the audience. One audience member asked Sherman how he keeps his audience engaged and subscribed to the premium version of his channel. He explained the use of the fear factor. The goal is to make the audience fear that they are missing out on valuable information if Punchbowl News goes away.
Another member asked Sherman about his opinions on AI programs such as ChatGPT. He explained that his opinion on such programs depends on their usage. If it comes to a major story that depicts a huge turning point in American politics, then he does not find it favorable to use a robot to express and share such information. On the other hand, if it is a short, simple story that essentially is used to fill up time, then these resources could be of great help. Sherman also noted that most news stations often fall behind when it comes to the adaptation of new technology. He emphasized that Punchbowl News will always be up to date and ready to use whatever could help them.
Sherman closed this talk by sharing advice to the next generation of either aspiring journalists or entrepreneurs. He urged us not to allow ourselves to become generalists. If we find one that thing we are exceptionally good at, someone will always need us. This comment can not only be applied to journalism or entrepreneurship but to any walk of life.
David Noble, the director of the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation here at UConn also attended the event. He and Sherman share a long history due to Noble’s work alongside Sherman’s father. Just as the discussion began to come to an end, Noble asked Sherman if he considered himself more as a journalist or an entrepreneur. Sherman answered “A little bit of both, I’d say that 90% of me is a journalist, and the other 10% is an entrepreneur.”
For those of you who would like to ask Sherman any questions about his journey or to learn more about Punchbowl News, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.