Opinion – Mark Singletary

MS mugshotI moved to Birmingham about a month ago. Moving to a new town isn’t such a big deal for me because I’ve moved a lot in my life. Birmingham is the 12th market that I have lived and worked in during my career. Moving to a new city means getting to meet lots of new people, but I admit there is a time of acclimation and adjustment that goes with any move.

There was a time lag from when I first arrived in town and until my job at BHM BIZ started and I needed something to do. So, following the advice of one of my daughters, I applied with Uber to be one of their drivers.

The process is simple. A prospective Uber driver must have a valid driver’s license, a decent vehicle, adequate insurance and a smart phone. With all four requirements verified, Uber approved me as a driver, wished me well and challenged me to get out on the streets of Birmingham and be available to pick up fares and deliver them safely to their chosen destination.

There was no orientation. There were no warnings. There wasn’t even a primer on how to use the smart phone app. I figured that was part of the strategy. If a new driver isn’t smart enough to figure how to install and use the app, then Uber really didn’t want them ferrying customers all over town.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous when I first turned on the app and went online. How long would it take to get my first customer? The answer: about five minutes.

When the phone dinged, I knew it was real. Someone was asking me to take them somewhere in my car, in a city I really didn’t know very well. Turns out the Uber folks have things pretty well figured out. They have a direction lady reading the map and giving out instructions; I call her Ubie.

My first fare could not have worked out any better. The customer was a very nice lady that was pretty excited when I told her she was my first rider. She wished me well and gave me a five-star rating.

I drove steadily for a couple of weeks, but then I started my job here, so I’ve cut back on Uber time to an evening or two on the weekends. It’s actually pretty entertaining.

But, that’s enough about my experience in the new gig economy, let’s concentrate on my new role at BHM BIZ and how excited I am to be a part of this publication.

I’ve been involved in business-to-business publishing for almost 20 years. I’ve worked for and managed business journals and magazines in Oklahoma City, New Orleans, New York and lots of other markets. It’s probably stating the obvious, but the best way to ensure that any local news organization has a vibrant, profitable future is to make certain that the publication is relevant, responsible and vital to the readers and advertisers that it serves.

Although simply stated, those goals aren’t easily attained. It takes a lot of work, several good plans and a diligent commitment to make it happen. It also takes a great team. A good business plan funds the effort and makes it possible to hire the best journalists.

While we have to have an eye on the future and all the changes that magazines are dealing with, we must develop a current strategy that maximizes existing revenues and prudently manages expenses. Again, that’s a simplistic overview of a complex challenge, but it is really what we have to do to survive.

Being a thought leader for our business community is perhaps the purest definition of what a magazine like ours can and should be. I’ll be working hard to ensure we do it well.

General Manager