Tara McGowan is the founder and publisher of Courier Newsroom and CEO of Good Information Inc., a civic incubator that invests in solutions to counter disinformation online. Earlier in her career, McGowan led multi-million dollar digital advertising and marketing programs for dozens of nonprofits and political groups, including Priorities USA, NextGen Climate and President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. She studied journalism and political science at NYU and began her career reporting and producing long-form journalism for both 60 Minutes and PBS Frontline.
Where did the idea for Good Information Inc. come from?
After nearly a decade as a digital strategist for left-leaning causes and candidates, it became clear to me that progressives were not going to be able to build sustainable power in today’s current media environment, or by using the same playbook they have relied on for decades to reach Americans with their values, positions and achievements. The right-wing media has not only tribalized their base through manipulative and deceptive tactics and messaging, but they have also made our traditional mainstream media more impotent by pushing them into a defensive posture where they are always trying to prove through their coverage that they are objective and provide equal airtime to both sides, even when one side is committed to lying to them on the record. This situation has only worsened with the rising power of social media and tech platforms like Meta and Google, accelerating the spread of dangerous misinformation to millions of Americans online, every single day.
After years of running test-driven digital advertising programs to reach less politically aware and engaged Americans with factual, values-driven information and stories about the rise of extremism on the right, the stakes of elections and the power of their vote, I made the decision to pivot my focus to building long-term media infrastructure that could reach Americans with local news, stories and critical information they need to be informed and engaged voters day-in and day-out, year-round. COURIER now reaches millions of less informed voters where they get their information- on social media, on their smartphones and in their inboxes – through our eight state-based newsrooms. We engage over 700,000 subscribers and social followers every day, and then boost our news to millions more Americans in the states where we have newsrooms in the lead up to elections to ensure they have the information they need to participate in our country and democracy.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am an early bird! I wake up every weekday around 5am, go for a run in my neighborhood in Rhode Island, take a shower in my outdoor shower (when the weather permits!), then try to be at my home office desk with an iced Snickerdoodle coffee from my favorite local coffee shop by 7am. My mornings are really important to me because that’s when my brain is its most creative and generative – and it’s when I can get the most stuff done before my calls and zooms for the day start around 9:30am. From then on, I’m on a string of internal and external meetings focused on driving the high-level strategy for the company, raising money and cultivating partnerships to expand our work and impact. I usually wrap up calls around 6pm ET, do a bit more email with a glass of wine, then try to spend the rest of the evening outside since I can get really drained from the back–to-back zoom calls and screen time! I live really close to my parents so I often have dinner with them, then try to go see live music at least 2-3 nights a week because it never fails to lift my spirits. On my best days, I’m in bed listening to my meditation app or reading by 10:30pm to get my 6-7 hours before I start the cycle all over again!
How do you bring ideas to life?
Having great ideas isn’t difficult as I think everyone is capable of great, world-changing ideas. The biggest challenge in my opinion is figuring out WHICH ideas to bring to life, organizing the right people and resources to give the best of those ideas the best shot possible at succeeding once they are brought to life, and of course being ok from the start with the fact that a number of those ideas will still likely fail when you do bring them to life, but I’ve found that every failed idea helps get you closer to the next successful one. When you do decide to bring an idea to life, you need to first make other people believe in that idea to then help you bring it into the world, then when you have those people on board, you have to relinquish control and let them lean into their strengths to make the idea even better through its execution.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The increasing prioritization of vertical video content by major social media and tech platforms is really exciting to me because I think we are living through the evolution of television to streaming formats that people can access wherever and whenever they want on their smartphones, and soon to be other lifestyle appendages like watches, glasses, etc. While this evolution of media consumption definitely has its downsides (like loss of real-world interaction, for one), I do think it demands more creativity and innovation from traditional news and media institutions, as well as advocacy organizations and businesses to compete for people’s attention, time and money, which should increase the quality and authenticity of content and information.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Waking up early! If I wasn’t a morning person, I have no idea how I would ever get any work done outside of calls, zooms, meetings and email. Especially because dinner (and accompanying wine) are my very favorite out-of-work hobbies outside of my morning runs.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I think about this question, I have to give my younger self a lot of credit because most days I ask myself what advice my younger self would give me when I’m feeling stuck, tired or burnt out. I was always such a fearless and driven person from a very young age and feel a lot of love and pride for my younger self because without her, I’d never have the confidence I have today to take on the challenges and seize the opportunities that her relentless ambition, work ethic and imagination made possible for adult me.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Right now (in July 2022), I think that it’s highly possible that Democrats are going to narrowly preserve their majority in Washington as well as in a number of critical Governors’ mansions in the 2022 midterm elections this fall – which few others, including most Democrats I talk to or read on Twitter, seem to see, understand or believe.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Believe in myself. If you don’t truly, fully believe in yourself, in your dreams and ideas, and your ability to bring them to life, how can you expect anyone else to?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Persistence. Growing any business is incredibly hard, and building and growing a business that doesn’t look like any others in your industry is even harder. You have to wake up every single day believing in your business model and having the persistence and patience to find and bring others along with you to make it a reality. There are so many days (and even months!) when I have wanted to give up because I didn’t feel like I was making enough traction quickly enough, I started to believe our critics more than our cheerleaders, or felt like a failure when I wasn’t able to convince that one donor I thought would love our model to support it, but then you get through those days and have other days where the stars seem to align, people come to you to ask how they can help, or your team hires someone incredible who brings a fresh approach to the work, and it all feels worth it. Over time, you understand the good days come with the bad and every single let down or win is helping make you and your team smarter and moving you forward toward your goals. So take the bad days in stride, find the lessons in every rejection (but ignore the critics who have nothing to teach you), celebrate the big and small wins every chance you get, and most importantly, stay focused on the end goal through it all, and you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one?! That’s a hard one to choose but I think I’ll go with the one that still haunts me and that I hold responsible for probably my most public failure ad that’s biting off more than I could chew. My at-times insatiable appetite for solving big problems and seizing big opportunities led me to take the helm of too many projects and organizations in the lead-up to the 2020 elections and one negative outcome of spreading my energy and attention thinly across so many important efforts was having my organization invest in a political technology company that I very much wanted to exist and to be successful but that I had no real business being involved with, even as an investor. That experience, which culminated in my organization divesting from that company after they made a coding error in a mobile app they developed for a client (which had pretty huge ramifications and resulting bad publicity), taught me the value and power of focusing my time, energy, and super powers on fewer projects to better achieve deeper, longer term success and impact.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Definitely tickets to my annual pilgrimage to the Newport Folk Fest in my hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. They definitely cost more than $100 but it’s the best money I spend every year to be in community and shared space with so many other music lovers in my favorite place on earth. Highly recommend the festival to anyone and everyone who loves music, the sea and good folk.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I can’t live without Google Chrome products for work and my calendar, Spotify to keep me happy and motivated, Instagram to stay connected with my friends and family, and my meditation app Insight Timer to help me turn off and get a good night’s sleep. I also couldn’t of course live without my iPhone, where I use all of these apps, though I do hate how Apple continues to change their products to ensure you have to buy new appendages every year. They know how reliant so many people are on their products that I hate how brazenly they take advantage of that but that’s capitalism for ya.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I loved The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, for probably very obvious topical reasons, but Isaacson’s storytelling is second to none. I recently found it on a hotel room bookshelf and couldn’t put it down.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.