Jonathan Small is Editor in Chief of Green Entrepreneur, a website and magazine that is focused on the cannabis industry. He is also an award-winning journalist, producer, and podcast host of the Green Entrepreneur and “Write About Now” podcasts and the founder of Strike Fire Productions, a premium production company with clients such as SAG-AFTRA and Purely Elizabeth.
High There contributor Hannah Izer recently up with Jonathan Small at the Green Growth Summit in Chicago, which was being hosted by the Green Entrepreneur. The Green Growth Summit is an exclusive all-day event for cannabis businesses, entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, and industry experts to gather together to learn, network, and discover new opportunities to get into the cannabis business. We chatted with Small about his experience as a writer, his transition into the cannabis space, and the process for content on the Green Entrepreneur.
High There: How long have you been a writer?
Jonathan Small: I’ve been a writer since the ’90s. I started my career as a writer in the magazine industry. I actually got a job as a receptionist for this magazine called Child Magazine, which was like a parenting magazine. It was actually owned by the New York Times, which was kind of cool, and they gave me my first assignment. I was a receptionist there, and I was approached and asked “Hey, do you know who George Carlin is?” And I’m like, “yeah the comedian?” [They said,] “Yeah, would you be interested in interviewing him? “and I was like, “Yeah!”
So that was my first assignment. I guess I did an okay job, they ended up giving me an editorial assistant job. I kind of worked my way up the magazine chain. But back then, many editors would also write on the side to make some extra money.
HT: How did the Green Entrepreneur get its start?
Small: Entrepreneur Magazine has been around for 50 years. They decided about three or four years ago that they wanted to get into the cannabis space – they saw an opportunity. The CEO is very interested in the cannabis industry. I was in L.A. working as a kind of freelancer at the time – it was good timing. And they were like, “Would you be interested in running this?”
It’s a kind of a business-to-business magazine. It started off as a website, and it became a print magazine as well. It’s not [in print] anymore. Basically, it’s like six articles a day, and it just covers the industry, things like what this [Green Growth Summit] conference is about. Like, how do you make money in it? Who’s succeeding? Interesting interviews with people that have made it as writers. How cannabis can help you be healthy – our studies about cannabis use cover the whole industry.
HT: Is there a market for this type of business-to-business content?
Small: There is definitely a market for business-to-business cannabis content. When we started, I feel like there were a lot more opportunities than [in] other industries, and people are very excited to have the green rush. [However] there’s just not as much money as everybody thought, so it’s consolidated a lot.
HT: What’s it like to go from print writing to producing and editing online content?
Small: I’ve watched it all because I started my career in magazines. When magazines were a thing back in the ’90s, I pivoted to online. I didn’t know that was where everything was going and I just happened to get a job online. But I watched the online shift of this content – or rather those content factories just creating content for search [optimization], right? It was bad content and they were just creating a lot of it. And that really, I thought, denigrated the quality.
There was a lot more content, but it was not as good because [of the] search engine optimization. So I think we’re now going [back to] the golden age of journalism. But we had to kind of come up.
I think there’s a lot of good stuff out there because there are many more platforms for people to put their content out. Back in the old days, there were a lot of gatekeepers. It was hard to get your content out there. But now you can be on Medium or Substack – there are so many opportunities to get your stuff out there.
HT: What kinds of guests do you bring onto your podcast, “Write About Now”?
Small: Well, it took on a lot of people. I mean, the original concept was [about] writers of all shapes and sizes. I interviewed novelists, journalists, and even screenwriters. I try to bring on really interesting writers that I admire. I’ve had on with I had on David Grann, [who] is a very big writer, I had on Ken Pohlad. I even had on Betsey Johnson. We talked to Karen Joy Fowler, who is a really great novelist.
I just interview people who I love their work or like their articles. And then I find out things like, how do you get into the business? How did you get into writing? How did you succeed? What is your process? What are your secrets?
I’ve learned a lot myself, even. I’ve written for 30 years [and] I don’t consider myself a full-time writer now, but these people are people I admire, because they are full-time writers, right? It’s what they do.
[Next], I want to find somebody who’s writing in Ukraine, a writer in Ukraine who wants to talk to me about how they report on the conflicts within the country.
HT: What goes into your process of deciding what content is to be shared on the Green Entrepreneur?
Small: We have this thing called the leadership network, where people submit stories to us. I can invite someone into our system and the story is received by a committee – it alerts me that somebody has submitted a story. So a lot of those writers are thought leaders; CEOs or publicists who have written an article for their clients.
We also have a lot of content partners that I work with [to] create content on their own sites. But I try to do it like a balance in the news of the day. I don’t want to miss any of the big news stories, but also what is some kind of advice I can give our users today. So it’s a mix between the circle of service and news and then stuff that I’ll just write myself. But I kind of just use my instincts of what do people want to know about?
And sometimes it’s true that you have to recycle the same story. A lot of times because you can only answer, how did I get into the cannabis business like this? There are only so many answers that you can get. We will constantly try to refresh and stay up to date on our content.