Teaching Examples

What do we mean by entrepreneurial?
March 30, 2007, 11:20 pm
Filed under: business, education, journalism

This word “entrepreneurial” is popping up a lot in the journalism blogs lately.

A reader called “Mac” left this comment on an earlier post (The changing skill set for journalists):

Technology and multimedia skills are certainly important, but the entrepreneurial aspects are absolutely vital for future journalists. I certainly wish *I* had been given a heads-up on the business/content pressures. I had to learn it the hard way, which I suppose has its virtues, but there’s no reason why J-students can’t enter the workforce with at least a cursory understanding of business models, revenue streams and advertising influences.

The same class — or unit, or lesson — could also incorporate job search strategies. Knowing where to look, who to talk to, and what to search for are all important skills.

Last September, Jeff Jarvis said he was starting a new university course about entrepreneurial journalism. “The idea is that students will come up with and flesh out ideas for new businesses or products,” he wrote. Maybe he’ll give us an update.

Maybe entrepreneurialism in journalism is not the same as “entrepreneurial journalism.” It sounds rather too similar to “enterprise journalism,” in my view. Bill Moyers once said, “I don’t think there’s a lot of independent, entrepreneurial journalism which says, let’s really ask if Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations is accurate or not.” That would be the other sense — entrepreneurial journalists are those who are not just rewriting the press release.

Rebecca MacKinnon wrote this in December 2005:

Journalism schools need to teach students to be more entrepreneurial, and disabuse them of the belief that they will be able to count on a full-time steady job at a single news organization for long periods of time. Freelancing and frequent job-hopping are now the norm. This can be a liberating and empowering situation if one does not fear it and knows how to take advantage of it. To be better equipped for the future, students must learn how to develop their own journalistic credibility and reputations for excellence which they can carry from employer to employer — or from freelance gig to freelance gig. They also need to equip themselves with specialized knowledge and distinctive styles so that they can stand out from the crowd and make themselves uniquely valuable.

This notion ties into the idea of a stand-alone journalist, as described by Jay Rosen and moreso by Chris Nolan:

These are not bloggers. They are people who are using blogging technology — software that allows them to quickly publish their work and broadcast it on the Internet — to find and attract users. They understand that the barrier to entry in this new business isn’t getting published; anyone can do that. The barrier to entry is finding an audience.

David Nordfors offered this in a post discussing how journalism is now subject to Moore’s law (the continual exponential compression of processing power, or, in Nordfors’s paraphrase: “Things entering the market in two years time will have double the capacity of the stuff being released today”):

Many newsrooms are bothered by introducing new tools and routines. They better start enjoying it, because as from now, as soon as they have made a change, they need start planning for changing it again.

The news industry is about to join the family of R&D-intensive innovation industries. Can the old news industry do it? Those who don’t risk being toppled by the new kids on the block.

Well, I hope you will leave a few comments for me about what you think “entrepreneurial” means for journalism.

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5 Comments so far
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(Sorry for the double post!)

I wish I had enough imagination to come up with a slick username, but, alas, “Mac” is my real name 😉

Anyway, to expand upon this entrepreneurial idea: I think the conversation needs get specific. Whether we’re discussing individual journalism, independent journalism, or citizen journalism, the thing that always drives me nuts is that it never gets down to the money question. All of these independent efforts are lovely, but last time I checked there wasn’t an independent journalist war chest funding all our efforts. (If there is, please tell me where to find it — I need to make a big withdrawal).

The sad truth is that we need to learn the basics of business. We need to know about online advertising (it’s much different than print or broadcast), we need to know how to monetize content without venturing into ethical quagmires (no pay-to-play blogging, please), and — most importantly — we need to understand our own value and seek that value from the folks who (hopefully) pay us.

I’ve had some very limited, hobby-like success on the independent level, and despite reveling in the enjoyment of building an audience and making some spending money, I’m also discouraged at my own meager business sense. I would love to work with someone who understands the business side of Web publishing and could act as a content advocate, but I have yet to find that person. Until that happens — and until I can make enough to support a reasonable lifestyle and afford health insurance, savings, etc. — my own independent journalism projects are destined to remain glorified hobbies.

I’d love to hear how other folks are doing this (and if they’re doing it full-time). I know I could certainly use a pick-me-up!

(BTW — Mindy, thanks for your efforts. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but only recently decided to chime in). — mac

Comment by Mac

I don’t know what other people need to do, but I would like to share what I did. In college, I took a web publishing class that taught me HTML, some CSS, Flash, and video and audio editing software. I learned just enough to start working.

But I had to take the initiative to teach myself more and more. I created a couple web sites. I bought an action script book and reading it for about an hour every night. I started to get it. Now I reference the book when I want to do something new that I don’t know how to do.

I took a broadcast internship and learned higher-level video editing software.

I taught myself final cut pro when I came to the Express-News, as well as Soundtrack Pro and the “dark art” of video compression.

I transformed my blog into something that forces me to stay on top of new things in multimedia journalism, and to constantly check out and learn from other people’s work.

I guess what I’m saying is journalism students have to be smart enough to enroll in classes that will get them started, but they can’t stop there. They have to learn for themselves (no one else will do it for them).

Comment by Angela Grant

I agree with you, Angela, that what you did is entrepreneurial. And smart too!

A lot of folks seem to be thinking dollars and cents, though, when they say the word. Business models for content come up (as in, are there any?), as well as how to “make it” in journalism as a free agent.

Monday’s almost here — maybe some more folks will chime in …

Thanks for your comment!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Just caught up with this post.Interestly I am currently constructing a news web page for my 1st year online assignment and onw thing that the lecturers have not come up with is how or wear to place the adverts.The BBC site is held up in our studies as the definitive news web site,but as I pointed out in the seminar,someone has to pay for the content.

The entrepreneurial journalist should be aware of the business implications of their work.As Mac says we do have to know the basics of business and online advertising is integral to this.

Comment by Nigel

Nigel: Sounds like you’re in a position many Web folks have encountered — you’ve got a great idea and a great design, but how do you make money off the thing?

Incidentally, if you’re looking for information on ad placements, you should look around for “ad hot spots” or consult some of the eye track studies. The search-engine-optimization world has been tackling the ad questions for years and there’s a lot of good information out there.

On a broader note … I don’t think journalism students should need MBAs, but if students are going to get into the Web business *and* they anticipate running their own Web publications, it makes sense for them to know the basics of ad placement, CPM rates, and the ethical issues that come up when you start developing content to suit your revenue streams. Is it still journalism if you’re writing to lure ad clicks?

Comment by Mac

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