Courses in entrepreneurial journalism are becoming a staple at many journalism schools. Posted: Wed, May 11, 2011
By Gena Chung
Teru Kuwayama was flying into Afghanistan when very few were able to, when one or two planes a day landed on a dicey tarmac that was periodically swept for mines and other explosives. In 2002, the award-winning photojournalist began capturing images to chronicle the conflict and humanitarian crisis of the beleaguered nation¯a nation he believed had been abandoned and "neglected" by the traditional news media. Seven years later, President Barack Obama announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, and journalists began flooding into the country. But instead of tarrying with his colleagues, Kuwayama turned his frustrations with the traditional media into a not-so-traditional media enterprise idea. He decided to trade bullets in the desert for a rude awakening in a classroom at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
Gena Chung (email@example.com), a writer based in Washington, D.C., is a graduate student at the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland
Kuwayama is just one among many mid-career and nascent journalists who are choosing to take advantage of a class in a subject that has recently emerged in journalism school curricula across the country and around the world: entrepreneurial journalism.
On January 8, 2010, three dozen journalism educators, separated by state and international borders and time zones, connected on a conference call to discuss current courses, future courses or desired courses on the topic. The field marshal of this convergence was Jeff Jarvis, the digital journalism enthusiast who has been a reporter, editor, publisher, best-selling author and entrepreneur, and is currently director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the director of CUNY's interactive program, and helped develop the curriculum of its new certificate program in entrepreneurial journalism, the nation's first, with the center's education director, Jeremy Caplan.
Not only were some of the best journalism schools in the country represented on the call, schools like Medill, Columbia, Arizona State and UC Berkeley, but also journalism educators from Australia, Scandinavia and Mexico. The call's aftermath included a wiki with shared course materials, syllabi, resources and case studies.
It is hard to give an exact figure on the number of entrepreneurship classes that have emerged in journalism schools around the world, but Jarvis says that the number of educators who convened on the conference call is a solid indication of a growing trend.
"There are sprouts of this all over," Jarvis says as he runs down a list of schools and programs engaged in the subject matter. "I've talked to folks at City University in London, and I just became aware of two nascent starts in the Netherlands. We're at the beginning stages, and I can see it going on from here."
Jarvis says that the interesting thing about the conference call was that there was a general consensus that such classes could not have been created eight or 10 years ago.
"We probably would have been shot," Jarvis says. "There was still a belief in some quarters that teaching business to journalists was corrupting." But, he adds, "the state of affairs has gotten so dire in the industry that I think that even if there are people who still disagree, they are not very loud about it."
Jarvis doesn't hesitate when asked to which dire industry circumstances he is referring: "The industry is shrinking, institutions are dying, old models don't work anymore, big companies are calcified and they're scared to change."
But from these tribulations may emerge what Jarvis and his CUNY colleague Caplan refer to as a new media "ecosystem," a virtual land of journalistic opportunity. Caplan describes the ecosystem as an environment that includes multiple platforms, operates upon various economic frameworks and is increasingly fragmented with niche-based news delivery systems.
"The ecosystem can be overwhelming for people, and so that means that there's an opportunity for curation and aggregation and simplification," says Caplan, "which adds a whole other range of services that a startup can do. So it's no longer about just providing news."
Says Jarvis, "In my view, there is an incredible and huge opportunity now. If I didn't believe that, I would be a fraud for teaching entrepreneurial journalism." In his view, in disruption lies opportunity.
"If we have people joining the industry who are not thinking old models, but are thinking new models, they are going to push this wherever they work," he says. "We need that in the industry. This is not a revenue problem¯this is a disruption opportunity."
In the 1940s, economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase "creative destruction." The words refer to the theory that innovation and entrepreneurship would be the instruments of an industry's internal evolution, destroying the old model and creating a new one that results in economic growth and progress. Tim McGuire says that his students understand that journalism is in such a moment, and that this has increased their confidence levels dramatically.
McGuire, who teaches "Business and Future of Journalism" and "21st-Century Media Organization and Entrepreneurship" at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State, says such courses represent the best way to help journalism students avoid major pitfalls.
"Would you want a journalist to go be a journalist and have no idea that there's a plane, a train and a truck about to hit him?" asks McGuire, a former editor of Minneapolis' Star Tribune. "You'd say, 'No. Bad idea.' Well the fact is, the current economic environment is the truck and the train and the airplane, and we want to teach our students how to stay the hell out of the way."
He adds, "The modern workplace is a swiftly adjusting one, and the days when journalists can say, 'I have no idea how we make money at this place,' are gone."
As those who are responsible for informing the world of what is happening, journalists have an even greater responsibility to understand the market economy and the business of media, says Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at ASU.
"It boggles my mind that we would graduate people out of our journalism schools who don't understand the market economy," Gillmor says. "That to me is bizarre. And I'm talking strictly for myself here, but I don't think I'm alone."
He's not. When Caplan teaches the inaugural group of 10 students at CUNY's new certificate program, he is not only thinking about their individual survival in the industry, but the survival of the industry itself.
"We as journalists have to take more responsibility for the future of our profession and of our craft," Caplan says. "In order to do that, we have to train journalists to be able to think about the business side of things and to be entrepreneurial and to think about creating and reinventing how we do things, and about rethinking the revenue models that we've relied on for so long."
And there's no doubt those revenue models are being shattered. In March, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in its annual report on the state of the media, concluded that "the absence of revenue online filling in for losses on traditional platforms, not audience loss to alternative news sources, is the greater threat to news organizations."
"The economic models are failing," says Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. "I think that some people think there is a new economic model, a singular answer that as soon as we come up with it, everything will go back to normal, and we can keep on doing business the way we've been doing it for 100 years. If that's possible, I don't see it."
The PEJ report said that online advertising revenue reached a "major milestone" by surpassing print newspaper advertising for the first time, with a 14 percent growth in spending equivalent to $25.8 billion for 2010, $2 billion more than newspaper print advertising. The report warned, however, that the sustained growth of online news would be impossible without new revenue streams.
It is statistics like these that necessitate classes in media entrepreneurship, according to Leslie Walker, who teaches the subject at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
"Since journalism schools tend to mirror the industry that they are training people to work for, and since the news industry is desperately trying to reinvent itself right now, it makes sense that we should be teaching young people to be more innovative and entrepreneurial," Walker says. "Clearly they need those skills to develop new journalism business models as the old ones are falling apart.'"
At the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, there are no course titles that include the word "entrepreneurial." Instead, there are "Innovation Project" courses: magazine, community media and interactive. In each of them, students are required to create a new media product that follows a strict editorial process, targets an audience and establishes a realistic expectation of revenue. Despite the absence of the "entrepreneurial" buzzword, the classes demand the same knowledge, skills and innovative drive that other entrepreneurial courses in other programs do.
Rich Gordon, director of digital innovation at Medill, where he launched the school's graduate program in new media, believes that journalists emerging from its program may be able to create innovative positions for themselves.
"I don't think that that's deniable," he says. "And I personally and professionally would like the journalists to help create the future. In order to do that, they need to be literate in other things besides creating journalism."
Determining exactly what these "other things" are is a challenge that many journalism educators are wrestling with, according to Callahan.
"I think as journalism educators we need to not only be figuring out where the industry is going, and how to best prepare our students for what's going to happen tomorrow, but we need to really help create leaders and to be able to send out people..who are going to be able to invent what this news future is going to look like," Callahan says.
"There are lots of experiments and projects and programs," says ASU's Gillmor. "We're all experimenting, which is part of the future of journalism. We're all learning from each other, because this is fairly new."
Adam Penenberg who teaches an entrepreneurial journalism class at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU, acknowledges that his class is not the authoritative model or a promise of success and salvation. "Nobody knows where journalism is, really," he says. "We all pretend to know but we don't really know."
In Penenberg's class, students learn by doing. They are asked to conceive of a media startup, write a business plan and then pitch the idea to a panel of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs for feedback.
Alan Mutter, who teaches entrepreneurial journalism at Berkeley, admits that he isn't sure what that really means, even though this is the second time he has taught it. The first time was in January 2010, when Kuwayama was immersed in the workshop-style class after leaving Afghanistan.
"It was more about the nuts and bolts and raw mechanics of actually building a business that could actually distribute your information," Kuwayama says.
As dictated by the course syllabus, Kuwayama came to class with an idea to pursue. He was looking for an alternative to what he calls the "failure of the traditional reporting industry to actually do its job in Afghanistan"¯a failure that Kuwayama partially blames for "the way the conflict went off the deep end."
The resulting project, now known as Basetrack, is a Web-based reporting initiative that uses social media to chronicle the deployment of a Marine regiment; it won Kuwayama a $202,000 Knight News Challenge grant in June 2010. Three months later, Kuwayama returned to Afghanistan as an embedded photographer with the roughly 1,000 Marines of the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, also known as "one-eight."
Within six months, there were 12 others working with him on the project, which uses a WordPress-supported Web site that integrates mapping technology to keep loved ones abreast of the Marines' locations. But the nucleus of the project is its Facebook page that provides links to interviews, videos and updates directly to the husbands, wives, families and friends of one-eight. The broader goal, says Kuwayama, was to see if one-eight's social network could be a successful distribution vehicle to inform a larger audience about the war in Afghanistan.
"How far up can you extrapolate 1,000 Marines?" Kuwayama said.
With over a million post views on Facebook and national media attention, Kuwayama is still in awe of the success of his project, and but he also recalls the difficulties he encountered along the way.
"We were building our own kind of institution. Trying to build the organizational structure..in some cases while people were trying to kill us as we were doing it, other people trying to obstruct us, all kinds of technical hang-ups, and not having the money to do everything we wanted to do," Kuwayama says. "It was very experimental."
Experimentation is healthy, says Jarvis of CUNY.
"You learn to pivot, as they say in the entrepreneurial world," Jarvis says. "You learn to be flexible to learn how to learn, and see new opportunities as you go and to not be tied to the known."
Kuwayama's success was arguably an anomaly for Mutter, and for most of the other educators interviewed for this article, who concede that many of their students might never be entrepreneurs, or will fail when they try to be.
"I explicitly tell all of my students that it is extremely unlikely that one of them is going to start the next big thing," Mutter says. "The point is that they understand the dynamics and economics of journalism in this world today."
Mutter, a former newspaper editor known for his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, says that the most important thing is to warn students about the realities of today's fast-evolving media landscape: segmentation of the audience, erosion of the traditional economics of journalism, building an audience while maintaining quality of content, and monetizing one's work. Nobody ever did that before, he says.
"I think there was a realization in journalism schools across the country that doing what we do the same way we've done it is just as untenable as newspapers doing what they've done the way they've always done it," Jarvis said. "And we had to change."
In CUNY's one-semester certificate program, students take five courses: New Business Models for News, Technology Immersion, New Media Apprenticeship, New Business Incubation and the Fundamentals of Business.
"What we're trying to do is to train journalists in the basics of business and entrepreneurship," Caplan says, "so that they can come up with new ideas, they can succeed with new projects, small and large, and they can help produce great organizations that are sustainable and successful."
But can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur?
Yes and no, says Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He co-teaches the Media Entrepreneurship class at Maryland with Leslie Walker. Epstein believes that there are certain traits that are advantageous for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur: being comfortable with uncertainty, internal discipline, steely belief in a mission. These are hard things to teach, he says.
However, he says, there are some entrepreneurial skills that can be taught.
"Entrepreneurism is really about analyzing market opportunities and exploring gaps and developing solutions for problems that you identify," he says. "That's a skill set you can acquire--how you recognize opportunities to develop valuable solutions."
Medill's Gordon says that he thinks "entrepreneurs are, in general, more born than made." He contends that, historically, most people with the entrepreneur's "drive in their gut" weren't usually hankering to go to journalism school and that most journalists weren't pining to start their own businesses. However, he says there are some journalists who may have acted upon a latent entrepreneurial itch.
In 1996, Burt Herman began his journalism career as a reporter for the Associated Press. For the next 10 years he traveled the world as a foreign correspondent. Along the way, he was named bureau chief in Korea.
When he returned to the United States in 2008 as a Knight Fellow at Stanford, his quiescent entrepreneurial spirit rose from its slumber and headed straight for Silicon Valley. Even though he already had his master's from Stanford in Russian and East European studies, he took additional graduate courses in computer science, design and business in an effort to learn how to bring innovation to journalism.
Herman's current enterprise is Storify, which allows anyone to curate real-time stories by cobbling together social media elements such as photos from Flickr, videos from YouTube and commentary from Twitter. According to Storify's Web site, 21,000 stories have logged 13 million page views since the private beta began at the end of September 2010. In February, Storify received $2 million in venture capital, and in March, the site had its largest audience ever¯4.2 million pageviews.
Herman believes that everyone, not just journalists, could benefit from accessing their entrepreneurial impulses, but agrees that "you do have to have some type of will inside you." With this will, he says, you can make your own way in this golden era of opportunity. "It is a pure meritocracy, and anybody can build a brand, build a site or an online presence with what they do," Herman says. "If they are really great at what they do, they can find an audience."
Jarvis concedes that he doesn't expect that everyone who graduates from the program at CUNY will start their own businesses, though to date it has given away more than $140,000 of grant money for students to incubate their enterprises¯$100,000 from the McCormick Foundation in 2009, and $40,000 from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.
"If you understand the dynamics of journalism today, and the pressures upon it," says Jarvis, "and if you understand more than anything else the opportunities, so that you can make good decisions..you're going to be smarter about what you do and be more valuable to your employer or when you start your business."
Larry Kramer knows a thing or two about journalism, entrepreneurism and putting the two together. As soon as he graduated from Syracuse University, he went to Harvard Business School and earned his master's degree in 1974. Kramer says he went to business school not because he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but because he wanted to be an investigative business reporter and create a network of sources and resources. It worked on both counts.
By 1989, Kramer had spent 20 years in the newspaper business, including a stint as executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner, which he recalls as a "dream job." Uncannily parallel to the present state of media, budding Internet technology and the negative effects of the 1989-1990 recession were the unpredictable catalysts that led Kramer to leave the newspaper industry and become an entrepreneur. Eventually, he became the founding CEO of MarketWatch.com.
The idea for MarketWatch, Kramer says, germinated from his first entrepreneurial venture, DataSport, which capitalized on burgeoning technology to provide subscription-based access to real-time sports data.
DataSport had a winning combination when viewed through the lens of a newsman: audience and real-time information, Kramer says. In 1994, he joined Data Broadcasting Corporation as its vice-president, after it acquired DataSport. As he started to hear more about the Internet, Kramer concluded what access to real-time sports scores was to evenings and weekends, stock information would be to days and weekdays.
In 1997, he founded MarketWatch, Inc., to provide data and news about companies that investors cared about. He immediately approached Data Broadcasting Corporation and CBS as potential partners. Kramer offered each of them 45 percent of the company, reserving 10 percent for himself and his employees. They accepted. The resulting company became known as CBS MarketWatch, and Kramer was its CEO. The company was eventually sold to Dow Jones for $528 million in January 2005.
Now, among other things, Kramer is adjunct professor of media management at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He believes that the media landscape is being shaped by new companies, which, in turn, need new people. That makes entrepreneurial journalism a "highly valued field in the world of journalism," Kramer says.
"Journalism education is in just as much chaos as journalism right now," Kramer says. "Curating, understanding, analyzing--these are still the heart and soul issues that you still need to teach. Entrepreneurism, I think, is becoming one of those things."
How does Arizona State's Callahan answer those who question the value of teaching entrepreneurship in journalism school? "My response to them would be fairly simple," he says. "How's it been going so far in terms of the news industry, and, quite frankly, of journalism education?"
In order to create leaders who have the entrepreneurial spirit and the practical and intellectual skills that facilitate innovation, things have to be done very, very differently than they were in the past, Callahan says.
Kevin Klose, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, says that adding media entrepreneurship to his school's curriculum was a response to an industry that is shifting towards the digital.
According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's latest annual report, digital was the only media sector to see audience growth in 2010: 41 percent of Americans cited the Internet as the place where they got most of their news, up from 17 percent the previous year. Forty-seven percent of Americans said they get some kind of news on their mobile devices. At the end of January 2011, 7 percent of Americans reported that they owned a tablet device, a number that had doubled in just four months.
"This is an age of phenomenal innovation and creativity around information media in general," Klose says. "I think it's a great age of experimentation, and I think that the schools, the colleges and this college, too, are experimental test beds, but at the same time we teach the skills, we teach the law, we teach the history, we teach the framing of high-quality, independent, fast-paced journalism."
Caplan of CUNY is galvanized by the renewed focus within journalism curricula. "There's such a vibrant energy in the world of entrepreneurial journalism," he says, "and I think that that means things are heading in the right direction, and it says a lot for our willingness to make things work and to make journalism sustainable. We want to be a catalyst of new ideas and for positive progress for entrepreneurial journalists."
None of these educators are deluded by visions of Groupon-like glory for their students.
"I do know that when they walk out, they will be much more cognizant of the competitive forces that are out there in the world," Mutter says, "that they are going to be familiar with the vernacular of business, and that they're not going to be afraid to think about the money, or talk about money or ask for money, and that they will have the confidence that there's not a magical thing out there that they can't partake of."
Lauren Gerber personifies much of what the champions of entrepreneurial education are seeking. Gerber took Penenberg's class at NYU and graduated last spring. When she started out, her dream job was to work in psychology journalism. In fact, she was an intern at Psychology Today while in Penenberg's class. But Gerber's aspirations were about to change dramatically.
"I'm not one to make huge, drastic statements, but I have never seen a shift in my mentality from an educational standpoint than I did after taking that class," Gerber says. She is now an associate editor on a 23-person staff for pop culture online magazine Zimbio, based in San Carlos, California, just on the fringe of Silicon Valley.
Gerber, who admits that she used to be at her happiest writing on her laptop at home without a single entrepreneurial impulse in her body, says Penenberg's class was instrumental in helping her understand that she had ownership over her future as a journalist.
"I've been pushed by these professors to innovate and lead, and I think that it would be a huge dismay and it would be offensive to our generation if we didn't try to be innovative leaders," she says. "It would underestimate our own intelligence and our own creative minds, because the fact of the matter is that things change. I think that if these young people in my generation just try to hold on to their writing values and their life values and also innovate at the same time, I think that we will come out with maybe not a better but a really interesting form of media and journalism."
Jarvis agrees that cultivating a culture of innovation is the key to keeping the industry alive.
"Indeed, the innovation and change will go on forever" Jarvis says as he asserts that through this spirit of experimentation, J-schools are coming to the healthy conclusion that "there isn't going to be one way to do this."
"What we have to do is to infuse a culture of embracing, rather than resisting, change in journalism," he adds. "That's what this is all about."###