When J-School Becomes About Business, Not Just Reporting

Hats off to CUNY’s Grad School of Journalism, the Tow and Knight Foundations for launching a Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Working with Professor Jeff Jarvis, the center is dedicated to innovation (my favorite thing) and finding new business models for news.  The dedicated study of building the future of journalism isn’t just in creating good reporters, it’s also necessary to train the executives who will someday be making the decisions. Right now, those executives think about traditional models and things like subscriptions and pay walls. We need a new generation, and hopefully this program is part of the first step.

From the release:

The Center, which opens next month, will work to create a sustainable future for quality journalism in three ways:

  • Education of students and mid-career journalists in innovation and business management;
  • Research into relevant topics, such as new business models for news;
  • Development of new journalistic enterprises.


Faculty members are developing courses for the new M.A. degree. The courses, which will be pilot-tested next spring, are expected to teach business and management skills, the new dynamics of news and media economics, and technology and project management, with apprenticeships at New York startups. Upon approval by the New York State Education Department, the first entrepreneurial degrees are expected to be awarded in the spring of 2012, to students currently enrolled in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Excited to see what may come out of the Center.

Disc. – I have a soft spot in my heart for the Knight Foundation. Several years back in grad school, I worked as a research assistant under Syracuse’s Knight Chair. No way does that impact my thoughts on this Center.

Quote of the Day: Optimism Edition

The future, which is not a bad deal if you ignore all the collateral gore. Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent. For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.

David Carr, writer, New York Times, in his 11/30 must-read column, “The Fall and Rise of Media.”

The future of media business models

I turn back to a point I came across a few months ago: when it comes to understanding online media, tradition is not a business model. Which is why I was more than delighted this morning to read a piece (not shockingly from the Knight Foundation) that at least broke the mold of square peg/round hole suggestions for pay walls.

I said I wasn’t surprised it was from Knight for two reasons. 1) I usually hold them in high regard because of my own work with my Syracuse’s Knight Chair while a graduate assistant a few years back; 2) they are usually on the leading edge of driving innovation in Media. As noted in the article, “its report says journalism does not need saving so much as it needs creating.”  It’s even helping CUNY’s Grad School of Journalism promote the very cool NewsInnovation.com.

There have been a bunch of very cool developments when it comes to pushing the envelope. One of my favorite’s this week was Spot.us, who is driving the idea of community-sponsored journalism. Why not, right? Newspapers are for driving ads, not necessarily the best journalism for the community. The community should decide what’s best for all at hand by more than just subscriptions, right? Just one innovation out of the many listed in the Knight article that turns the current perception of success on its head.

My own joke from a few months ago was the media needs to stop acting like an institution and start imagining itself as an aggressive startup. Get in the weeds with grassroots or community groups who stand to build and provide content, while gaining a mutually beneficial relationship that leads to mass exposure.

Either way, to save journalism (read: investigative reporting, not the pieces of dead tree that prints it), it’s clear that new thinking is mandatory. Let’s keep the ideas coming, because taking news out of Google just seems like an awful one to me.

A Checklist on Why Your Plan to Save Journalism Is Doomed

Thanks to Boing Boing, this is a must keep/print/post to cubicle wall:

Why Your Idea to Save Journalism Won’t Work

Your post advocates a

( ) technical ( ) legislative (X) market-based ( ) crowd-sourced

approach to saving journalism. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws owing to the avaraciousness of modern publishers.)

( ) It does not provide an income stream to the working journalist
( ) Nobody will spend eight hours sitting in a dull council meeting to do it
( ) No one will be able to find the guy
(X) It is defenseless against copy-and-paste
(X) It tries to prop up a fundamentally broken business model
(X) Users of the web will not put up with it
( ) Print readers will not put up with it
( ) Good journalists will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from unwilling sources
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
(X) Many publishers cannot afford to lose what little business they have left
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business
( ) Even papers run by trusts and charities are already going bankrupt

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

(X) Readers' unwillingness to pay for just news
( ) The existence and popularity of the BBC
(X) Unavoidable availability of free alternatives
( ) Sources' proven unwillingness to "go direct"
( ) The difficulty of investigative journalism
( ) The massive tedium of investigative journalism
(X) The high cost of investigative journalism
( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
(X) Editorial departments small enough to be profitable are too small to do real reporting
( ) Legal liability of "citizen journalism"
( ) The training required to be even an rubbish journalist
(X) What readers want, in the main, is celebrity and football
( ) The necessity of the editing process
(X) Americans' huge distrust of professional journalism
( ) Reluctance of governments and corporations to be held to account by two guys with a blog
( ) Inability of two guys with a blog to demand anything
( ) How easy it is for subjects to manipulate two guys with no income
( ) Rupert Murdoch
( ) The inextricably local nature of much newsgathering
( ) The dependence of all other forms of news media on print reporting
( ) The dependence of national press on local press reporting
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) The tragedy of the commons
( ) The classified-driven business model of much print publishing
(X) The tiny amounts of money to be made from online ads for small sites

When Newspaper Execs Talk Social Media

I haven’t been in Washington for most of the last week on vacation, but there was one story that was hard to avoid throughout my reader and streams from back in the District: the backlash against new social media policies for Washington Post reporters. The long and the short of it is that the journalists who use these sources must treat their new, unfiltered mouthpieces as they would an edited, long-form story; that is, they must continue to embrace neutrality and fact-based reporting as the only ethical way to talk about the news.

The anger arises from those who look uphold the core of “social” media: it is unabashed about its biases, uncowardly about its  uncouth behavior. The social channel of media, the one that we create and the one in which the audience says who is the authority, relies more than anything on transparency. Those who are almost to devoid of opinion or commentary, because of the rote simplicity of these channels, are as suspicious as those who let their lack-of-neutrality fly high.

The question becomes what to make of a policy that almost neuters the essence of this form of communication.

When it comes to an insider of old media and its changes, one of the first sources I turn to is usually Howard Kurtz. The fact that he’s with the Post made it even more likely to flip over to his page to see where he came down on these policies:

Not to put a damper on a great fuss, but I think this is entirely reasonable. I don’t see it as a corporate attempt to crush creativity and sap the soul. People follow journalists on Twitter and Facebook because they’re interested in what the person writes, blogs or says on television. We can’t pretend we’re random people who can just pop off at will.

No one is saying we can’t engage on these sites, or that some Post editor has to provide tweet-by-tweet approval.

I think there’s plenty of running room to be insightful and entertaining — within the confines of 140 characters — and engage in dialogue with people who care about politics and journalism.

Translation: wet blanket.

The move, as explained in Andrew Alexander’s (WaPo Ombudsman) piece this morning, is to preserve neutrality and credibility. He even goes as far to site examples of a reporter who used Twitter to make statements about the political viability and circumstances of health care reform issues.

To both of these men, here’s what I say: tough.

We are not in an age where distant reporters are what people ask for. Yes, Mr. Alexander, you will continue to get people who send you e-mails each week complaining about a newspaper’s bias. However, the difference is that the audience finally has a way to “change the channel” of print media, so do what you can to keep your audience focused on you (hey, it may even drive Web traffic!) No one wants to follow a bland person who just links to their own content. Engaging is important – albeit risky because it requires transparency – and it is a must-take proposition.

You actually have an opportunity to show that your reporters are human, that they have opinion and willing to engage in smart conversation. Why would you throw that away?

Image: Brian Lane Winfield Moore’s “Loose Tweets Sink Fleets” via Flickr

The 17 Theses of Online Media

In just the last two days, the work of 15 German bloggers has been promoted and translated into seven different languages. It’s a short, to-the-point, brilliant way of thinking about the very different rules that cover the user-generated media of the Internet. These bloggers, as noted by one of the contributors, Janko Roettgers, in a post on GigaOm, put together this to publish and embrace 17 declarations about the future of media production online:

“At the core of the text is the claim that the Internet is a different medium with a disparate social and cultural impact than traditional mass media, and that publishers need to acknowledge these differences, rather than pretending they don’t exist or trying to make them go away.”

17 Declarations about the Internet

Sure, it’s about 78 points short and roughly 490 years off the mark, but this is our equivalent of a Church door, and these are the really smart declarations they agreed upon. And there’s definitely a recurring theme across the seventeen points:

The rules of the Internet—the governing principles and perceived credibility—are created by the audience, and that audience is a pushing force of content, not a passive, receiving audience like those of old.

The Internet is free (as in the speech kind of way), it’s accessible, and it is nearly universal as a communication platform. Ultimately, that centers itself on the idea that the starting point of the online community is a nice horizontal floor, not a high hurdle to be overcome for inclusion.

My favorite example of how this community works is the comments on the English version of the post. Everything from critiques on the “German Internet” through the volunteerism to translate it into more languages. Everyone has an opinion. The silver bullet of the Internet is that we have the means to express them. It’s a dangerous world to try and regulate that in favor of saving how things used to be.

I’ll give the last word back to these smart folks from the continent, but seriously take a minute and read the whole thing.

12. Tradition is not a business model.

Money can be made on the Internet with journalistic content. There are many examples of this today already. Yet because the Internet is fiercely competitive, business models have to be adapted to the structure of the net. No one should try to abscond from this essential adaptation through policy-making geared to preserving the status quo. Journalism needs open competition for the best refinancing solutions on the net, along with the courage to invest in the multifaceted implementation of these solutions.

Advice of the Day – Agnosticism

I shared a link on Twitter yesterday to a list of 25 things journos can to do to prepare for the future of their industry. All 25 of them are solid, and, to me, it goes far beyond the journalism industry into other communications field (including my own public relations day job). Among all of the tips, though, I thought there was one that should rise to number one with a bullet:

24. Be platform agnostic. As mentioned, there remains a divide between offline journalists and their online counterparts. ‘Online’ journalism is still viewed with derision in some quarters, for reasons I can’t fully understand (but then I do live on this side of the fence). A story does not become good just because something appears in print! The best journalists will be able to transfer their skills across platforms.

It’s a little bit squishy of an idea to be considered the number one key to prepping the next generation of journalists, but it ultimately makes all the difference. Part of it has to do with linguistics, but part of it is the attitude of the institution.

(cc) Flickr user rcade

(cc) Flickr user rcade

I’ve jokingly called out editors who confused “Saving Journalism” with “Save the Newspaper Business” in the last few weeks. There were probably half a dozen editorials in major publications int he last week that made some point near this prevalent theme, including two more additions in just the last three days. In honor of the morning reading theme, here they are:

  • Alex Beam over at the Globe went all scoreboard on “Reality v. the Future of Journalism.” By his count, citizen/social journalism is o-for-eternity because of things like VuText; newspapers are out to a comfortable lead in terms of the business of news.
  • Last Sunday, Ryan Blethen of the Seattle Times brought up the outrageous abuse of the First Amendment that is conducted by bloggers on a daily basis; the future of our right to free speech could be jeopardized by online communication. Between the lines on this: bloggers can’t be trusted.

Not one of these editorials is talking about the writing – just the fear of the different delivery mechanism and its impact on their own hierarchical institutions.

Mr. Beam: whereas failure in the print-only society can be catastrophic because of the costs associated with running it, technology has lowered the cost-barrier of entry for those to experiment. You want a success of online that beat your newspapers? They took your classified section, made it searchable and organized it by the most recent posted, and they included a place to directly contact the seller on the same page. Seems so easy. Ever heard of it? It’s called Craig’s List.

Mr. Blethen: just because bloggers use usernames does not mean they are afraid of consequences; in fact, I could make the same complaint of those in the industry who fabricate and plagiarize yet do so without the protective cover of an anonymous handle, in effect throwing it back in the face of the very institution that accredits them. There is one crazy person commenting on every message board, just as there is one staff writer who may be doubtable. It’s much easier for us to ignore that crazy than you because the business is the one who gives your writer the space to be published.

The problem of thinking on one platform as the end-all-be-all is that it is obviously limiting. When you are locked in to old business models – or even a new one on a innovative channel – is that you are missing someone. To bring this back to the main point: journalists and others with a vested interest in mass media need to understand how content works above the platform.


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