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Teaching Entrepreneurial Journalism

Thinking about j-school? This video is a good example of what the more progressive programs are beginning to teach.

Here, CUNY Professor CW Anderson tells us about his Entrepreneurial Journalism course, where his students study new (and theoretical) business models, meet industry people, and then pitch then their own “journalism business." The first class was a mixed bunch, he told us, just like any handful of people would be – some were excited by the challenge, others found it off-putting. But almost all of them, he said, had to grapple with the realization that getting a job at a daily might not be the best out-of-college move anymore.

For more from Chris, see these FJP videos and look for his book, Networking the News: The Struggle to Rebuild Metropolitan Journalism, 1997-2011 later this year from Temple University Press.

It just occurred to me that some may not know what I mean when I use the term “Indian Country."  So, here’s a short definition:

Any area inhabited by Indigenous people.  (In the United States, Canada, and beyond.)  Historically, the phrase Indian Country referred to areas, regions, or territories (like reservations and trust lands) that were inhabited primarily by Native Americans. 

I find myself (and others) using the phrase in a way that unites all Indigenous people, not just Native Americans in the U.S.  In other words, "Indian Country” is not really a fixed, physical location, but exists wherever Natives are present.

Journalism Interactive: The CEO panel

Journalism isn’t just about storytelling, sourcing, shooting photos, etc. - it’s also about entrepreneuralism. With that in mind, four leaders of companies with journalism roots spoke to the Journalism Interactive crowd Saturday.

The panelists were Warren Webster, the president of AOL’s Patch, Evan Ratliff, founder and editor of The Atavist, Burt Herman, CEO and co-founder of Storify and Edouard Lambelet, the co-founder of paper.li.

Patch has taken hyperlocal journalism to cities all across the country, The Atavist creates long-form nonfiction (longer than a magazine but shorter than a book)  and licenses the content out. The Atavist also has an iPad app to publish the content with rich media. Storify gathers social content to be packaged on websites and paper.li lets anyone set up an online “newspaper” using social media curation.

Robert Hernandez, a journalism professor at USC and co-founder of #wjchat, moderated the panel.

Hernandez asked how their backgrounds helped and hurt their positions as entreprenuers.

Lambelet: “My problem is that I don’t have any background (in journalism). This has helped me a lot.” He said he’s “not a techie” and had worked in the opera business, among other things. He said this has helped him because he is open-minded, and he sees his products from the point-of-view of a consumer of content.

Herman (a former foreign correspondent for AP): “My experience was dropping into Afghanistan after Sept. 11,” he said. “That kind of training is great for being able to adapt quickly, learn quickly.” He said journalism is good for “simplifying things for a big audience.” He said it hurt him in that he had “immediate satisfaction” as a reporter - his byline showed up right away. Development is not like that. “It takes a while, and there isn’t a set process.” He said the world of a startup takes time, and you have to be patient.

Ratliff (a former freelance writer): “Being a freelance writer is like running a business,” he said. “In one sense, that is entrepreneurial, and that was helpful.” He said people have asked him “why are you bothering to sell content, why don’t you sell this …” but being a content producer, he knew what was important and worth doing. He said not having an entrepreneurial background did hurt him when it comes to understanding finances and running a business.

Webster: (a former publisher with Gannett): “I started seeing a big disconnect between people who are creating the content and the business of journalism.” He said that you don’t have to take everything as gospel. He said it’s easy to get stuck into believing that things are always done a certain way.

Hernandez pointed out that there were no females on the panel, and he asked them what they want to see to get more diversity in entrepreneurial journalism.

Warren, of AOL’s Patch.com, mentioned some entrepreneurs he looks up to, and didn’t name Arianna Huffington (someone in the audience pointed it out). With a laugh, Warren said, “If you’re watching, Arianna, you’re doing a great job.”

Ratliff says his company hasn’t published any female writers, and he wants to change that.

Herman said diversity is a problem in the tech community. “It starts with education,” he said. “People in the Bay Area are dying to hire anybody” when it comes to computer engineers. “Those people go on to start companies, but it has to start with education.”

Lambelet called one of his employees “a girl,” which drew snickers from the crowd. “I’d love to have more girls on the team,” he said. Hernandez pointed out that English is not Lambelet’s first language (it’s French), and reminded him that we call them “women.” “Women, of course!” Lambelet said.

Warren said every time he goes up into his engineering room, he would say “this is why no woman would want to work here. It’s kinda gross.”

An audience member asked the panel what they wished they had learned in journalism school. Warren said management and entrepreneurial journalism, and he wished he were a little more tech savvy. 

“Sometimes you have to be happy in your own ignorance and go out and start something crazy,” Warren said.

Herman said the “sacred wall” between journalism and business sides hurts innovation. “I would have liked to know how the business side worked.” He said “not every journalist has to be a rock-star programmer,” but journalists do need to “speak the language.”

An audience member asked whether editing is going by the wayside because of curation. Herman said they’re really the same thing, and he dislikes the buzz word “curation” because it implies it is something new when in fact editors have done this type of work for a long time.

Hernandez asked about information required from users. 

Warren said: “Patch doesn’t ask for a lot of information form users.” He said over time, they’ll use user data to target content to users, but at this time they aren’t fragmenting the content.

Asked what they see in the future:

Warren: “I think we will have shaken out all of the noise. The good companies that are dealing with journalism will make access to journalism easier.” He said people will realize that you need humans to help you sift through all the information. “The method for getting information to you will become much more easy as we figure out how best to use mobile devices.”

Ratliff: “In terms of long narrative journalism, I think there has been a revival of that. What I see is that the large organizations will continue doing it, and the smaller outfits like us” will continue to progress. “Individual authors will pursue their own ventures.”

Herman: He said the distinction of what makes a media company will continue to blur. “Is Apple a media company?” he asked, also pointing out that YouTube could be considered a media company. He said the trend will be more and more individual brands.

Lambelet: “One major new thing is the interaction between journalists” and his or her audience. He pointed out that the Huffington Post expects its journalists to not just be writers but also community managers. “The relationship between the journalist and the readers will evolve.”

- Robert Quigley

Class 2: A-Ha!

Let’s play a game.

[This is the phase of the class where we’re brainstorming our business ideas. We spend half of class learning how to research market data. We talk about our pitches and the other students rip them to shreds (but in a nice way). We’ve got to start learning how to think beyond just content production, Jeff argues. So for an hour we sit down in groups and free-associate startups.]

Here are the rules of A-Ha:

You have color-coded cards. Some are information processes (X). Some are computing technologies (Y). Some are consumer needs or consumer values (Z). Take one from each pile. Create a product that does X using Y in service of Z. You have five minutes.

“Think wildly,” he added.

Well, we did.

Here’s our class’ ideas—haphazardly brainstormed, named, and input. (My group was group #3, and I have to say, I think our product-naming skills were in top form.)

It was a card game, yes. But it really made me think. In tech and in entrepreneurship there is a very high bar already in place. Google and Facebook and The New York Times all already exist. Creating something new in that environment is nervewracking. The stakes are high and this is a world of savvy, literate experts who have rules, guidelines, ideas, criticisms, best practices, and worst-case scenarios for you to think about as you’re trying to start a new. I’m all for media discourse and making successful companies, but sometimes it’s incredibly valuable to shut the door, limit your time, and play with the concepts at hand. (Maria Popova would approve. So would Austin Kleon.)

I was surprised by how many information processing ideas I’d never even considered before. I’d given some thought to new technologies—ooh, wearable computing!—and a lot of thought to journalistic needs—truth, for example, or impartiality. But I had not given a lot of thought to a process like “summarization” or a computational value like “currency.” In part this is because information processing is not just limited to computers—we do it, too. We’ve been doing it forever. For a journalist, it’s an inherent process, built on experience. It had never occurred to me to break that all down, to associating, adaptability, reliability, enriching.

[Here’s the list of all the cards in the deck. It’s a pdf.]

There was a good reason for playing this game early in the class. As I said above, we’re all working on our business pitches. So far they’ve all sounded something like this: Let’s make a website. An app. A daily email. This is what we’re comfortable with, something that sits easily in our hardware and software, that has sort-of adapted to what we used to see in print. The game gave us a few very concrete parameters—and then constrained us to coming up with a product in five minutes. A wearable computing device that utilizes information currency to serve the public good. Go!

[The best part about that combination: It turns out the simplest answer is… a watch. It could be like this kind of watch. But actually this kind of watch also fits the bill.]

When we were done we looked at a chart of all of the cards in the deck, compared to each other. Given the technologies and processes available to us, we are not nearly exploring the breadth of possible innovations in journalism.

Source: “Cultivating the Landscape of Innovation in Computational Journalism,” Nicholas Diakopolous. Link to pdf (with larger image of chart) here.

As fun as the game was I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet. I know, I just played this game about thinking outside the box! I should be way more confident about how I can apply those ideas to my pitch! But as easy as thinking outside the box sounds, it's really hard. It was a lesson that I could think outside the box in the abstract, for business pitches that probably will never come to light. But for a bigger project that is important to me? My experience is in the box. How do I translate what I already know to a product that answers a need?

Media Strategy Internship

Interested in food, tech, media, and startups?

Food+Tech Connect is looking for a media strategy intern to help us build the food tech community and market new services.

The ideal candidate should have an interest in entrepreneurial journalism and be passionate about food and tech. This is a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the growing food and tech industry, connect with the movements top innovators, and develop your portfolio.

About Food+Tech Connect:

Food+Tech Connect is an information company that connects innovators at the intersection of food and information technology. Through in-depth interviews, events, and consulting, we build community for innovators  leveraging information technology to address food system challenges.

Our events have connected over 1,200 changemakers at the intersection of food and information technology, including executives from IBM, Food52, Foodspotting, Foursquare, Nike, O’Reilly Media, The New York Times, TechCrunch, Kauffman Labs and more.

Responsibilities:

  • Assist in developing and executing PR & Marketing strategy, particular focus on how this relates to content strategy
  • Help establish social media engagement metrics
  • SEO optimization
  • Developing effective strategies/services to enhance our brand’s growth and market presence
  • Random projects that are bound to come up – we can also work with you to tailor projects based on your interests and what you’d like to learn
  • If interested, you will also have an opportunity to conduct in-depth interviews and become a regular contributor
What’s in it for you:
  • Opportunities to participate in and network at offline events
  • Access to a network of hundreds of food tech entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers, investors, media
  • First hand experience with an up and coming startup
  • Great resume builder
  • Potential for internship to permanent position as the organization grows
Our ideal candidate has/is :
  • A desire to help build the food tech community
  • A background in marketing, communication, digital media, journalism
  • Photoshop, HTML, & Final Cut Pro experience (preferred)
  • Strong communication skills, both verbal and written
  • Excellent online research skills
  • Organized and self-motivated
  • Understanding of social media and actively participates in it (send us links to your website, blog, twitter, facebook, forum posts or other services you use)
This internship is unpaid, but a travel stipend will be provided. We are seeking a minimum commitment of 24 hours per week. Please send cover letter and resume to danielle@foodtechconnect.com.

Original Article

Restless? Frustrated? Start your own digital publication

This interview was originally published in the magazine Periodistas (Journalists), a publication of the Federation of Journalist Associations of Spain (FAPE), and is translated here. La versión en español se encuentra aquí.

By Marta Molina, Editor, Periodistas

James Breiner is, along with guru Jeff Jarvis, one of the most consulted U.S. experts on new digital media. A tireless promoter of entrepreneurial journalism and new business models, he maintains that the days of the big media monopolies have come to an end.

Q. Why should someone launch a new media project just when the industry is falling apart?

A. Journalists complain that they have lost control of their work to the business interests of the publishers. They would like to make decisions more and take orders less. This is actually the best time to act. The weakness of big media creates opportunities for upstarts. Big media are abandoning entire categories of coverage that readers appreciate, and new media can take advantage of that to fill the gaps. It’s possible now to launch a digital publication with a small investment. Generating revenue is tricky, but the opportunities are there. There are some who get started in their free time while they have a steady income. If you should find yourself unemployed, take advantage of the time to develop the project you always dreamed about.


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Being a Woman of Color and an Entrepreneur Ain't Easy!

I attended last week’s New York Tech Meetup and had a really great time!  I had been told it was a successful meetup group and that the theater it was being held in would be full, but I had no idea it would be as packed as it was!

I felt the presentations of the various startups were fascinating and inspiring, the after party/social hour was great for networking, and the mix of business ideas made things really interesting.  However, I will say that I couldn’t help but notice that men, white men (to be more accurate) were represented in much greater numbers than any other group.  While I know I shouldn’t find this surprising, I was a bit disheartened by some things that went on…things that I’m sure many of these budding entrepreneurs weren’t even cognizant of (as is the case when we aren’t aware of our own internalized biases - ie: racism/sexism/prejudice/etc.) - like this guy.

Case in point:

During a break between presentations, the MC instructed everyone in the room to turn to someone they didn’t know and introduce themselves and explain what they’re working on.  I happened to be surrounded by white men who all turned in opposite directions from me and didn’t even return my hello or offer a half smile, let alone introduce them self and describe their startup!  “O…kay,” I thought to myself, “that’s odd…"  So, I decided to check some e-mails on my iPhone and wait until the next presenter came on stage.

While I’m sure (or at least hope!) that this was some kind of fluke…heck, maybe I looked like I was in a bad mood?…I was still left with a mixture of feelings. 

1. What’s a woman of color like me doing in entrepreneurship?  (Will people really take me seriously?)

2. This is exactly why there needs to be support for minority entrepreneurs (damnit)!

3. The EJ program has done an awesome job of bringing together a very diverse and talented group of innovative entrepreneurs…so we NEED to talk diversity + tech…NOW!

4. How can I leverage my "difference” and use it to stand out?

5. If entrepreneurial journalism startups are all run by white men, who’s going to tell our stories?!  Minorities will definitely be left in the dark (as usual)!

It took me a while to process that evening, as it was a mix of both good and heavy (not so good) thoughts/feelings.  Whether or not the men near me realized they basically ignored me, feeling rejected in the EJ community stirred up something I didn’t realize was there.  Hopefully we can begin talking about how our identities and varied background come into play in entrepreneurship…especially here in the US. :)

Practice.

The last several classes in Entrepreneurial Journalism have been each of us, individually, talking about our projects. We have role-played doing an elevator pitch, introducing ourselves to a customer, and presenting our products to investors. It’s weird because some classes I think that my product is utterly ridiculous, and other classes I’m totally convinced of how awesome it’s going to be.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned from this class so far is that there are no right answers. I wasn’t expecting that from a classroom setting, but of course, it makes perfect sense. It’s not just that there is not a perfect formula to create a business; it’s also that there are so many good business models out there, and so many possible paths of success.

This came up when the professors said that they’d offered suggestions on our business models, but ultimately, not only might we disagree with them, but they also might disagree with each other. The point is not to create the business plan that someone else approves of, but instead to create a method that you can work through and fall back on as you pursue projects in your life.

With that in mind, the fact that we’ve focused on our methods and we’ve gotten so many contrasting perspectives on business values from speakers and lecturers makes a lot of sense. It’s a weird experience, to try to make business-feasible an idea that is both awesome and half-baked.

But the skills necessary to sell, promote, or flesh out an idea are a totally separate and learnable set of skills. So as much as I might be failing with a business plan for my current project (and I believe that I am failing), I think I am learning how to discuss a possible business plan — what I ought to be looking for, worried about, or researching about. I found myself walking through our business plan steps when listening to a friend’s business idea, and that is probably a great deal of what this class wants to accomplish — make journalists think like entrepreneurs!

Also, this class has finally inspired me to get business cards. That is a victory, right?