The future of news is entrepreneurial

The future of news is entrepreneurial.

There’s a lot in that statement. It says: The future of news is not institutional… The news of tomorrow has yet to be built…. The structure – the ecosystem – of news will not be dominated by a few corporations but likely will be made up of networks of many startups performing specialized functions based on the opportunities they see in the market…. Who does journalism, why and how will change…. The skills of journalists will change (to include business)…. We don’t yet know what the market will demand and support from journalism…. News will look disordered and messy…. There will be more failures than successes in the immediate future of news….

That statement also holds many implications for sectors of the economy and society: investment (put money into the new, not the old)… public policy (don’t protect and preserve the incumbents but nurture the startups by creating a fertile and level playing field)… education (how do we train journalists when everyone can do journalism? – how do we train everyone?)… marketing (advertising won’t be one-stop shopping anymore and that means it may support news less)… PR (influence will be no longer be concentrated)… technology (there are opportunities here)…

Finally, that statement does not say some things. It does not say that the incumbents’ institutions will necessarily die, only that they have proven not to be the source of innovation and growth in news.

One more point: The statement is essentially optimistic. It says there is a future to be built.

This is not the discussion we hear about the fate of news journalism. That discussion defaults too often to current models and old realities, to protection over creation, to fear over opportunity.

Columbia’s Reconstruction of Journalism report, in my view, gives up on the business prospects for news and resorts to what I believe are desperate measures – namely: the public option for news. The Washington Post has run two op-eds lately endorsing tax-supported journalism (pardon me for asking, but are things that bad there?). Alan Mutter reported on a Harvard confab last week that “gravitated to the predictable yadda-yadda: foundation funding, federal subsidies, subscription schemes and a smattering of random ruminations about revenue.” That’s hardly uncommon; it’s all we hear.

Bit by bit, I’ve separated myself from that worldview, first by teaching a course in entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY, then by directing the New Business models for News Project to research and propose sustainable futures for news. But I didn’t boil down my essential worldview to this – the future of news is entrepreneurial – until now.

If you buy this view – and, I know, many won’t want to – then it affects so much, as I’m learning myself. Last week at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, I presented to my colleagues our New Business Models for (Local) News (the segment of the project funded by the Knight Foundation, which we’re also presenting at a Nov. 11 event here that will be streamed) and the discussion turned afterward to one aspect of what we do: what we offer students in career services. No longer is that just about getting job interviews at big publications – though, of course, it still will include that as long as it can! – but it now should expand to giving students who are starting businesses the services of an incubator (which we are doing for my entrepreneurial students who are now launching businesses) and perhaps to giving them the training they need to be proprietors of journalistic businesses: We’re teaching them in our January intersession how to build their own brands online. Should we give them a workshop to help them with billing and business? I’ve asked the heretical question about teaching hyperlocal blogging: How will they learn to sell ads? These are questions raised by the entrepreneurial worldview.

The public policy implications of this view for government are many. Last week, I gave a Skype talk [I'm still not traveling, post-surgery] to a session assembled in London by MP Sion Simon looking at government’s possible role in the future of news – what it should and should not do (see posts here, here, and here). Here in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission is holding sessions starting in December (where I’ll appear on a panel with folks who don’t agree with me about all this) and the FCC appointed Steven Waldman to continue the work of the Knight Commission looking at the information needs of communities.

As my Guardian column this week makes clear, I get hives at the notion of government interference in news – in speech of any sort. I especially fear government taking a role as a nonmarket player competing with not only the weak incumbents but also with the tender sprouts of entrepreneurial ventures. I also fear talk of governments – in the U.S. and Germany – extending copyright just to protect incumbents. What should government do? Broadband for all. I’d start – and stop – there.

For investors, the entrepreneurial worldview says not only that it’s time to get their money out of old media companies – that, given their market caps and bankruptcies, has already happened – but also that it is time to invest in new and innovative ventures. That requires investors to believe, as I do, that there is a robust and growing market demand for news and that there are new opportunities to meet it efficiently and profitably. But until we start proving that, investors will be shy. This is why I wish that the capital that has gone into not-for-profit news ventures in cities across the country had gone instead into creating for-profit enterprises: so we can prove the market, so we can learn how to make news sustainable. That is god’s work.

For other industries that work with news – advertising – I would have scouts, laboratories, and pilot projects staying on the forefront of entrepreneurial developments in news and even encouraging it with marketing dollars. Ad agencies and sponsors have tremendous opportunities to build relationships with customers in new, more targeted, more effective, and more efficient ways but they must shift spending to online to learn what works and create it; their old habits of one-stop-shopping with big media only leave them behind.

As for technology, there is much development of news already occurring in startups (I’m a partner in one such effort, Daylife, and I advise others; we are seeing some sprout already alongside our New Business Models for News Project). But the technology giants can also play a role. I’ll write more about this another time, but I believe Google should be packaging what it already has to help create a framework for anyone – anyone – to build news enterprises (and it should stop wasting time trying to make friends with the dinosaurs who only want to find enemies to blame for their problems). I also want to see it help support labs to develop its tools – especially Wave and Marissa Mayer’s notion of the hyperpersonal stream – for news; this, I believe, will force us to rethink our fundamental assumptions about what news is and that, in turn, will lead to new opportunities.

Where does this leave the incumbent institutions when I say the future is not theirs? I’m no longer the only one holding them accountable for their lack of innovation in the last 15 years – even Ken Auletta is. But what’s done is done and looking back, I now see it was probably my mistake to think they could have reinvented themselves. I talked with someone recently at an old, large media company who said he believes it is impossible for them to remake themselves for this new, much smaller entrepreneurial world. There’s just too much shutdown cost and pain involved and the people inside these towers don’t think like people in garages. Still, I see opportunity for them. That’s why, on this blog and at the Aspen Institute this summer, I pushed the idea that when journalists leave those towers, their companies should invest in their futures as entrepreneurs: Set them up with blogs, sell their ads, promote them, and continue to reap the value of their experience and brands (without the cost). The Washington Post should fund the next Politico in town, not see its talent walk out the door to start it elsewhere.

And what of these journalists? Well, that’s why I’m writing this. That’s why I teach what I teach. I believe journalists must become entrepreneurs. They don’t all need to be sole proprietors of hypersomething blogs. But they need to make smart business decisions when they decide where to put their effort. They need to sense and serve the market. They need to work with innovators. They need to see a future for journalism that looks different – better, even – than its past.

The future of news is entrepreneurial.

* * *

Most people use their blogs as the laboratory to try out ideas. Lately, I’ve been using appearances and columns to test notions, leading up to this blog post. Here are a few instances lately when I’ve talked about news’ entrepreneurial future.

I gave a talk via Skype-video to Medientage München (my talk, in English, starts at 22 minutes in) in which I tried to be tough and tell the audience of 500 German media machers that the old models won’t work in the new world and that it is time to face this reality bluntly, leaving politeness behind. (The talk lasts about 25 minutes; I’d listen to the last 10 when I’m questioned by the editor of Spiegel.de and the audience surprised me with its reaction to tough love.)

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

I also talked about this last week in Coventry University’s session that asked whether journalism is in crisis:

And here is a link to my Media Guardian column today, in which I used this line and it was, I’m glad to see, promptly tweeted. In it, I said:

The future of news – and there is a future – is being built by entrepreneurs who in change see opportunity, not crisis. . . . Instead of declaring surrender to changing market forces, we should embrace them. Crisis? I see no crisis, only inexorable change.

* * *

Based on all this, you’d think I’d disagree with a post headlined Why I Don’t Think Journalists Need Business Skills. But I don’t. In it, Philip John argues the need for networks and services to perform business services for journalist entrepreneurs. I agree. That’s why we projected such a framework in our New Business Models for News Project. That’s what Mark Potts plans to build with his startup, Growthspur (or actually, Growthspur will train the sales organization John imagines). And I think John proved my point by writing a post that’s very business-savvy.

: LATER: Robert Picard argues for journalists to be responsive to their markets.

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    • http://www.speedthepilgrim.wordpress.com Traumnovell

      You almost make journalism sound enjoyable.

  • http://watershedchronicle.wordpress.com/ Dan Meadows

    I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve been saying the same thing for quite some time now (while trying to get my financial house in enough of an order to take a crack at it myself.) I especially liked your point about how big media companies ought to be investing in the journalists they let go, that sounds like a great idea to me. Unfortunately, our local newspaper has been going exactly the opposite route. When they have laid people off, they are taking them into a room and giving them a choice to accept 8 weeks severance (or less) and back vacation pay in exchange for signing a one-year non-compete. Don’t sign it, and they get nothing but shown the door. It’s a pretty short-sighted move as all it does is fend off the inevitable, and really motivate former employees to burn them later. At this point, big media has had its chance to get on board and they’ve dropped the ball. The quicker they disappear, the faster we can get on with the future.

  • http://trueslant.com/andreaitis andreaitis

    “The future of news – and there is a future – is being built by entrepreneurs who in change see opportunity, not crisis. . .”

    Well said. Digital media allows us to eliminate barriers between news provider and news consumer. We’re no longer settling for one-way or one-dimensional news. There’s incremental storytelling and a social news exchange. It all adds up to conversational news.

    We’re part of those experimenting with the shape of news. Even since we launched True/Slant six months ago, the news landscape has continued to change dramatically. We now have 225 Entrepreneurial Journalists engaging on a daily basis with consumers, and one another.
    Lewis Dvorkin (our T/S founder and CEO) just wrote about our progress, with a glimpse of what’s coming next: http://trueslant.com/dvorkin

    As you say, we need to “rethink our fundamental assumptions about what news is.”
    Couldn’t agree more. It actually makes me think of Dr. Seuss:
    The shape of you, the shape of me, the shape of everything I see.

    Different is, and will be, good.

    • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

      True/Slant is definitely one of the more exciting attempts to approximate the future of news. The model of aggregating selected entrepreneurial contributors into a curated whole is right on the money.
      However, I wish they would put more effort into their “front page experience.” Today, that True/Slant front page is way to blog-like with too much white space and minimal information density. It doesn’t scan well.

      But, aesthetic judgments aside, the model is an excellent one.

  • http://postlinearity.com gregorylent

    it is also mult-media and multi-channel …. text is simply too clunky…

    don’t hear much about this

  • http://www.comradity.com Katherine Warman Kern

    Great post.

    The future of all media requires open minds. Once open, then a curiosity to learn new skill sets to capitalize on the new ideas inspired.

    There is so much room for improvement, we, as entrepreneurs are less concerned about competition than we are about proving new models. So we are open to networking and collaboration.

    Additionally, we suspect that Universities and Colleges are a good place for this networking to happen. The first hurdle to the adoption of new models is opening minds. Then adopting new skill sets. Universities and Colleges are a great forum for this to happen.

    Katherine Warman Kern
    @comradity

    • http://evilpundit.mee.nu/ Evil Pundit

      Sadly, no.

      Universities and colleges are anathema to open minds. They exist only to stamp conformity with ideological leftism on their students/victims.

      Open minds are to be found on the Internet, not on campus.

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  • peter

    Industries typically evolve from small (entrepeneurial) , to medium (corporate), to large (institutions) – with a lot of fall-out along the way.

    To say “the future is entrepeneurial” is more or less akin to “we don’t know what the future holds.

  • http://www.temple.edu/sct/journalism/phiji/ George Miller

    Amen, Jeff.

    At Temple University this Saturday (11/7/09), we’re holding an entrepreneurial journalism summit – bringing together a bunch of folks doing interesting and unusual things in the local indie media scene.

    We’re also doing business discussions with the idea of giving fledgling operations the skills to sustain themselves.

    Check it out – http://www.temple.edu/sct/journalism/phiji/

    - George Miller (gwm3@temple.edu)

  • Andy Freeman

    > But I don’t. In it, Philip John argues the need for networks and services to perform business services for journalist entrepreneurs. I agree.

    There’s a difference between not doing biz tasks and not understanding them, and it’s can be the difference between a successful business and a disaster.

  • http://www.sunvalleyonline.com Dave Chase

    You nailed it Jeff. Established players can be entrepreneurial but it’s the exception. This isn’t true just in media. It’s pervasive.

    George Miller – Good on you for having the summit. It’s the future. In your neck of the woods is a guy Mel Taylor who knows how to make local online pay. You should have him give a talk. He’s training local sales teams all over and bringing in $$ himself.

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  • barbara raab

    Jeff,
    You’re right that people in large, old(er) media institutions don’t think like people in garages (I’ve always thought the only reason I haven’t invented The Next Big Thing is that I don’t have a garage [or a car])… but, even inside those institutions, there are ways to get everybody (not just the business-side folks) thinking about the business, if not purely entrepreneurially. I know, I know, that’s one of those things we are not supposed to say, but, here we are and many institutions are failing. I read with interest just today, a story about the kerfuffle in Detroit, where the Freep took its story ideas from an advertiser’s lead. Freep editors insist (in today’s WSJ), this didn’t compromise their reporting; okay, then how about, instead of being on the defensive, news organizations continue to do things like this that are good for the bottom line; strive to be sure it doesn’t compromise their editorial; AND go a step further by being transparent: publish an Editor’s Note along with the articles explaining what you’re doing, and proactively assuring readers that the advertiser had no impact on or hand in the editorial? Another idea: how about restructuring the compensation systems at all these places so that everybody has at least some equity stake (meaning, some salary + bonus structure based on success, rather than straight salary)? I know these ideas are probably anathema to the majority, but really, why? Editorial can be compromised by lots of other things and often is; and, conversely, it can be maintained even if these business considerations are part of the mix. I agree with you that, ultimately, the future is in entrepreneurship, but I do think many institutions could benefit — even if all that means is, hang on longer — by introducing a bit of the business into the newsroom.

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  • http://www.bistrobroad.com Kathleen Pierce

    Thank you Jeff Jarvis. This is the first uplifting piece I’ve read on journalism since the collapse. I want to go to CUNY and hear everything you have to say. There is a future with thinkers like you at the helm, thank you.

  • http://blogs.dix-eaton.com/index.php/mediainnerview/ David Hertz

    Great post, Jeff. The future of news is entrepreneurial. What better way to relay the need to take risks, to be nimble and responsive, as well as in touch with two-way communication with your readers and advertisers(customers). This is why the latest list of goals coming out of Gannett (as reported in E&P) is so disappointing. The goals could have been written 5, even 10 years ago.

  • http://CivSource Jeff Smith

    Jeff – great post and I think it will help many readers/writers/journalists solidify things they’ve been thinking for quite some time. My question comes to you as a former “employee” of Examiner.com. Is this the kind of journalism you see over-taking the incumbents? Or is it just another, pay-per-click scheme that encourages sensationalism and poor journalistic accountability?

    I’d also love to hear what the broader audience thinks about Examiner.com models (True/Slant bares some resemblance, but tends to be less offensive to my personal sensibilities). Because I know there are a number of “new media” companies that are looking to Examiner.com (and Associated Content) as means to lure high traffic, with low payouts to contributors.

  • cm

    Perhaps the future of news is not real news.

    Most people really don’t care about real news any more. Instant sensationalist soundbites and tweets etc seem to be far more appealing that well reported news.

    What is really sad is the new tweet/blog reporters are being labeled “citizen journalists”. Now “citizen cub reporter” I can understand, but not really “citizen journalist”. Surely there us more to real journalism than just being the first to blog/tweet about something?

    The saddest part of the decay of journalism

    • http://evilpundit.mee.nu/ Evil Pundit

      “Real journalism” means liberal political propaganda.

      That’s why we readers are abandoning you real journalists, and turning to other sources.

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  • cm

    [continuation... I hit send by mistake]
    The saddest part of the decay of journalism is that it is a symptom of a greater social ill. Rational thought and logically constructed decision making is out and popularity/buzz are in. Not a good way to choose social policies for the future. Whether ths subject matter is climate change or nutrition, people are more inclined to believe a celebrity endorsement n rather than a scientific assessment.

    The truth and accuracy don’t matter as much as making a splash. Government policies are made on popularity contests and ill-formed perceptions rather than scientific analysis.

    Journalists can unfortunately only add value if people see value in what they are doing. You can serve up the facts, but you can’t make anybody read them or consider them.

    • http://evilpundit.mee.nu/ Evil Pundit

      Journalists don’t “serve up the facts”. They report their personal political opinions as if they were facts.

      There’s a difference.

      People can see the difference, and that’s why they’re abandoning the corrupt and biased (formerly) mainstream media.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        a hat trick of cant.

    • Eric Gauvin

      You’re telling this to the “Professor Marvel” of the internet.

      http://filmfanatic.org/reviews/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/Marvel.JPG

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  • http://twitter.com/iconic88 @Iconic88

    Thanks Jeff for an insightful post.

    I ask what is news? or newsworthy?

    News IMHO is held in the eye of the beholder. If it provides value to the masses, it will spread faster than a @aplusk retweet. If it doesn’t, it sinks like a lead balloon.

    The future of news will be entrepreneurial but it’s power and longevity will be in its educational value.

    The evolution of what is news will be constructed and destructed by ‘us’.

  • http://omaniblog.blogs.ie Paul O’Mahony (Cork)

    Thank you for that sustained outburst. What a great phrase “the future of news is entrepreneurial”.

    It contains a wonderful challenge. Inspires me. Sets my juices flowing because it seems to fit the transforming world in which the consequences of mass education are made transparent.

    We know all about technology: it simply goes on revolutionising, exponentially developing capacity. What we don’t know is about people, and their political grasping at power, their struggle to collaborate and all that sort of stuff.

    I certainly didn’t predict that my sister in Arizona would want to tell stories over Skype webcam went our beloved Uncle died. I had no idea there was such hunger for engaging with others of her tribe.

    Thanks for the food.

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  • http://philipjohn.co.uk Philip John

    Thanks for mentioning my post, Jeff. Good to know we’re thinking along similar lines. I figured you would be with your involvement in GrowthSpur.

    I’m disappointed I didn’t get to take part in C&binet with you too, it sounded fascinating. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

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  • http://www.rosenblumtv.com Rosenblum

    I could not agree more but I fear that our industry is so constructed of ‘employees’ with an employee mentality that it may not be able to reconstruct itself before it is too late. Employees run to safety, and working for the state or a foundation is about the safest job you can get.

  • Mike Lyons

    I’m with you too. I am readying myself to try to convince the same of the english dept. here at St. Joseph’s university where me and another faculty member are ramping up a communications minor. I teach the journalism side and I think one important piece of this puzzle is to make a civic media course a requirement for everyone. My vision of this course is a combination of enterpreneurialism, literacy and ethics. Random acts of journalism will come from everyone and everyone should have some idea of how it works well.

    Mike Lyons

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  • Eloriel

    The future of news is entrepreneurial? Must entrepreneurial always mean “for profit?” Is there something inherently wrong, or bad, or incomplete about not-for-profit?

    I’m reminded of the fact that in days gone by the news departments of the 3 TV networks weren’t expected to be profit centers. Problems with the quality of the journalism began approximately exactly when they WERE expected to generate profits.

    Further, I think capitalism has had it. I really do. I know I’ve been critical/skeptical about capitalism for a good bit of my adult life — once I noticed that it’s ALWAYS exploitative (aka: rapacious) and that ultimately it’s just not sustainable — and I’m increasingly shocked but pleased to note a good many people joining me in my disenchantment (e.g., predictably, Michael Moore). I’d like to think that a reconstructed journalism would fit perfectly with a reconstructed financial system.

    Give it some thought. Or at least don’t push “for profit” at the expense of not-for-profit. But good grief — May God/Goddess/All That Is save us from anything resembling taxpayer funded journalism. Yikes!! What an obscene, self-serving idea.

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  • http://www.beatcanvas.com Brett Rogers

    For journalism to become entrepreneurial, it would require journalists to embrace capitalism, which would require them to dump just about every one of their beliefs.

    Ain’t gonna happen. Unless they convince a legislator to let them be “entrepreneurial” with someone else’s money.

  • http://www.rosenblumtv.com Rosenblum

    We have to attract a different kind of person to journalism.

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  • http://www.findingthegear.com David Gehring

    The idea that News needs to go into the desert of entrepreneurship and find a new business model is terrifying to me. I’m an entrepreneur and know the devastation that typically happens before a new institution is born. But I agree, it’s probably unavoidable at this point.

  • http://pressforthepeople.com Terri Chappell

    Jeff, it’s enlightening to hear some of your insights regarding Google, and your trust that journalism most definately can and should remain a profitable venture. Investigative journalist Paul Adrian (formerly of the Fox affiliate in Dallas) is one of the few who caught on early. A year ago Paul quit his job to get his MBA at Harvard, and polish the business plan he’d had brewing for years. In that time he convinced a small group of journalists, a publishing entrepreneur and an Oxford based wunderkind of social networking to expand on his already prescient project to create a collective dream of how journalism could be given superior content and newly imagined technology. As a team we’ve volunteered countless hours and endless thought to creating what we believe is a beyond bold new business model for the future. Our preliminary site pressforthepeople.com (recently mentioned in The Nation by William F. Baker, along with other select new journalism models) is up and running. By spring we hope to be among the emerging forces entirely reshaping the way people consume and utilize hyper personalized news streams. Our technology (now nearing completion) is innovative enough, that if all goes as planned , it could catapult us a good leap ahead of any news site I have yet to see or hear about. The challenges are out there but we’ve found support and solutions to be far more plentiful. The future of news is indeed exciting, and painful though it may seem change is indeed necessary. Our credability and more importantly our democracy depends on it.
    Terri Chappell
    Senior Editor
    pressforthepeople.com

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  • http://www.sciencepresse.qc.ca Pascal Lapointe

    That statement also holds many implications for sectors of the economy and society: investment (put money into the new, not the old)… public policy (don’t protect and preserve the incumbents but nurture the startups by creating a fertile and level playing field)… education (how do we train journalists when everyone can do journalism? – how do we train everyone?)… marketing (advertising won’t be one-stop shopping anymore and that means it may support news less)… PR (influence will be no longer be concentrated)… technology (there are opportunities here)

    Well, analyse those examples one by one, and you’ll realize that has nothing to do with the fact that the future is entrepreneurial or institutional. The word “entrepreneurial” has become too much a buzzword that we don’t care to describe it anymore.

  • http://www.wikicity.com Pat Lazure

    I’ve always believed that the future of journalism is entrepreneurial, but never has it been so true ever since I sold my start-up to the local paper.

    Instead of saying that for incumbent media institutions, the future is not their’s; I’d say that it is their’s to lose. For most institutions, I don’t believe it is too late, but I know that it will take an entrepreneurial mindset to save them – or as you say – start thinking like the people in the garages.

    In fact, as an entrepreneur now working within one of these incumbent media institutions (3 weeks & counting), I would go as far as saying that they are the entrepreneur’s playground – ripe with opportunities. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to find a way to partner with these institutions, learn how to mutually benefit from the audience they can deliver, & forge ahead by offering a network of new products & opportunities. More to come…

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  • Carla

    So, is there an Entrepreneurial Journalism association out there yet, and if so, where can I join?

  • http://cbskc.com loan

    I’ve always believed that the future of journalism is entrepreneurial, but never has it been so true ever since I sold my start-up to the local paper.

    Instead of saying that for incumbent media institutions, the future is not their’s; I’d say that it is their’s to lose. For most institutions, I don’t believe it is too late, but I know that it will take an entrepreneurial mindset to save them – or as you say – start thinking like the people in the garages.

    In fact, as an entrepreneur now working within one of these incumbent media institutions (3 weeks & counting), I would go as far as saying that they are the entrepreneur’s playground – ripe with opportunities. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to find a way to partner with these institutions, learn how to mutually benefit from the audience they can deliver, & forge ahead by offering a network of new products & opportunities. More to come…

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  • http://www.jeux-fille.biz Jeux de fille

    So, is there an Entrepreneurial Journalism association out there yet, and if so, where can I join?

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