How to be an entrepreneur, journalistically

Saul Hansell just wrote a wonderful post at the Times Bits blog about his experience as a juror in my entrepreneurial journalism class and how much entering the field of journalism has changed with so many new opportunities:

. . . . The ideas covered a wide range of topics — a hyper-local site for Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to a global magazine for Muslim women — but what struck me was how much an aspiring publisher can now count on technology services to accelerate many parts of starting a business. Google’s Ad Sense, of course, was on nearly everyone’s plan as a source of advertising revenue. There are specialized ad networks too that were relevant to some ideas. One of the judges, Courtney Williams, who runs the interactive division of Radio One, a black-oriented radio station group, offered to include the Bed-Stuy site in his new black-oriented online ad network.

One proposal for a music site wanted a music blog search feature and figured it could simply count on Google’s custom search engine capability rather than embarking on the daunting task of building its own search engine. An idea for a site about how to live the eco-conscious life, planned to use Meetup to connect to users.

Social networking, of course, was high in everyone’s minds. Several people planned to use Ning, the social-network-in-a-box service started by Marc Andreessen. But the most discussion was about Facebook, and in particular whether today you could start an entire online service entirely within Facebook. Several ideas –i ncluding a concept on personal finance for young people, a service meant to match high school athletes with college recruiters, and a site meant for teenage girls — all contemplated whether they could piggyback entirely on Facebook.

Even the most old fashioned idea–the magazine for Muslim women — was accelerated by technology. The magazine, called Sisters, has actually started, run in part by Doaa Elkady, a CUNY student. She told the jury that the market Sisters is aiming for would prefer a printed magazine to an online site. What is interesting is that Sisters is starting by distributing a digital version of the magazine in PDF format, and it has 1,500 subscribers paying $20 a year already. She asked for $6,000 for advertising that could double the subscriber base and enable the magazine to start a printed version, its ultimate goal.

Indeed, most of the students asked for between $5,000 and $15,000, with which they felt they could get their ideas up and running. (Most figured they would have to work part time to pay their own rent.) Even if those numbers were wildly optimistic, the fact remains that in today’s world you simply don’t need to be hired by a publishing company with ad salesmen, layout artists, and printing presses to get your ideas into the world.

It seems to be a great time to be starting out in journalism. Just don’t ask advice from anyone who has been in the business for more than five years.

I will write about my experience in and lessons from the class in greater depth this weekend.

  • Steve

    Is this exciting or what?

  • Amen

  • It would have been nice, Jeff, if you had been writing about your CUNY experiences throughout the semester. Pontificating may be good for the soul, but giving people some real information about your personal experiences in a journalism school might be of practical use to others in similar situations.

    It would seem that you are promoting some of your ideas in your classes and how they are received may be a good indication of how successful they will be in the future.

  • Matt Buck

    > It seems to be a great time to be starting out in journalism. Just don’t ask advice from anyone who has been in the business for more than five years.

    I think this is a lazy piece of journalism. The trick is, at least in part, in finding those journalists who still care enough about the business to help reinvent it. There are plenty of them. It’s just that they aren’t all immediately bowled over by the marketing hyperbole.

  • Interesting conclusions. Specially the project of the muslim magazine for women. Cheap, creative, innovative solution.

  • Robert,
    Fair comment but I said taht the beginning of the class that I would not be as open as I am about other things because the students were developing proprietary ideas and it’s not up to me to reveal them. I made mention of some of the lessons and guests as I went on but did not believe that I could webcast it, literally or blogally, for that reason. I will try to share as many of those lessons as I can now without giving away too much of the students’ secret sauces. That’s also why I need to think it through this weekend; This was a complex class and I learned a lot, too, of course!

  • I definitely agree with Matt Buck. That last sentence was far too much of a generalization – unless of course he meant it to be link bait.

  • All good until that last paragraph! As with anything, you just have to be careful who you take advice from… length of service doesn’t matter. There are plenty of young fogies (and buffoons) who are new in the business, but wish it was still in some “golden age” which may have happened in the 1950s, or whenever the film that inspired them was set.

  • Entrepreneurship — it’s not for everyone. And especially not journalists, so it seems. While at the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Pete, I just didn’t see a whole lot of the MSM traditional print outlets doing any kind of multimedia. Some, yes, but I thought there would be far more. Too bad for them; the best snacks were in the Google Vlogger’s lounge.

  • Thank you for this interesting post. As editor of SISTERS, the magazine for Muslim women that you mentioned in your post, I am intrigued by this US representative: Doaa Elkady? The thing is, I’m quite sure I’ve never heard of her so would be interested to know in which way she is connected to our magazine. If you have her details, please forward them to me so that I can look into this.

    And, more importantly, should i be looking out for a $6000 cheque in the mail?

    Na’ima B. Robery

    PS. By the way, we actually launched our first print issue a couple of weeks ago – and it cost a little bit more than $6000!

  • Ah, news at last! I have just received an email from Ms Elkady, explaining the situation. She is one of our subscribers and is keen to see SISTERS succeed in the States.
    We are in talks now about what the jurors said – so watch this space…


  • I agree with the premise that this is a great time to be an entrepreneur in journalism. In fact there may never be a better time. With all of the cost effective options to get started through social media. The options are endless.

    In fact with so many new entrepreneurs online a journalist can become an entrepreneur providing tools and content to entrepreneurs.