Entrepreneurial journalism is not an oxymoron

This week, we held the second annual jurying in the entrepreneurial journalism class I teach at CUNY. Damn, it’s fun. And it’s inspiring to see journalists act as entrepreneurs and to see journalistic innovation.

The students propose a new, sustainable, journalistic enterprise. We define journalism broadly. The winners were a platform for educators and students to share lessons in a complex field; a service for a large diaspora; and a company serving news radio over phone calls. (I’m being vague on purpose since these ideas are the students’ own.) Others included coverage of graffiti, one New York neighborhood, one street in a New York neighborhood with a strong social scene (call it nanolocal), Copenhagen, the web itself, and charities. There were also platforms for social bargain hunting and sharing, a new kind of political party, and explaining complex stories. They each emphasized using many media to do the job.

The winners received seed money to actually start their businesses thanks to a grant from the McCormick Foundation.

The jury: Adam Bly of Seed and Science Blogs; Ed Sussman, who’s working on a new Drupal-based community startup; Upendra Shardanand, founder of Daylife; Michael Rosenblum of RosenblumTV (who blogged the experience here); Susan Rerat, ex of Conde Nast; Matt Drapkin, a private equity man; Mark Josephson, CEO of Outside.in; Joan Feeney, a longtime colleague and consultant; and Jim Willse, editor of the Star-Ledger.

I love teaching this class. The students’ ideas change, sometimes radically, as the course goes on and as they learn more about business and challenge themselves (as guests and fellow students do) – they act like good entrepreneurs. They understand the importance of learning the business, not something I learned in J-school. They look at the world in new ways and see new opportunities.

Last year’s winner took jobs but two or three may still start their businesses. One lesson, among many, that I learned from last year is that new businesses like these need support, and that is why we received a $3 million matching grant from the Tow Foundation to start a Center for Journalistic Innovation, which will include an incubator to support development such as this – from independent entrepreneurs, companies, and the industry as well – with space, advice, and connections.

In the spring, I’m going to teach a truncated version of the course at the Sorbonne with Eric Scherer of the AFP. Dan Gillmor also teaches journalistic entrepreneurship at Arizona as does Rich Gordon at Northwestern. The more, the better. Journalism is not going to preserve itself into the next era; it must innovate its growth. That’s what this course really teaches – not just business and journalism but invention and change.