Posts about entrepreneurial

Sustaining journalism through innovation

I have to say that I was disappointed with the Economist’s Project Red Stripe — in the idea they ended up with and in the fact that it is not yielding a product, as Paid Content reports.

But I hope I can learn some lessons about managing innovation as I bring together a conference on networked journalism for our News Innovation Project at CUNY on Oct. 10 and as I start teaching a course this fall in entrepreneurial journalism — a course that is supposed to yield specific, sustainable, practical ideas for new and innovative journalistic products or businesses.

The Economist had split off a half-dozen of its smartest people — and there, that’s really saying something — who had to audition for the team with their ideas and determination. They were sent off to separate offices and given $200,000 to create something with only two requirements: It had to be of the web and it had to be innovative. They also decided to make the process open and talked to lots of folks, like me, discussing and even inviting ideas publicly on their blog.

But then they went opaque because they believed transparency would have affected the business; I’m still not sure how. And they ended up, I think, not so much with a business but with a way to improve the world. Their idea, “Lughenjo,” was described in PaidContent as “a community connecting Economist with non-governmental organizations needing help – ‘a Facebook for the Economist Group’s audience.’ ” It wasn’t intended to be fully altruistic; they thought there was a business here in advertising to these people, maybe. But still, it was about helping the world. And therein lies the danger.

I saw this same phenomenon in action when, as a dry run for my entrepreneurial course, I asked my students at the end of last term what they would do with a few million dollars to create something new in journalism. Many of them came up with ways to improve the world: giving away PCs to the other side of the digital divide, for example. Fine. But then the money’s gone and there’s not a new journalist product to carry on.

This gives me hope for the essential character of mankind: Give smart people play money and they’ll use it to improve the lots of others. Mind you, I’m all for improving the world. We all should give it a try.

But we also need to improve the lot of journalism. And one crucial way we’re going to do that is to create new, successful, ongoing businesses that maintain and grow journalism. We need profit to do that.

So I would have thrown another requirement on Project Red Stripe or any media company’s innovation incubator: that they start a sustainable — that is, profitable — business. I have now added that requirement in our entrepreneurial class. I didn’t outlaw projects that may get some help from foundations to get going (and I may live to regret that). I’m also bringing in business executives and even venture capitalists to help the students think about how they are investing in the future of journalism. It’s a business. It needs to be a business to survive.

So it’s also important for journalists to think about the business side of the industry as well. As journalists, we were brought up not to sully our pretty little heads with filthy commerce; that was someone else’s job — the guy on the other side of that church-state wall. But now the business of journalism is every journalist’s business.

I believe I will see students leave our class to go start new products and new businesses that improve the future of journalism, that sustain it. That’s the hope.

: LATER: Neil McIntosh says that news organizations shouldn’t insist that innovations need to be revolutions. Sometimes, he says, the change comes in small steps. Yes, if the steps are big enough given the needs. Small steps may not be big enough for news organizations now.

Neil also quibbles with my call for profitabllity. I’ll still say that we need to make sustainability our standard and that means journalism has to pay for itself and, in most cases, that means it needs to be profitable. Too much of journalism is becoming unsustainable and that’s my fear.

Entrepreneurial jocks

UK football writer Rick Waghorn, who lost his newspaper job in a cutback and started his own web service, has now upgraded impressively at Norwich City’s MyFootballWriter.com. Rick has been joined by fellow sportswriters and has a neat way to charge for content and get paid via SMS:

From August we’ll have a brand-new subscription service which will give you full access to the site for just £1.50 a month. The new subscription adds additional content to last season’s service and it’s an absolute doddle to use. You sign up by a text which is charged to your mobile phone bill. By return you get an exclusive code which you use to register on the site, and that’s it, you’re in. Simple. The new subscription service features:-
* Access to Ferret, TheWife, The Expert, Stanley, Animal, Gadget, Eyes and co.
* Brand-new myfootballwriter.com podcast.
* Join our columnists with your own comments.

Waghorn hopes to franchise it.

RTNDA: Who wants to be a journalist?

Zadi Diaz of JetSet doesn’t want to be a journalist. She doesn’t want to be called a journalist. Neither does Amanda Congdon, who says she never called herself a journalist but a video blogger and actress and producer. They each said that last night at the opening panel for the Radio Television News Directors Association. We journalists keep thinking that everybody wants to be a journalist and that it is our precious title to mete out. But these talented, creative, popular women want none of it. Terry Heaton said he considered them journalists anyway and so do I. But note again that they don’t want our label. Which says something about the label and what we’ve done to it, eh? We’ve made it exclusive. We’ve weighed it down with pretense and presumptions and rules. We’ve made these women assume that being a journalists stops you from doing what they do. Beware.

The panel was filled with some of my very favorite people in this world: Terry Heaton, a leader in getting TV into the next generation; Michael Rosenblum, who among many things has started the VJ movement; Elizabeth Osder, a friend with whom I worked lo 12 years ago and who became a leader in this world (she just left Yahoo to get her hands dirty again); the amazing Zadi; and Amanda Congdon, who needs no intro. They were here to blow the minds of the TV establishment and I think they did; I saw shaking heads and tsk-tsks next to me. These guys are behind newspapers in getting to the climax of the scary movie that is their industry. I was going to live-blog, but the damned Vegas Hilton has no wi-fi or electric plugs. So I shot some snippets (badly) which I’ll upload (but the network in the room is slow as hell . . . so more later). Here’s one with Michael Rosenblum answering the question: what should TV stations do?

(If you don’t see the video, wait a few minutes. It’s going through the YouTube machine. Meant to use Blip.)

Miles O’Brien of CNN, the moderator, had video chats with his charming 13- and 14-year-old daughter and son back at home, asking them how they get the news. They agreed that TV nows just covers murders and stuff and that it’s scary. At the end, Rosenblum said: “You just did a live remote and what did it cost you?… That’s the future, babe.” A few other notes:

Terry showed WKRN’s site and how they have 23 blogs that each have their own brands. That is viral architecture. He later scolded the crowd for teasing their audiences; nobody wants to be teased. Later, he really scolded a journalism student who came up to the microphone with the usual MSM cant. He said he’s sick of people coming into the business worrying about where there next job is going to be. Stations are going to see, as they get more local, that they need to work with local people who are rooted in the community, not dying to move on.

Elizabeth then lectured the students and told them to make sure their schools teach them entrepreneurship. Amen. (I’m teaching a course in entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY in the fall. More on that later.)

Zadi said, “I live online. There’s never an offline.” She said that people on TV “seem to be so animated and fake.” We just want to connect with real people, she argued.

Terry

Entrepreneurial journalism

In the middle of Mark Glaser’s good consideration of the Carnegie-Knight News 21 project, a year into it, he makes this intriguing suggestion:

So why not take the $6 million and create real new-media incubator businesses? Stanford University helped create Yahoo and Google, but those companies didn’t come from the journalism school. Perhaps the journalism schools could team with computer programming departments to create hybrid sites that combine the best technology of sites such as Digg or YouTube with the editorial standards that come from journalism.

We need that kind of innovation and daring in the industry — and it’s not coming from the industry.

This is why I added a course/lab in entrepreneurial interactive journalism into the CUNY curriculum; I’ll be teaching it next fall. The idea is that students will come up with and flesh out ideas for new businesses or products. I’m hoping that some of them may even come to life. But I’d like suggestions from you all on how to make this work, how to make it more than just prototypes, which journalism schools pump out regularly. What can bring the kind of entrepreneurial drive to journalism and media that Mark notes at Stanford around technology and media?

Mark’s story continues:

Ford, a fellow at Northwestern, told me he thinks journalism schools should be a place for innovation and experimentation as they live outside the commercial media world.

“In many industries, universities are the breeding ground for the cutting edge,” he said. “Whether it be science, industry, business or engineering, often university research can foster new development in a given industry. This has not always been the case in journalism schools. More often than not, students in J-schools are being trained on outdated equipment, with outdated technology, with the ultimate focus on theory and basic skills. This training can produce good, even great journalists — an admirable goal — but it does little to move journalism forward in innovation.

“Few are the media organizations with the resources and time to commit to experimenting with new ways of reporting and disseminating content. News21 is an experiment in itself, a chance for the time and resources to be committed for the sole purpose of trying something new. Whether our work resonates or not will be evident in coming weeks. In the end, it was a daring experiment, and will be worth its effort in lessons learned, if nothing else.”

I should add that there are elements of this at the Northwestern Medill program. I worked with Rich Gordon and the students there on the GoSkokie hyperlocal project at the same time that they created new sections for the Lee newspapers. Both projects, are sadly, history and I think that may be because they depended on big, old media companies to nurture them. That is no longer necessary. And I’d say it’s also not desirable, for big new ideas — Yahoo, Google, MySpace, Flickr, About, YouTube, Wikipedia… — could grow bigger faster on their own.

For the first time since William Randolph Hearst, journalists can think and act independently and entrepreneurially. So how do we help them do that?

LATER: Two minutes after posting this, Rich Gordon gave me the good news that I am wrong about the continuing life of those two projects: But your post is wrong that both projects are history. Lee killed the print property but kept it alive online. And it’s really great news that, as Rich says, “the Skokie Library took the GoSkokie ball and ran with it” at SkokieTalk, crediting the Medill project as the inspiration.

: AND: Terry Heaton and I seize on the same paragraph.