I am proud that starting today, I am on the faculty of the newly rechristened Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. My friend Craig has given a generous gift to endow our J-school and we have named it in his honor. This represents an ideal alignment of missions — his and ours — in the service of trustworthy journalism in a public university.
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Craig. Like everyone I’ve ever witnessed meeting him, I was impressed to meet the Craig of craigslist. He is unique: a self-proclaimed nerd’s nerd, a model of humility, curiosity, goodwill, intelligence, humor, irony, and most of all generosity.
I love watching others puzzle over him. Many years ago at the rich and ritzy Foursquare business conference, I saw the CEO of a then-major media company throw up his arms in frustration at Craig’s refusal to clog his service with ads and maximize its revenue so he could sell out. “If I can’t interest you in a very large offer,” the exec asked, “can I interest you in a very small offer?”
Early in our school’s life, I invited Craig to speak to a room packed with our students, one of whom was as perplexed as that media executive. After Craig talked about supporting the philanthropic causes he cares so much about — trustworthy journalism and veterans among them — our admirably entrepreneurial student asked Craig why he would not maximize the value of the enterprise he founded, sell it for billions, and then donate the proceeds of the resulting endowment to the groups he wanted to support. Craig said that he saw himself a philanthropist of classified ads, leaving money in the pockets of untold real people in the market rather than in the pockets of the middlemen who controlled marketplaces for apartments, cars, jobs, pianos, whatever.
Yes, some have accused Craig of forestalling the business models of those middlemen: newspapers. I have always disagreed. Craig didn’t invent the internet. He created the most prominent example of what the internet could do in directly connecting buyers and sellers, reducing inefficiency in a market. Long ago, I argued to newspaper bosses that they would be displaced by their former customers — real estate agents, job agents, car dealers — who would use the net to go around them to bring their information directly to a more-perfect market. I was nearly beheaded as a heretic. But the moral of the story is clear: Craig Newmark and craigslist did not ruin newspapers or their business models but only showed them what the future would look like. So, no, Craig Newmark is not endowing our journalism school out of penance for what happened to newspapers. Craig Newmark is endowing our journalism school because — like us all — he is worried about the future of journalism, the fate of truth, and the health of the republic.
I never had the nerve to ask Craig for money. I never wanted to impose on my friendship with Craig. Instead, he generously invited me to ask. At another Foursquare conference — years after the one I recount above — he suggested I submit a proposal to him regarding trustworthy news. The result was the News Integrity Initiative, which enabled us to leverage Craig’s founding donation to raise more money from Facebook, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others to support innovation in trustworthy news.
My dean and partner in innovation, Sarah Bartlett, was the one to suggest to Craig that he could make a profound impact on the future of our public journalism school. But I get ahead of myself. In February 2014, when Sarah was appointed dean, she asked me to schedule a tour of Silicon Valley — to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn (during which we hatched a new degree in Social Journalism) — and I added a stop in Craig’s favorite boite in San Francisco’s Haight. Craig and Sarah hit it off. So now I fast-forward to a meeting around Sarah’s small conference table in her office when Craig said he planned to give away the money he earned to support the causes he cares so much about. I watched as Sarah presented the opportunities of our school. Craig’s ears perked up. The rest is our future.
Craig’s gift enables so much for our small, wonderful J-school. It assures our independence and our ability to create new degrees, to hire innovative faculty, to support new programs, to recruit diverse students, to do nothing less than reinvent journalism. The great thing about an endowment such as this is that it comes with no conditions but provides resources we and our successors can take advantage of for years go come: forever.
Craig Newmark and his wife Eileen are friends I enjoy seeing at journalism conferences from Perugia to the Presidio and as neighbors in New York, where they’re now spending much of their time. I am grateful for Craig’s friendship and support, advice and counsel, wisdom and vision. I am grateful beyond words for Craig’s support of the institution I so dearly love, now named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
I was just notified that I’m now a full professor at CUNY. I’m well aware that one could substitute faux for full as I’m not an academic; I’m a professional. So I’m all the more humbled by the title. I’m grateful to my deans — Steve Shepard and Judy Watson — and my fellow faculty and the trustees for it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through the process but I enjoyed it. Writing statements about my teaching, research, and service required me to think again about what I want to accomplish. Here is my personal statement.
I am grateful to our school for many things but mostly for this: freedom. CUNY has given me the freedom to explore ideas about journalism, the freedom to take on a new career in the classroom, and most of all the freedom to speak. Some may say I say too much, but it is thanks to this freedom that I am able to research, experiment, theorize, practice, and provoke and take part in debates about the future of journalism. And, yes, I most certainly believe there is a future (or else why would I be here?).
In his memoir, Deadlines and Disruption, our dean, Steve Shepard, tells the story of my first day on the job and the rather accidental path that led to my primary concentration at CUNY: entrepreneurial journalism. When Steve and I started discussing his plans for the school, I thought my main role here would be to teach and proselytize new forms and tools for news: new media, online news, digital media, interactive journalism; I’m still not sure what to call it.
I also had an idea for a class that would teach students the business of journalism because I believe our professional disdain for the commercial side of the industry as inherently corrupting helped make us irresponsible stewards of our trade. When I launched Entertainment Weekly, I found that I didn’t have the knowledge and experience necessary to protect my magazine from bad business decisions — only some of them mine — and I vowed I wouldn’t allow myself such ignorance again. Cleaning out our attic recently, I came across a 1993 job evaluation by my editor at TV Guide. It said, “Jeff’s enthusiasm for the business side overwhelms him and he wants to get involved in an area that is not compatible with his editorial role.” I ignored that advice. At that rapidly shrinking magazine, at the bankrupt Daily News, and then at Advance.net, where I spent 12 years before coming to CUNY, I schooled myself on every angle of our business that I could.
At CUNY, I wanted to teach students about the economics of news companies and the dynamics affecting our industry, helping them to find opportunity rather than dread in the profound disruption news was undergoing and to become the leaders who would build journalism’s future. I had the idea of teaching that worldview through exercises in inventing new products — a pedagogical device, really; I don’t think I imagined then that students would be so intent on starting their own businesses. The prelaunch curriculum committee shelved that course in favor of teaching more tools. But Steve and Judy Watson resurrected it and promised I could teach it. That was the first of innumerable times when our deans acted to encourage my work and thus challenge me to explore unfamiliar frontiers.
I am indebted to them both for their leadership, support, guidance, and mentoring. But this is a bittersweet moment as our leader, Dean Shepard, announces his well-deserved if nonetheless lamentable (for us) retirement. CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein charged Steve with building one of the top journalism schools in the country and if we do say so ourselves, he succeeded. Now begins a search for new leadership. As much as I trumpet the virtues of change and the opportunities presented by disruption for our industry, I will confess that personally, uncertainty unsettles me. Yet I hope this moment of change will prove good for us, as we continue to constantly question what we do and how we do it even as we validate — in our new strategy statement — the vision the dean laid out when he founded the school. I have faith that we will come through this transition because this is a school built for transition. From the moment we eliminated required media tracks, our faculty has demonstrated the courage to face and cause change. As our strategy document says, our school was born of disruption.
In my statements in this document, I will try to focus more on the future than the past, on the challenges I face and the opportunities we will see together. But in this personal statement I suppose it is appropriate to reflect for a moment on my past and my career, on how I got here.
I was planning to go to law school but in my freshman year at Claremont, I thought better of my ability to say “yes, your honor” and mean it. Searching for a new path, I realized that I enjoyed reporting and editing for my high school and college papers and thought that could make a fine career. So I transferred to Northwestern and then the Medill School of Journalism.
On the way there, in 1973, I started my first newspaper job for a suburban Chicago weekly, the Addison Herald-Register, and continued working full-time in the business until the day I quit to come teach. I was lucky to get my dream jobs early in life and lucky at each of them to have a mentor. I wish to credit them: Howard Spanogle (my high-school journalism teacher), Christie Bradford, Jennie Buckner, Milton Hansen, Jim Willse (at three companies), Jim Houck, Pat Ryan, Anthea Disney, Steve Newhouse, Judy Watson, Steve Shepard.
I worked at The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa, as part of Medill’s Teaching Newspaper program — a great experience and the reason I was enthusiastic about our internship program from the start. I next interned on the Detroit Free Press in what was still called the women’s section. As I finished my last courses at Northwestern, I got an internship and then a job as a rewriteman — we still called the post that — and energy reporter for Chicago Today, covering the ’73 oil embargo, a great story. Today died a year to the day after I’d arrived. It was “the paper that has no tomorrow,” a heartless flack said to me as we worked on our last edition, even while our heartless owner, Tribune Company, was prying the nails out of our city desk. I caught the lifeboat to the big paper on the midnight shift. While waiting for shootings and fires to cover, I started playing with these new-fangled VDTs that dotted the newsroom. I was the kid who wasn’t afraid of this strange new technology and ended up training much of the newsroom on it. Little could I know how much technology could come to guide my career.
I became an assistant city editor at age 21 — dayside was the fringe benefit. Then I left for the San Francisco Examiner, where I edited the Examiner’s half of a combined Examiner-Chronicle Sunday paper and was plucked out to write a six-day-a-week column (the publisher liked a caption I’d written — such was my luck). After that same publisher and I came to disagree, New York beckoned and I went to People as a writer and then TV critic, which inspired me to write a memo proposing Entertainment Weekly six years before it eventually launched in 1990. In the vast entertainment choices brought to us by our new cable remotes and VCRs, there was confusion, and in that change I saw a need and an opportunity. I was inexperienced as a magazine editor and was able to bring EW to the market only with the help of amazing partners, including Joan Feeney and Peter Hauck (I’ve had the privilege of working with each of them again and both have been friends of our program at CUNY). EW went through a rough and notorious launch, but that’s a long story better told over beer.
I left over true creative differences and was hired by Jim Willse at the Daily News as Sunday editor, just as an ugly strike was about to begin. “Man,” said city desk wag Hap Hairston, “you jumped from the frying pan into the microwave.” After the News went bankrupt, I left for TV Guide as critic, also working on development projects. Then — after a very brief detour at News Corp’s fledgling internet acquisition, Delphi — I followed Willse again to Advance, just as this thing called a browser was released commercially. There I oversaw the content, technology, strategy, and launch of Advance’s 10 newspaper-affiliated sites (including NJ.com. NOLA.com, and OregonLive.com) and helped on the launches of its magazine-affiliated sites at CondéNet (including Epicurious, Style.com, Concierge, and others no longer with us). I also worked on projects at Random House, before Advance sold it, and Brighthouse Cable.
At Advance, I had the privilege of working for Steve Newhouse, who is unsung in our industry as an innovator and true believer in interactivity. It was Steve who taught me the value of opening up to conversation with the public. Steve schooled me in understanding the fundamentals of our business. He later tolerated my blogging and outspokenness. He also made it my job to seek out, learn from, and negotiate with entrepreneurs and technologists. One of them was Nick Denton. We invested in his company, Moreover, where I served on the board, and Nick also got us to invest in and save a mortally challenged startup with the silly name Blogger.
I clearly remember the day Nick demonstrated blogging to me. I confess I didn’t comprehend the big deal. But that changed after September 11, 2001. I was on the last PATH train into the World Trade Center as the first jet hit the north tower. To my wife’s continuing ire, I stayed downtown because, after all, I am a journalist. I was about a block from the south tower when it collapsed, thrown into utter darkness in the cloud of destruction. After taking shelter in a Chase tower, I walked to Times Square and wrote my story for online and print. Days later, I had more to share and so I started a blog, honestly believing I’d do it for a few weeks. Then two bloggers in Los Angeles read what I’d written, wrote about it in turn, and linked back to my blog. I wrote in response and linked to them. And that was my career-altering *ding* moment: Thanks to the link, we were having a conversation but in different places at different times. I began to see in rough form a new shape for media. I will admit that I thought this notion of news-as-conversation was fresh, until I had the privilege of meeting Columbia’s Jim Carey, who told me he’d built his career and scholarship around this idea.
To this day, I marvel at the power of the link to disrupt what we do, changing our relationship with the public we serve (who are now, to name one role, our true collaborators); the form of news (for example, isn’t a link often better service to the reader than a background paragraph — and once we start unraveling the article in such a way, where does that lead?); and the business models that sustain our important work (is it time to serve people as individuals rather than as masses and doesn’t that, too, require that we reset our relationship with the public?). Those are the themes I am pursuing in my work now: new relationships, forms, and models for news.
There is the education of a would-be educator. The threads that make me who I am are obvious in hindsight: finding opportunities in technology and disruption, questioning orthodoxies, benefitting from mentors’ guidance and collaborators’ help, facing business challenges, and embracing every opportunity to join a startup — like our school.
Tweet: Report from my entrepreneurial journalism class: Cause for optimism
Wednesday was the best day of my year: the jurying for my entrepreneurial journalism class at CUNY. The jury awarded four businesses a total of $57,000 (thanks to a grant from the McCormick Foundation). Here’s how it works.
Because one of them could be the next Google – or Condé Nast or ESPN or AP or, better yet, something entirely new – I won’t reveal too many specifics. One of the products is a platform for news assignments I hope we’ll help deploy soon; another a mobile sports application; another a creative, algorithmic answer to filter failure; and the fourth – the one that is already public – a clever omnimedia project about the provenance of fashion called ClosetTour.
It was a tough decision for the jury. Other impressive ideas were a human – rather than algorithmic – answer to filter failure (aka editing); a specialized women’s travel service; a specialized local real estate service; a cool food idea; two business-to-business ideas; one hyperlocal/hyperinterest site; one service for a local Hispanic ecosystem; a service for NGOs; a commercial service for artists; and one idea whose three-word elevator pitch is so clear I’d give it away if I said more than one word (“news”).
There are some key insights in the students’ ideas. A few were built around the need not just to create content but to curate it. Most are highly targeted. Some saw the potential in specialized local services. Some saw the need to go mobile to service the public. Some are international. Some are multimedia. A few saw the need to make news fun, others to make news useful. Some realized that news will be created by new people in new relationships with media. You’ll be interested to know that some plan to charge users (and I endorsed those plans, unlike Mr. Murdoch’s).
This was a great class. My favorite part of teaching it is holding our board meetings, when I work with them one-on-one on every aspect of their plans: elevator pitch (utterly critic, or jurors and customers will be lost); needs statement (why does the world need this thing?); market analysis (whom are you serving?); market research (aka reporting); competitive analysis; product plan; revenue plan; marketing/distribution plan; operations (cost) plan; launch plan; and the ask (how much they want from the jury and what they’ll do with it).
Because I was out for a few weeks after my surgery, we started holding our meetings on Skype video, which works quite well, and continued in person at my whiteboard (how were companies started before dry-erase?). While I was out, friends Joan Feeney and Steven Johnson filled in, along with my associate for the class, Dan Shanoff (who not only knows journalism and the web but – bonus points – has an MBA). All three were on the jury, so they saw the incredible transformation the students and their ideas – not to mention their presentations and confidence – undergo over the term.
This is my third year teaching the class and a few things are predictable: Some high proportion of students will come into class declaring that they don’t need to worry about all this business and revenue stuff because they’ll be not-for-profit. They also tend to want to do good for its own sake. I beat their altruistic, communistic instincts out of them and turn them into passionate capitalists, emphasizing that no matter where the money goes at the end of the day, they’d better have money left over – aka profit. Their enterprises and their journalism must be sustainable or they and their businesses won’t survive. I don’t do this just to corrupt them but to give them – especially these days – a strong dose of hard reality. My not-so-hidden agenda is to teach journalists business so we can be better stewards of the business.
The jury this year was again stellar: in addition to those above, David Carr of the NYT; Fred Graver, comedy writer and entrepreneur (you should see his business plans); Charlie O’Donnell, VC from First Capital; Mark Potts, founder of GrowthSpur; Betsy Morgan, former CEO of Huffington Post; Lee DeBoer, entrepreneur; Upendra Shardanand, founder of Daylife; John Paton, CEO of Impremedia; Peter Hauck, Nancy Wang, Jeff Mignon, and Jennifer McFadden, my colleagues on the New Business Models for News Project; Elizabeth Osder, consultant and teacher.
The students get four minutes to present their ideas, the jury four minutes for questions. After almost three hours, we retire to the jury room (wine-and-cheese equipped) and the deliberations are worth the price of serving. Some complained that one student’s idea – a content idea – wasn’t really a business, that someone should just hire the student to make it a book or a site or a show. David Carr issued a winning defense of the strategy, arguing that journalists won’t all be hired; they need to make their own way to the sea (he always talks in metaphor); that is, they will need to make their own work into businesses to make it sustainable. He also urged this student not to turn out something in just one medium but to make it take advantage of every bit of functionality that will be on the mythical tablet we’ll all soon be using. He won the day.
We discuss the ideas and the students’ innovation and potential to succeed (do the have enough resources and the right skills?), identifying where the jurors see the most heat until we have, by a process of painful elimination, landed on the likely recipients. Then we debate how much money they actually need.
Finally, importantly, jurors volunteer to mentor various businesses. CUNY provides an incubator to help them succeed. I will work with the students to agree on benchmarks they must meet to receive the next piece of funding.
Two years ago, the students who won grants got jobs instead, though one student in particular made use of her proposal by bringing it into the major paper where she works. That’s one of the goals of the class and program: to infuse legacy institutions with innovation and entrepreneurship. Last year, three students won grants and they are all starting their businesses now. Next year, I’ll report back on the progress of this year’s winners.
* * *
The morning before the jurying, I was invited to meet with some of the lions of journalism – former top execs at the AP and Dow Jones and various metro papers – to present and discuss our New Business Models for News. My message: that the future is entrepreneurial not institutional, that news will come from ecosystems instead of corporations, that the transition may be too painfully impossible for their former companies. I invited them to leave their meeting and come to join our jury. I wish they had.
The starting point for an entrepreneur, I told them, is not what has been but what can be. In some cases, the opportunity they see will be to undercut the old order – ‘craiglisting’ content next. In some cases, the opportunity they see will be to do journalism in new ways that were never possible before we had this incredible linking and collaboration platform. I spent my career working with the institutions and I still will. But now I favor working with the entrepreneurs. I believe they are our future. It’s that future I saw Wednesday afternoon.
This is why I am going to devote myself more and more to entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY. More on that later.
: AND: Here‘s Dan Shanoff’s post on the class and here‘s Nancy Wang’s.
Here‘s a job listing for a new tenure-track teaching position in the interactive department I head at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. I’ll spare you the sales pitch. We’re doing many exciting things at the school and it is growing robustly. Here are a few posts I’ve written about what we’re doing.
But first: Please do NOT use my email address. Instead, send your letter and resume – and links to your blog and online, interactive work – to this address and this address only: [email protected] (Thanks.)
Start here: At CUNY, our students report on New York and much of their work ends up in publications and on sites around the city through our NYCity News Service, which is edited and managed by Jere Hester, former city editor of the NY Daily News.
We’ve been talking about how our students could possibly help serve and supplement local news outlets more as they shrink. Friend Jay Rosen at NYU and I have also been talking about this and we were further inspired by the organization of a new content-sharing consortium among a handful of New-York-area newspapers. How could journalism students feed into that – or into similar consortia that are forming all around the country? How could we use the good efforts of students to make sure that more news gets covered and that their coverage gets more reach? Jay and Jack Lail bounced the idea back and forth on Twitter this weekend.
Carry this notion to its logical extension and we see the start of a marketplace of news and assignments. In the print consortia, it only makes sense that one paper will ask another: ‘Are you covering this? If you do, I won’t so I can cover something else that we can share.’ That leads inevitably to a market of assignments and once that exists, there’s no reason others can’t join in: journalism students, freelancers, photographers, bloggers, too. Worried about quality? Well maybe there will be a process of reverse-bidding: three people sign up for the same assignment and it goes to the one with the best clips. If nobody signs up, maybe the price of the assignment goes up. It’s a market and I’m hoping to tempt Jay to use his students in his new Studio program to think it through.
What we’ve just built is a new ecosystem of news that tries to make sure that more news gets covered. It’s collaborative and complementary, as I believe news will be – will have to be – in the future. Yes, one could also say it’s anticompetitive but that’s the last problem for news organizations today (and, again, this is the one idea on news’ future that I share with David Carr).
From a news organization’s perspective, once a consortium/marketplace/ecosystem is opened, up, it requires different skills to manage: finding and knowing talent and helping make it better – organizing, curating, educating. From the community’s perspective, we should hope that all the important stories don’t end up with just one reporter and one perspective (I think editorial ego will take care of that) but instead that more news gets covered. From a journalism-school perspective, there are questions – namely, how should these assignments and opportunities fit into a curriculum to make sure that students leave with the broad range of skills and not just clips papers need.
Let’s also ask about journalism schools’ wider role as education becomes more important in new-media and community-practiced journalism: The pros need training in new media and new skills (while they still have jobs or as they reinvent themselves on their own) and the community often wants training in the essentials of new media tools and journalistic skills. The South Coast paper has trained more than 600 members of the community in an ambitious eight-week course and it is recruiting more. The Oakland Press is also holding classes. Papers and a university in Minnesota got a state grant to retrain professional journalists. Now add this: Trinity Mirror in the U.K. is hiring high-school kids to work on hyperlocal blogs. See also Robert Niles arguing that in their drive for professionalism, local news organizations (especially TV, I’d say) became disconnected from their communities and should be hiring from those communities.
The role of journalism education and journalism students in their communities will change as journalism changes. There’s a new ecosystem emerging and our roles in it will change as well.