The journalist and the entrepreneur

BJ Roche

Each summer as I put together my syllabi for fall classes, I wonder: where will my students be working ten years out of college and how do I help them prepare for that environment? In past years it’s been about reporting quality, stronger revising techniques or multimedia skills. This year I’m thinking about “entrepreneurialism.”

Just read about the newsroom layoffs in Romanesko on poynter.org and you know that today’s students are not likely to have a long-term future in what we think of as a traditional newsroom environment.

Those entering journalism now should understand they won’t be there forever, and they’ll probably end up doing their own thing sooner or later.

Journalistic skills: good reporting, good writing, will always be in demand. But students will also have to be their own rigorous editors, and they’ll have to be self-starters, people who can solve problems and come up with new solutions.

This summer I’m learning what that means, through an online course in Entrepreneurial Leadership at the University of Northern Kentucky, which I found through the New York Times Knowledge Network. We use the Wimba software to watch real-time lectures and slide shows and ask questions of the professor.

Here I learned there are two ways to go with my website idea: develop a “lifestyle business” that tries replaces my current income, or develop a “high-growth” business with more than $1 million in annual revenue. Hmm. Let me think.

Being an entrepreneur is different from being a journalist. As a website owner, I am editor and publisher, running the editorial and the business side of my online publication. Students who want to go this route will need to have a strong foundation in journalism, and journalistic ethics. Unlike institutions like The Boston Globe or The New York Times, which have very strict rules on gifts and journalistic “freebies,” the web is the Wild West, where anything, it seems, goes.

The web entrepreneur also needs to understand business: accounting, measuring return on investment, managing teams, working collaboratively, and time management. How do we fit all that in?

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting story in today’s NY Times about people who buy up doddering websites, fix them up and sell them. You’ll notice that both links in this post are to “old media.”

And here’s a story from Portfolio.com, about the decline in circulation of traditional women’s magazines, particularly Oprah and Vogue. More evidence of the shifting media landscape.

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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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