Friday, January 18, 2013

At American U., media entrepreneurship includes NGOs

Jan Schaffer
First in a series on entrepreneurial journalism programs at universities and media organizations.

In the new world of media, traditional journalism organizations are just one more voice, and the MA in Media Entrepreneurship program at American University reflects that.

Jan Schaffer, who teaches the program's seminar on media entrepreneurship, believes that journalism schools should teach "information-gathering and truth-seeking skills to a broad array of future civic players.” That means new media could be non-governmental organizations and other nonprofits.

Schaffer is entrepreneur in residence at American University and executive director of J-Lab, which has for years been a resource to journalists and activists interested in serving their communities with news and information. 

Varied background

The program is designed to draw mid-career professionals from the Washington, D.C., area. The first class of nine entered in the fall of 2012. Their  background includes public radio, daily newspapers, NGOs and independent media startups.  

Many NGOs have valuable information and expertise that should be shared but they lack the media skills to reach a bigger audience, Schaffer says. This program can work for them.

Three members of the first class:
  • Nick Barron is CEO of Swapel, a website connecting entrepreneurs and small businesses around products and services. He is also a digital strategist for AARP.
  • Shannan Bowen is a digital and social media producer for a start-up custom media division within the Atlantic Media Company. There she develops and executes social media and content strategies for clients. 
  • Vena Dilianasari, a native of Indonesia, is senior international broadcaster and producer for the Voice of America, Indonesian Service in Washington, D.C. She also has produced two Indonesian movies.  
Focus on a project

Each of the participants has to come into the program with an idea for a media project that will be developed over the course of the part-time 20-month program. Participants refine that idea in courses within the school of communication and the business school. Courses include innovation, marketing, financial analysis, technology, leadership and communication law.

The class meets six Saturdays a semester, from 9 am to 5 pm, with two lecture segments, a guest speaker and student presentations or an interactive exercise.

The program draws on guest speakers from Washington-area media outlets and from Schaffer's network of some 70 startups that J-Lab has helped launch over the years.  

Along the way participants refine their idea for the capstone project. They do a competitive scan, market research, technology review and business plan. In the process, they get a much better idea of what it takes to run a media business, Schaffer says.

For the capstone project, the participants have to produce a business plan or prototype and then present it to a group of investors. Part of the coaching is aimed at helping participants refine their sales pitch. The hope is that some of these projects might attract funding that will make them sustainable long-term. 

Of the 10 courses required to complete the MA, four are in the business school, where participants get to mix with business students. 

Among the faculty:
  • Amy Eisman is director of the MA in Media Entrepreneurship and of the 13-year-old weekend MA in Interactive Journalism. She previously was director of writing programs in the School of Communication. She was an editor with Gannett for 17 years.
  • Bill Bellows is adjunct professor and co-founder of One White Pixel mobile applications development company and co-founder of Copithorne & Bellows, global strategic marketing consulting firm for tech firms.
  • Stevan Holmberg, chairman, Management Department, has a number of research interests, including applied strategic management in a global environment as well as entrepreneurship and new venture management in for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
In addition to the faculty, the program has invited five media innovators to mentor the course participants and build the curriculum, among them Vijay Ravindran of the Washington Post, who founded and leads the company’s WaPo Labs, which develops experimental news products, including the personalized news aggregation site Trove.

Research and resources

J-Lab, which is housed at American University, has considerable history of research and publishing in the area of media entrepreneurship and would be useful to anyone trying to launch a media business. It has a database of more than 1,000 community news sites with details about staffing, revenue sources and content. 

J-Lab undertook a project to develop collaboration between mass media outlets and local digital media in which they used each other's content and cross-promoted it: Networked Journalism: What Works. Lessons from Nine Collaborative Journalism Projects

It did a study of how media are using social networks and whether they are converting visitors into readers and advertisers: Engaging Audiences: Measuring Interactions, Engagement and Conversions
It examined how new media are attempting to include editorial people in the marketing process while maintaining editorial integrity: Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism
The resources make a nice complement to the course work. 
American University, MA in Media Entrepreneurship
Duration: 20 months continuous part-time study
Courses: 10 courses, 30 credit hours, six in School of Communication, four in School of Business
Schedule: Six Saturdays a semester, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Students: Mid-career professionals
Cost: $42,000


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