Friday, June 24, 2016

Media entrepreneurship takes hold at universities

Journalism professors are adapting to the realities of a historically tough job market. Their graduates are struggling to find stable work in an industry whose biggest players have been cutting staff for a decade.

So universities are teaching new skills -- multimedia production, community management, data management and visualization, among others -- as well as the traditional reporting, writing, and audivisual production skills.

They are also finding new business models. While the traditional media companies are hamstrung by mountains of debt and declining revenue, universities are stepping up to innovate and create new forms of journalism for the digital age.

A Facebook group for those interested in teaching media innovation and entrepreneurship has reached 800 members. And the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism is about to hold its third summit for educators in this growing field on July 15. Jeff Jarvis and Jeremy Caplan have been leaders in this field. I participated in the first two summit.

No single model

A survey of journalism educators conducted by Jan Schaffer for the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY found that universities are taking many different approaches to teaching innovation and entrepreneurship. She wrote:
"The largest cluster of our 85 respondents framed media entrepreneurship around the needs of journalists: Forty-one percent said they wanted to help students go into business for themselves, make money doing journalism, or launch a venture that will bring in enough revenue to be sustainable.
"Only a handful of respondents, 20 percent, or 17 out of 85, focused on the audience, aligning media entrepreneurship with Harvard professor Clay Christensen’s definition of disruptive innovation: identifying a job that people need to have done – and then building the solution or being of service to that audience."
The survey results underlined the tension between journalism as a public service -- the Fourth Estate, a counterweight to power -- and as a business that needs to be sustainable.

Before the digital disruption of the media industry, most universities taught journalism and advertising-marketing as separate disciplines. The idea was to protect the integrity of journalism from political and commercial influence. But digital has broken down those barriers.

Entrepreneurial journalism in Spain

In Spain, interest in these programs has been growing rapidly. In June of 2014, a meeting of professors similar to that at CUNY was organized by Juan Luis Manfredi, professor of the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha. It was titled, "Entrepreneurial Journalism: The New Hope", and 25 communications professors discussed the importance of the new disciplines to a university's curriculum. It resulted in a book of presentations by participants.

Attendance more than doubled at last year's session, and in September the group will hold a two-day session on "Innovation and Journalism: The New Professional Skills."

A complex transition

It is impossible today for editors, writers, and producers to leave audience development and monetization to a separate dedicated staff. They have to engage the audience, listen to its opinions, adopt its suggestions, and take advantage of its expertise. For some journalists it is difficult to admit that the audience knows more than they do. As my colleague Jose Luis Orihuela has written, "Communities are more important than the media."

So journalism schools have a tremendous opportunity to participate in creating the new digital journalism and finding ways to finance it. The process is complicated for universities, whose time-consuming processes often conflict with the rapid changes of the marketplace (see Universities and entrepreneurship don't always mix).

A few years ago, I put together a list of eight leading programs in entrepreneurial journalism. Today the list is much longer, but we are all still struggling to find new paths to sustainable media that serve our communities better than they are being served now.


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