Friday, 15 January 2010

Journalists as entrepreneurs - easier said than done

What are the most useful things we can teach our journalism students? According to publishing entrepreneur and fomer Telegraph writer Jack Roberts, editor of Bad Idea, the list should include: how to come up with a new idea and draw up a business plan, how to do cash flow projections and how to market and advertise themselves and their product. (Which of course is "hyperlocal", the buzzword of the moment, and done on a shoestring).

All good stuff. This is what 2010's going to be about. There's no way anyone's going to get their foot in the door in this industry as it is now unless they put themselves about and come up with new ideas. But I don't mind betting that I wasn't the only one at the Association for Journalism Educators' workshop on journalists as entrepreneurs today who has never had anything to do with business plans or cash flows. Yes, most of us have been freelance at some stage in our careers but planning didn't go much further than the next story pitch or commission. More hand to mouth than five year cash flow projection.

This could be the big problem with trying to teach our students how to be more entrepreneurial. The elephant in the room is that we've never done it ourselves. We've never needed to. Many of today's journalism lecturers started their careers at a time when the business model was to find a staff job with a local newspaper or trade paper and move steadily up to the nationals, again on a staff contract. Then we moved to a second career, yet again on a permanent lecturing contract. Not much entrepreneurial drive needed there. Some job planning skills, maybe but not the creation of a completely new idea from scratch, searching for funding and generating audiences and advertising revenue.

Guest speakers James Hatts, editor of hyperlocal site London Jack Roberts of Bad Idea and Danny Miller, publisher of film magazine and website Little White Lies were impressive examples of what relatively recent graduates can achieve. But all of them seemed to be natural entrepreneurs, seized with the determination to make an idea work. Not all students are like that. Neither are all lecturers. 2010's going to be a busy year.


  1. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

  2. I really like the idea of journalists who brand themselves at university and get into the idea of entrepreneurship and business planning.

    To me, this is one of the most exciting aspects of new media, namely, that you are free to present yourself however you wish, pursue the threads that interest you (and which you are knowledgeable about) and if you can project well, or your business idea is sound, then you can also have the satisfaction of building yourself up and knowing you can 'go it alone'.

    The downside of all this is that (as we saw in the dot-com bubble) only 1% of the entrepreneurial ideas generated on the web actually go anyway.

    Building a cohesive online identity that is professional and lucrative is a tough balancing act, and remember that entrepreneurs are generally the sort who can make anything work. Where does that leave the rest of us?

    I find frequently that my ideas get overblown when it comes to the possibilities of online endeavours. Often these pipe-dream style projects require huge initial investment, yet the beauty of online outfits is that they can be started on a shoestring, without a business model and still reap massive rewards.

    It's all about the time and effort you put in in the real world. Online brands don't build themselves!