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 Se1.co.uk. 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.