For Journalists, Entrepreneurship Is Like Chasing the Story

“I don’t think journalism has an entrepreneurial problem, I think it has a psychological problem,”  Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at the Knight Foundation told a group of journalism professors at a panel on student entrepreneurs the AEJMC conference last week in Boston.

Journalists, Newton said, have finely honed instincts for chasing a story, doing whatever it takes to nail something down and coming up with clever ways for getting the information they need on deadline.  They are, in other words, full of the kind of entrepreneurial skill and spirit needed to bring an idea to life. The problem lies with thought patterns that limit their ability to exploit that skill set –  they don’t think broadly and apply that same mindset to changes in the business model or the organizational structure.

Journalism students are taught that the story is ALL that matters, but this is not true, Newton said. Stories sustain and are sustained by a whole media ecosystem that must function for the best journalism to thrive. That ecosystem includes factors such as monopoly power, capital, and control. (The last sentence via tweet from Mindy McAdams, @macloo, who took better notes on that part than I did. 🙂 )

This comment struck me as insightful – although I would note that this is a systemic and not an individual-level problem. For most individual journalists laboring in the trenches,   institutional structure and culture make it difficult to think or behave more entrepreneurally, and this is something that will require full organizational commitment from the very top on down to change.

I’d agree that the days when journalists can separate themselves from all other aspects of the business are long past. Of course there are important ethical considerations and we must continue to keep outside influences out of the news, but the time is certainly now for thinking creatively about ways of organizing work flow, and being willing to experiment with new products or ideas that might fail.

Having written this, not sure if it’s as interesting as it first struck me while at the session – curious to see if others have thoughts to contribute.

This is just one of what I hope will be a series of short posts about what I learned at AEJMC this year. I will also blog about what some of the other members of this panel said.



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4 responses to “For Journalists, Entrepreneurship Is Like Chasing the Story

  1. So is the title of this post a quote from Eric’s talk, or is it an idea you’re going to flesh out a bit more?

  2. changingnewsroom

    It is a quote from his talk, but yes, something I hope to continue to think about and flesh out more.

    My research and time spent in a newsroom does show that one effect of the Web on even traditional organizations is to flatten the hierarchy and disturb any semblance of a regular daily schedule (not that newspapers ever had those per se, but they do operate somewhat in accordance with corporate rhythms). In general, it’s not just the individual story but all aspects of journalism in the modern age – interacting with readers, pushing and marketing your own work, etc. that definitely calls for more of an entrepreneurial mindset.

  3. Pingback: Teaching Journalism Students to Be Entrepreneurs « The Changing Newsroom

  4. This is one of the biggest hurdles I encounter in trying to “convert” people stuck in an Old Media mindset to multimedia/new media journalism and that quote (in bold) is a good way of framing it.

    It’s funny—the stereotypical “journalists vs. bloggers” debate makes it seem like print journalists are having their work devalued by the Web, when in fact they’re devaluing their own work by only focusing on the story at hand and not applying it to a greater narrative/context or business model. Writing/reporting the story is really only half (or less) of the job now. Journalists need to be half reporters, half business people now.

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