Teaching Journalism Students to Be Entrepreneurs

Picked up a few good tips at AEJMC in Boston last week from some smart folks on how to better prepare journalism students to be entrepreneurs.

This is something we in the academy are increasingly (or should be) interested in.  Journalism students should be prepared not only to launch their own enterprises, but also to have a more entrepreneurial mindset even in traditional news organizations, as my last post explained.

Web developer and founder of Placeblogger.com Lisa Williams discussed the importance of learning to pitch your idea over Indian food with some  Web-interested professors one night. If you can’t pitch your idea, not only are you unlikely to get others interested, you also may not have enough clarity yourself about your core purpose.

Your pitch must be concise, compelling, and clear.  If you can’t get them in under 30 seconds, you won’t be able to get them in an hour. Practice it over and over, get honest feedback, and keep cutting the fat.

She added more specific classroom ideas via Twitter:  One way to start – and I plan on doing this – is having students practice pitching their stories (which should have the added benefit of improving leads & nut grafs). Ask the class if the pitch is clear, and ask them to paraphrase it to test.  Then ask:  Is it compelling? Why would someone both reading/paying attention to this?

For example, here’s Williams’ pitch for her site Placeblogger:  “Placeblogger is the largest searchable index of local weblogs.”

Also, never pitch unless asked, Williams says. Nothing worse than irritating the people you need to impress.

Dan Gillmor, author of the well-known book We The Media and the director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State, also spoke at a panel on student entrepreneurship.  Gillmor co-teaches a hands-on course that guides students through the process of online media development, entrepreneurship and business. Here’s the syllabus.

Gillmor said emphatically that “I have an idea for a Web site!” is not going to fly in his course.  Instead, students must first identify a need or a void in the community they could fill. This is an important and, I think, often overlooked aspect of building a successful site or tool; researchers Esther Thorson and Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri have developed a model for helping news organizations identify needs prior to building fancy features.

Gillmor also said that he teaches his students not to fear failure.  Their course projects are not a chin-stroking academic thought exercise – this is about “demos not memos” (not sure who to credit that phrase to, but I love it).  Not everything is going to work, and even a project that ultimately fails may be worthy of an A – the value lies in being willing to experiment. It is important to own both the process and the outcomes.

It’s also important to develop ideas quickly, launch them before you are fully satisfied, and then fix what is broken. Embrace the chaotic process, he said. It’s okay to be embarrassed when you first launch a site – you will learn from your mistakes.


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One response to “Teaching Journalism Students to Be Entrepreneurs

  1. Pingback: Even more ideas for journalism in the classroom, courtesy AEJMC | :: suzanne yada ::

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