Can a Good Journalist Be a Good Capitalist? [Yes]

The January Carnival of Journalism wonders why journalists seem adverse to the idea of making money.

I’ve never noticed this phenomenon, but Michael Rosenblum says that Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Dean Nick Lehman “recoiled” at the notion of creating an entrepreneurial journalism program. Wow. Yikes. That surprises me.

My journalism school at the University of Memphis  is not nearly as elite or well-resourced as our New York City counterparts, but we are making strides in this area. One of my colleagues, Dr. Lurene Kelley, is leading an effort to transform one of our graduate courses that used to focus on “administration” into an exciting entrepreneurial class in which students will learn to build a business plan and pitch it. She is partnering with LaunchMemphis, a local group working to grow our city’s entrepreneurial community, and students will get real, hands-on exposure to the world of startups.  I’m thrilled about this development and hope to help continue to expand these efforts in our department.

I also agree that making money can release journalists from the thankless, soul-sucking constrictions of moribund institutions. To speak for myself, if I wasn’t shackled to a largely irrelevant and outdated academic system that rewards me primarily for publishing studies recycling tired ideas in journals nobody reads, I could be doing much more innovative work to help prepare students and journalists for the 21st Century.

To take just one small example, just yesterday I saw the call for proposals for the Knight Community Information Challenge. I already know of some local foundations that are interested in this issue and could be possible partners with our journalism school in creating something new and exciting on the web and on the ground – and our community, wracked by massive cutbacks in local news organizations, desperately needs it. Instead of pursuing this, I will spent 15 hours over the next couple of weeks changing the academic citation style in a paper I wrote, which is rote, useless busywork.  Things like this do make you want to go into business for yourself so you can take advantage of these kinds of opportunities in the exciting time we live in. Maybe one day I will.

However, I will say this. Being SKEPTICAL about money and its power to corrupt good journalism is a different thing. I think that is perfectly healthy. The desire to make money doesn’t mean that I will do anything and everything to make that happen, and, in the long run, that’s good for business, too, given that what we sell is credibility. Journalists *are* particularly sensitive to financial pressures because in the course of their work they see how money corrupts the political process, the environment, and so and and so forth, though it also can do good, as evidenced in this article about Paul Allen I found inspiring. When I worked for the Committee of Concerned Journalists, almost 10 years ago now, long before the idea of entrepreneurship in journalism was “hot,” venerable but forward-thinking journalists like Bill Kovach talked all the time about the foolish false dichotomy of the old proverbial “Wall” between the business and editorial side of news organizations. Both sides need each other. Newsrooms need to communicate with and share information with the business side, but yes, financial pressures on editorial will ultimately compromise the business.



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6 responses to “Can a Good Journalist Be a Good Capitalist? [Yes]

  1. I’m with you in wishing I had the time, energy and resources to do more with entrepreneurial journalism in my program. It’s on the way-ahead-maybe-someday-in-the-harmonic-convergence stage of dreaming, though, especially since our program is even smaller than UMemphis. I think the academy and field both would be stronger and richer if more programs could do that, though.

  2. grovesprof

    Great post as always, Brown. In a sense, the mad dash for a large number of publications (brought on by institutional pressure) is the academic equivalent pursuing profits. We have to “show” our value by the number of publications we are able to secure to earn tenure. We should instead focus on the quality and meaning of the research.

  3. Tresa Undem

    you need to dedicate an entire post to the bureaucracy and implications!

  4. changingnewsroom

    Good point, T, I should.

    Yeah, Groves…I could write a whole post about that too, but for the broader record, as you already know, I am NOT anti-research. What I am against is the academic publishing system. I think it is set up in a way that discourages innovating thinking. My most brilliant friends with impeccable methodological credentials get research rejected because it breaks new ground on emerging media while the 85th million agenda setting or framing study rolls off the presses. Research is also not the only way we can contribute and by excessively focusing on publication volume they directly inhibit innovation.

  5. Pingback: Can A Good Journalist Be A Good Capitalist? | Rosenblum TV

  6. Pingback: Can a Good Journalist Be a Good Capitalist « Carnival of Journalism

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