It’s a mouthful, but it’s essential. Journalists today have to be entrepreneurs. In Mark Glazer’s view, that means you need to understand the business side of news. He notes on MediaShift that two schools, CUNY and Berkeley, now offer courses in entrepreneurial journalism, and Arizona State has a new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, run by Dan Gillmor. Syracuse has a class in new media business, as well. But Vin Crosbie, who teaches it, says one class won’t equip students to go into business for themselves:
Taking journalism students, giving them a course in entrepreneurship, and then thinking that you’ve properly prepared them is like taking carpenters, training them how to use a shovel and pick, and thinking that you’ve prepared them to be gold miners. It’s dilatantish. I’d rather first give them at least a course in geology.
Point taken. But there’s real value in at least exposing journalism students to the business side of news. Even if they wind up working for “mainstream” news organizations, these journalists can make the case for better journalism in a way that make sense to the money people. And if journalists want to develop new media outlets for their work, they’re going to have to know how to pay the bills. But what happens to the traditional “firewall” between news and sales if journalists are doing it all?
What we need to keep emphasizing is that the principles of honorable journalism — thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and (a new one) transparency — remain vital. When the boundaries get more difficult to discern, the transparency becomes all the more important. That said, the distance is something to preserve if possible. But we have to acknowledge that advertiser/powerful-friend influence over traditional media is a longstanding reality. When was the last time anyone saw serious journalism about a newspaper’s or TV station’s biggest advertiser?
I’d argue that transparency isn’t actually a new principle. It may not always be adhered to, but it’s one of the ways for journalists to be accountable for their actions, as spelled out in the RTNDA ethics code, among others. Accountability matters, no matter what the medium or how it’s funded.
One other point about journalists as entrepreneurs: it’s not just about learning the business side or starting your own business. Entrepreneurship also means thinking independently and marketing your stories. I’m not suggesting that journalists in the future are all going to be freelancers. But it wouldn’t hurt if they could think a little more like freelancers, even if they work for big media companies. If you learn how to sell a story, not just tell it, you’ll be more productive and more valuable–no matter where you work.