Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Entrepreneurship in action

We're rolling now in the Entrepreneurial Journalism class.

Students are starting to develop their projects, first with a quiet room, no cel phones or computers, brainstorming and their Wal-Mart notebooks. Then we talk about it in the group, and focus it more or broaden it out. Chances are good that these ideas will look very different by they time students have to present them for "funding" before our panel of venture capitalists in December.

In the coming weeks, students will be surveying their friends, families, and researching the size and potential of their audiences, delivery platforms and possible revenue generators. We'll also be looking at other online journalism models, like baristanet.com, the New Haven Independent, Voice of San Diego, Minnpost.com to see how they're faring in this new journalism landscape.

These publications have been up and running for a few years now; some of them got help early on from foundation money. So it's a good time to be looking at these new models to see whether and how they're doing it. Northeastern University prof Dan Kennedy is writing a book for the UMass Press about the New Haven Independent, which operates as a non-profit, and he's been blogging quite a bit about its founder Paul Bass, and the challenges such a news operation faces.

I was thinking about how different this class is in September 2010 compared to the first class, just a year ago.(And before the journalism police get all huffy about whether this type of course is valuable--there's a lot of that these days--and start talking about the importance of good story ideas, solid reporting and well-written stories, let's stipulate that we agree about the importance of creating good journalism. BUT we are also exploring how we might create sustainable enterprises.)

Anyway, here are a few things that have changed since last year.

1.  Increased importance of mobile: students will have to understand how mobile technology works, because that's where an increasing amount of content is being delivered.  This means having some kind of smartphone app or at minimum, something that will be viewable on a smartphone instead of just a computer screen.

2. More use of social media to create content and broadcast it. It's one thing to create a great news site. If no one knows about it or comes to the site, well.....so much of what we used to think of as "direct marketing" can now be done in such a targeted way with  Facebook, which now has about 500 million members. As a former student (and current advisor) told me: everyone you want to reach is on Facebook.

This time around, we're integrating Facebook and Twitter strategies right into the projects from their inception. Also, I've learned from experience with my own site that the people you think of as your competition can actually help drive traffic to your site, so we'll be paying more attention to those strategies as well.

We've also got new mixes of GPS and social media, like Gowalla and FourSquare to integrate if we want. By next year, I'm assuming there will be tiny chips embedded into our arms with tattoos that will connect into some platform and tell people what I'm thinking. Oh wait, that was a Tom Cruise movie.

3. An ever-growing amount of free and low-cost information and services.  Paypal can handle billing and payments. SurveyMonkey can help you survey readers about content. MailChimp can help you send out customized e-mail to your readers. Students will be using their LinkedIn accounts to find help and advice for what they're doing, by joining groups related to entrepreneurship, journalism and technology and posting questions.  Need to figure out Google Analytics? There are videos and tutorials on the Google page and across the web to teach you.

And you say you want to start a non-profit new site? The Knight Foundation Citizen News Network has just launched a Learning Module that walks you through the process, called Launching a Nonprofit News Site.

Here's a roundup of entrepreneurial online resources.

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