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‘Where’s the pain?’ – Three ways to be an entrepreneurial journalist

21 December 2009 54,817 views 4 Comments By

Why is the future of journalism entrepreneurial?

“Because it can be,” says Jeff Jarvis, and he’s right. [http://www.buzzmachine.com/2009/11/01/the-future-of-journalism-is-entrepreneurial/]

Firstly, the economic pressures on the mainstream media and its failure to embrace the internet in time have created gaps in the market for new businesses to exploit. Secondly, newsrooms are haemorrhaging almost as many professional journalists as universities are spewing out and they all gotta go somewhere.

And thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – because it’s never been easier or cheaper to set up a business.

For these reasons, I believe 2010 will start to see “a thousand flowers bloom” as Clay Shirky wrote [http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable] creating the first layer of a rich news ecosystem.

The seed of every business is the same, and journalism is no exception. They all begin with an idea. And this is one of the most important things to get right.

1. Serve the market

So what makes a good idea for a news business? Well, every idea will be different, but they must all start in the same place and this is something any journalist-turned-entrepreneur must get to grips with.

They must start in the market. They must start with a problem the market has, which you can fix; a service the market needs, which you can offer; a product the market wants, which you can produce.

Entrepreneur Mike Southon asks “where’s the pain?” and builds a business idea from there: is there something people moan about having to do or not being there?

If you don’t start with the market, and the pain it has, you risk peddling a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Hyperlocal websites which start up in areas well served by mainstream media will struggle, because they’ll be trying to offer an alternative to a market which is quite content. An online, multimedia music magazine won’t get far: there’s no evidence the market wants one.

The best ideas started with the market first. James Dyson realised people were tired of bags in vacuum cleaners and engineered a solution. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thought “there has to be a better way to use the internet to communicate”.

The news start-ups which will fail will be the ones which don’t respond to a market need. Sadly this means some tough choices for journalists. I mean, I sure as hell didn’t get into journalism to redesign hoovers or sell mugs. I got into journalism to tell stories and make films. But does the market want this?

2. Wrap a business around your passion

Before you put down your pen for good, there is hope. It is, believe it or not, possible to get paid for doing what you love – there’s even a whole empire of life coaches, books and courses all trying to convince you of this.

How does that work? Well, it requires a lot of thinking and great deal of which needs to be so far outside the box, you’ve forgotten where you left it.

It starts with really boiling down why you went into journalism. Was it because you really like sports news? Or because you get a real kick out of presenting on camera? Or maybe because you just like writing, no matter what.

Whatever it is, it is the something you can’t not do.

From there it’s a case of brainstorming all the different ways you can apply that skill to serve a completely different market. Think about other non-news markets which still want writers, presenters, producers. Do you have more than one passion you can combine?

I love telling the story of my mate Olly, a film school graduate who loved making TV, loved cooking and didn’t have a job. He combined them, and then thought of new and untapped markets, and now produces the hugely successful studentcooking.tv, which is syndicated round half-a-dozen universities and has won an RTS award.

Or Ben and David, a radio producer and photographer who combined their two passions, then looked for a new market. They now produce multimedia for a burgeoning market of NGOs as Duckrabbit.

Try this formula:

Your skill x your passion + a completely new market = a business

3. The third way

Although there will be countless opportunities, not every journalist will become a business owner; we don’t all need to become Rockefeller. We can always work with or under those who prefer to be entrepreneurial.

But every journalist must start learning about smart business decisions and about the importance of innovation.

Some journalists, I know, refuse to accept this entrepreneurial vision. They worry about ethics, quality of reporting, and holding powers to account. [http://adamwestbrook.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/what-should-we-teach-journalism-students/#comment-10575]

But I don’t worry about those things. The future of journalism landscape still has the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, BSkyB and all the other big names in it – just with other, smaller, businesses around it. They will be complimented – not threatened – by start-ups.

And should any of them fail, and the democratic responsibility of journalism appear under threat, a new enterprise will emerge to fix that pain. Why? Because the market will demand it.

Adam Westbrook is a multimedia journalist, blogger and lecturer.  His personal blog is at http://adamwestbrook.wordpress.com and his website can be found at http://www.adamwestbrook.co.uk. At news:rewiredYou can read more about his thoughts on this in our Q&A post with him. Adam will be talking about multimedia skills for journalists.

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  • http://westseattleblog.com Tracy at WSB

    Great topic. We’ve been living it for two years. But 2010 will not be the year you START to see “a thousand flowers bloom”….hundreds of them are blooming already. Here in Seattle, more than a few. In many other communities too, like the East Coast pioneer Baristanet, where I believe they’re into year six. Congratulations to all who are on the path and collaborating with their communities! – TR

  • http://digi-business.net Will Hawkins

    It’s interesting when you put your post here in the context of anyone who is in PR today and wants to remain doing that in the next decade.

    PR is going to be much less about broadcasting and conveying a message out to an audience. It’s going to be much more about listening and understanding what is being said about your business or client.

    And journalists are going to have to be much better at engaging with their audiences than they may have done in the last decade and before.

  • http://martincloake.wordpress.com Martin Cloake

    I think when people say “entrepreneurial” they mean “individually entrepreneurial”. Because nothing I’ve read about the “new” era of entrepreneurial journalism convinces me that the substance of the idea is any different from what has gone before. We’ve always had to identify and serve markets. Being passionate about a subject area has always been an advantage.

    You set up a false opposition between so-called “entrepreneurial journalists” and journalists who “worry about ethics, quality of reporting, and holding powers to account”. It’s possible to do both. Just as it’s possible to argue the market will not “fix” everything – the realisation that it won’t is shaping the current economic order.

    I’ve posted on my blog about this, and I can feel another post coming on.

  • http://www.metalbrake.net Emilia Palmer

    Nowadays, you must be super creative to have a good business idea that works.“.