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Journalism schools as startup accelerators
Disruptive-innovation guru Clay Christensen exhorts news organizations to focus on the “jobs to be done” in their communities. Help people do them and revenue opportunities will follow. (Especially when consumers didn’t realize they needed those jobs to be done.)
The winners in 2013 will be entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs whose mission is to help get those jobs done: creative individuals who see a gap and fill it, define a niche and commoditize it, re-imagine information and deliver it in smart, new ways — ways that are increasingly easier to monetize than erecting paywalls.
While many legacy news organizations continue to focus on “making money” as their paramount job to be done (a focus on themselves instead of their consumers), media entrepreneurs are stealing bases and hitting home runs all around them. That will continue in force this year.
Media entrepreneurship is happening in a couple ways. Front-end media entrepreneurs are creating news content — from comics-journalism apps and digital voter guides to state watchdog initiatives. Back-end entrepreneurs are building mobile apps, scraping data, and automating tasks. The creativity — believe me, I just helped judge the SXSW News Technology Accelerator entries — is simply breathtaking.
I also just finished teaching the inaugural cohort group in American University’s MA in Media Entrepreneurship program. Nine sharp students had nine great projects — any of which could have been triples for traditional journalism organizations.
In addition to clever ideas for news products and news delivery systems, we will see more creative ideas for journalism collaborations. The opportunities are wide open for connecting silos of information in communities, amplifying good stories that people want to know about and for leveraging resources so that the sum of the efforts is bigger than the individual contributions. They can be metro collaborations, such as the new video-sharing agreement between The Boston Globe and WBZ, or mainstream media organizations working with indie news sites, as is happening with The Seattle Times and The Oregonian in Portland. Someone will crack the nut on revenue sharing.
Journalism schools, such as CUNY, Arizona State, American, and others, will continue to innovate with programs to help both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs build the skills, mindsets, and networks to make their media ideas happen. Welcome to the year of j-schools as start-up accelerators.
The winners this year will be those who see the opportunities right under their noses and act on them.
Jan Schaffer, is executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the American University School of Communication. Previously, she was business editor and a Pulitzer Prize winner at The Philadelphia Inquirer.