Can good journalist + good capitalist = possible?

By Steve Outing

This month’s Carnival of Journalism, hosted by Michael Rosenbaum, asks the provocative question: “Can a good journalist also be a good capitalist?”

I’ll probably open myself up to charges of being “ageist,” but here goes…

Working at a university journalism program (University of Colorado Boulder), I’ve come to the conclusion that the next generation of journalists will be better capitalists than older journalists. Because what I’m seeing on this campus, and I’m sure it’s similar at other university journalism programs, is a growing number of students who are interested in business-model innovation for news. No, certainly not a majority, but enough to feel some optimism.

More new journalism graduates will want to build new news businesses, because they’ve grown up to see lone bloggers starting on a shoestring build sizable media enterprises

That’s logical, since many journalism students (but not all, in my experience!) recognize that the old news institutions that try to cling to their old business models are crumbling, and they understand that to forge a career in journalism they will need to come up with new ways for news entities to be profitable, or at least sustainable — whether they go to work for an existing news organization or create a new digital news enterprise from scratch using today’s and tomorrow’s inexpensive or free digital publishing tools.

At the Digital News Test Kitchen, I’m working with two graduate students this semester who have business-model projects and research under way: one focusing on collegiate news media, the other on niche (music/entertainment) news media. One Journalism master’s student just asked me for a recommendation letter to support her application to CU’s MBA program, so she can work on dual master’s degrees while she’s here in Boulder. (That’s fantastic; I only wish that another 10 students would announce similar intentions.) A journalism student and Test Kitchen researcher who received his master’s degree in December now works for a national non-profit news service based in Boulder, serving as a digital-media and business-model strategist.

Looking elsewhere, we’ve seen a growing number of entrepreneurial journalism programs, like the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, run by Jeff Jarvis at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; the Missouri School of Journalism’s interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Journalism program; and at Arizona State, the Cronkite School’s Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship.

At many journalism schools and departments that lack that kind of commitment and devotion of resources, entrepreneurial journalism courses at least have been added. That’s the case at CU-Boulder, with a course called “Adventures in Entrepreneurial Journalism,” which has been co-taught by faculty from Journalism and the Business School’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.

I have to believe that today’s crop of journalism graduates will embark into the world of news (those that choose to work in journalism) devoid of the attitudes that were instilled in my generation of journalism graduates: that editorial and the business sides of news should be separated by a wall, lest the latter contaminate the ethics of the former. I think that more new graduates will want to build new journalism businesses, because they’ve grown up to see lone bloggers starting on a shoestring build sizable media enterprises (TalkingPointsMemo, PaidContent, the Drudge Report, etc.). And they’ve been exposed to the notions that entrepreneurship and journalism now do mix; you don’t have to start with a big pile of money to start a media enterprise; and it is ethically possible to seek both truth and cash.

Can older journalists who’ve crossed from print and broadcast into digital become successful capitalists? Of course there are the exceptions, but I’m less optimistic about my age peers than about the students I encounter daily. For every Nick Denton (a British former newspaper journalist who built the Gawker empire and is every bit the successful capitalist) there are probably a hundred former old-media journalists scraping by with their own news websites covering their communities and still doing the work they love, but not having much of a chance that their small media businesses will grow beyond small.

That’s not to denigrate smaller online news entities that have emerged and are filling the holes left by the many layoffs of journalists from old-media organizations. We might call those local news websites (the ones that are for-profit) capitalism with a small “c”; they can serve their communities well, create some but not large numbers of new jobs for journalists, and give their founders a non-extravagant earnings level.

But my suspicion and my prediction is that it will be the next generation that will include journalism entrepreneurs who, for the lucky ones, will create journalism-based enterprises that grow to be represent Capitalism, with a capital “C.”

Next month’s Carnival: Hosted by me, Digital News Test Kitchen

I’ve been wanting to host a Carnival of Journalism, and head organizer David Cohn has agreed to let me do it for February 2012. So watch for the announcement soon of next month’s question, hosted by the Digital News Test Kitchen at CU-Boulder and me.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!