Earlier this month, Stephen B. Shepard, dean of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, announced on the school’s website that it would be introducing a new master’s degree track.This one, he explained, wouldn’t just teach students how to write and report and use new media to enhance those skills. It would also teach them something that most journalists, until recently, probably thought they would never have to worry about—how to run a business.
“We need research to find the economic models that will replace the financial underpinnings that no longer work,” Shepard wrote, “and new products to reach new audiences in new ways.”
The program, which will launch in the spring under the direction of Jeff Jarvis—the outspoken new media evangelist—will cover topics including emerging business models, new technologies, hyperlocal ventures, and advanced uses of new media and social media, according to Shepard’s post. Also: fundraising, budgets, the dynamics of revenue, advertising, marketing, distribution, and how to work with investors, programmers and technologists, Jarvis told us. In other words, pretty much everything people go to j-school to avoid.
“These are all things that journalists as a rule were never taught because they didn’t need to be,” said Jarvis, speaking by phone last week from his home in Basking Ridge, N.J. “They went to work at gigantic, monopolistic media businesses and someone else took care of all of that for them. It was great while it lasted, but it’s over.”
In a media landscape where traditional newsrooms are shrinking and competition for jobs is brutal, it does seem absurd to shell out tens of thousands of dollars (not quite as much in CUNY’s case) on graduate journalism programs that just spit you right back out into a media landscape where traditional newsrooms are shrinking and competition for jobs is brutal.
But if those same programs teach students how to make their own newsrooms, how to make their own jobs, the proposition starts to seem a bit more worthwhile, especially if you consider some of the young journalism startups that have been gaining traction and influence over the past few years. Talking Points Memo comes to mind. As does Politico. The Awl. Capital. The Faster Times. The website you are reading. The list goes on. Granted, some have so far proven more financially successful than others, but nevertheless, what matters is that they all actually exist.
“News organisations, or at least the great majority of them, are businesses,” said Josh Marshall, founder and editor in chief of Talking Points Memo. “So it’s critical that more journalists learn about why news organisations succeed and fail, and how to get more of the former than the latter.”
CUNY appears to be the first graduate j-school to offer a concentration specifically tailored for that. But it’s not the only one jumping into the fray.
(UPDATE – Chris Roush, director of the master’s program at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, emailed to let us know that his school implemented a business-side graduate concentration three years ago. Please let us know of others in the comments!)
Last year, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism (Disclosure: I graduated from there in 2008), added a new required course focusing on the business side of journalism. For the past few years, Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer (who also is one of Business Insider’s investors), has been teaching a six-session non-credit course at the school on how to launch an online journalism business.
“Things are changing,” said Nicholas Lemann, Columbia j-school’s dean. “The fact is, it’s now much easier to start a news organisation. The traditional economics of the business seem not to be working so well, so there’s much more of a feeling that you can’t live out a life in journalism under the assumption that you can make it through a 40-year career without ever thinking of the business side.”
Similarly, NYU’s graduate journalism program offers a concentration called Studio 20 focusing on “innovation” and adapting journalism to the web. Students from that program, which is headed up by Jay Rosen, have been working with The New York Times on launching its forthcoming Local East Village website, which is essentially a startup within a larger news organisation, said Rosen.
“The idea is to immerse them in the entire puzzle of sustainability and innovation in journalism today,” he said. “The ongoing struggle of the press to find new ways of sustaining itself and to adapt to technological change . It’s not about the business model in the sense of, ‘How do we make this a business that can make money?’ But rather, ‘How do you find sources of support so we can keep doing it?'”
He added: “Insulating journalists from the pressures of advertisers and self-censorship of any kind is as vital as it ever was. At the same time, I also believe that this church and state separation didn’t work all that well when the crisis came.”
The new CUNY j-school concentration is an outgrowth of the entrepreneurial journalism course Jarvis has been teaching at the school for the past few years. Students who enroll will have a fourth semester tacked onto the standard three-semester program.
Jarvis said he plans to raise money through the program to launch an investment fund and startup incubator as a way to develop new business models for news. As for the curriculum, it’s still being developed. But Jarvis said it would be geared toward online media for the most part.
He also said he hoped many students would enter the program with the goal of launching their own startups.
“They don’t have to, because we also want to instill entrepreneurship in other places, in big companies,” he said. “But I think most students will be here because they do want to start a business. It’s infectious.”
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