J-Lab RSS Feed http://www.j-lab.org J-Lab - Igniting News Ideas That Work <![CDATA[The Story Behind the Geezer Grants]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Masters Mediapreneurs and the J-Lab were featured in three MediaShift articles: J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer Reflects Back on 20 Years of Journalism InnovationJ-Lab Launches Journalism Grant Program for Baby Boomers; and Reimagining Journalism School as a ‘Gateway Degree’ to Anything

Last week we announced an awards project to help Baby Boomers launch news startups. This week, we chuckle at our new nickname and shine a spotlight on the history that gave the project momentum.

"Geezer grants" is the term some wags have applied to the $12,000 startup funding open to people age 50-plus who want to launch a news project. Bring it on. Fourteen applications have been submitted for the four awards in the first week. The deadline is Dec. 15.

The funding will come as an award, not a grant. That means individuals are eligible; you don't have to be a nonprofit organization. You can preview the application here and fill one out here.

When J-Lab started raising money for the Encore Media Entrepreneurs project, I already knew this cohort group was keenly interested in responsible news and information, were digitally savvy, and had an appetite for launching news startups.

At least 17 of the start-ups J-Lab has funded since 2005 were the vision of adults aged 53 to 70. And they rank among our most enduring projects. They have been winners of seed funding from J-Lab's New Voices program and from our New Media Women Entrepreneurs program. 

They are people like former magazine publisher Ken Martin, who launched The Austin Bulldog in Texas in 2009 at age 70. He has since pugnaciously covered local government, filing 156 FOIA requests just since January 2011.  
His stories have led to more open meetings and open records, including a requirement that Austin City Council members must use city email accounts, not personal emails, to conduct city business.

Meet some others:

  • Professor Chris Harper, at 57, launched PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com in 2009 and it has since become part of the capstone for Temple University's journalism program.
  • Non-profit executive Sharon Litwin, 69, launched NolaVie.com with journalist Renee Peck, 56, in 2010 in New Orleans. The arts and culture news site has since forged a content partnership with WWNO, the city's public radio station.
  • Environmental journalist Dave Poulson, at 53, launched Great LakesEcho in 2009 to cover environmental issues and his portfolio continues to grow. It is a spinoff from the 2006 Great Lake Wiki.
  • Former San Jose Mercury News journalist Janice Rombeck, at 59, started NeighborWebSJ in 2010 to cover neighborhood issues San Jose, CA.
  • Former Oregonian art critic Barry Johnson launched Oregon Arts Watch in Portland in 2010 at age 59.
  • One-time Yahoo exec Susan Mernit, at 53, launched Oakland Local to focus on social justice issues in Oakland, CA. in 2009.
  • Professor Lew Friedland was 54 when he launched Madison Commons community news site in Wisconsin in 2005.


J-Lab's list doesn't stop there, nor does the variety.

Take a look at what Laura Fraser, Peggy Northrop and Rachel Greenfield are doing with Shebooks.net.  What Jeanne Pinder is doing with ClearHealthCosts.com. What Michele Kayal, Bonny Wolf, Carol Guensburg and Domenica Marchetti are doing with AmericanFoodRoots.com, which just won two 2014 awards from the Association of Food Journalists: best food blog and best non-newspaper food feature. The possibilities are stimulating.

All of these projects launched with micro funding of between $12,000 and $25,000.

Here's an observation from Maureen Mann, who was a retired school teacher when she won J-Lab funding to start The Forum in Deerfield, N.H. in 2005 at age 59: "One thing to point out is that people over 50 are used to having access to good media, want good media and have the time to make it happen – often for a lot less money (or in some cases no money but a desire for a good source of news)."


'The Forum has since expanded coverage to three other New Hampshire communities and Mann has been a mentor to former PTA volunteer Christine Yeres as she started NewCastleNOW.org to cover Chappaqua, N.Y.

Of note, our media entrepreneurs seem to align with Kauffman Foundation research that finds adults in the 55-64 age group have a high rate of entrepreneurial activity, comprising 23.4 percent of all us entrepreneurs in the U.S. – up from 18.7 percent in 2003.

A MetLife Foundation survey found that two out of three want to have local or regional, not national, impact. Two out of three potential encore entrepreneurs said they'd find their business worthwhile if they made less than $60,000 a year.  About the same percentage said they need $50,000 or less to get started, and many expect to tap personal savings. Those are realistic numbers for local news startups.

More information on the Encore Media Entrepreneur Awards

Four $12,000 awards are available to those Baby Boomers who have a vision for a news venture and a plan to continue it after initial funding is spent. Funding can be used for web sites, mobile apps or other news ideas. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 15, 2014. See guidelines here. Apply online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EncoreEntrepreneurs.

The awards are supported with funding from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

Blogically Thinking 2014-11-13T18:57:58+00:00
<![CDATA[Twenty Years on the Front Lines of Journalism Innovation]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do more writing, custom training and discrete projects.

After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned. This post addresses journalism innovations.

Little did I expect when I left The Philadelphia Inquirer to come to Washington, D.C., 20 years ago, that I would end up on the frontlines of journalism innovation, participatory journalism and news startups ­– just as the journalism industry was on the precipice of profound disruption.

I quickly took on a leadership role in what was to become one of the nation's most controversial attempts to reform journalism: the civic journalism movement. Castigated by the cardinals of the profession for its outreach to readers and viewers (there weren't many "users" then), civic journalism was an effort to experiment with new ways to engage audiences and stimulate citizen involvement in elections, local issues and problem solving. Its critics found abhorrent any idea that citizens might have input into how journalists did their jobs.

I can look back now with some amusement. But I gotta say: Civic journalism really worked. (More on this in another blog post.) It makes most of today's audience engagement initiatives look a mile wide and an inch deep.

I now see the degree to which civic journalism was a precursor to today's participatory and interactive journalism and the rise of citizen journalists. And I am heartened when I see so many entrepreneurial news startups openly embrace civic aspirations. Consider Jim Brady's BillyPenn.com, for one.

When a decade of the Pew Charitable Trusts' generous support for civic journalism ended, I spun our efforts into J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. Informed by early clickable maps that served as surrogate public hearings (kudos to the Everett Herald's Waterfront Renaissance project) and by the gaming instincts of the first state tax calculators and budget balancers (hat tips to New Hampshire and Minnesota Public Radio), I wanted to move in a more digital direction. It was 2002, and we soon found ourselves in the vanguard of an onslaught of activities. We rewarded innovations with theKnight-Batten Awards, seeded startups with theNew Voices projects and Women Entrepreneur awards, built digital capacity and created new kinds of knowledge.

J-Lab became a catalyst for news ideas that work. The center and its advisory boards funded 100 news startups and pilot projects. They included community news startups, women media entrepreneur initiatives, networked journalism initiatives and enterprise reporting awards.

In the process of monitoring these projects, J-Lab learned a lot. And we shared it in 11 publications and five websites that have been used as resources in newsrooms and classrooms. J-Lab was the first to chronicle the emergence of citizen-ledcommunity news sites. It was the first to capture the extent of nonprofit funding for news projects with a 2009 database of grant-funded news projects accompanied by video case studies. We tapped Mark Briggs to write "Journalism 2.0," and it was such a popular early guide to digital literacy, it was downloaded some 200,000 times.

As I pivot to embrace some new projects, I offer this roundup of some lessons learned:

  • Innovations awards work - if they recognize more than multimedia bells and whistles. Audience engagement and impact are the most useful barometers of excellence.
  • Micro-grants for startups work - when the founders are genuinely committed to leveraging a proof of concept into an ongoing project.
  • News entrepreneurs see new jobs to be done in today's media space ­– but far too many are leaving traditional newsrooms to do them.
  • You can change behaviors by incentivizing change - if you set out short-term and long-term expectations.


Our funding for news startups ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 per project, and our pilot-projects ventures received $5,000 to $50,000. The demand for micro start-up awards is enormous and the success rate is notable, especially when applicants must lay out plans for sustainability.

We received 2,011 applications for 22 awards in our McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneur initiative, launched in 2008; 73 percent of those projects are still active. Across the board, the applicants were deeply accomplished, with many Pulitzer, Peabody and Fulbright winners in the mix. The vast majority of the proposals expressed a passion for purpose-driven news and information projects addressing such things as sustainability, social justice or equity. These themes have started to become more pronounced in recent years. Look at The Marshall Project as a case in point.

The vast majority of our women entrepreneurs were also refugees from traditional newsrooms. What a shame their ideas could not find the oxygen to be developed in-house.

Our New Voices grants for community news startups attracted 1,433 proposals for 55 projects that turned into 57 websites. However, 44 percent of the projects were launched by journalism schools and half of these could not figure out how to continue after the initial funding was spent. Kudos, though, to some notable exceptions: Chicago Talks, Great Lakes Echo,Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Madison Commons and Intersections South LA.

I am particularly proud that our award winners represented a broad cross-section of applicants who won on the merits of their ideas and not because they had past relationships or grant-writing abilities.


J-Lab's shared its learning in dozens of high-touch training programs for both journalism practitioners and educators at national journalism gatherings and at our own interactive summits and workshops. For more than 10 years J-Lab programmed lunches for journalism educators at AEJMC. For eight years, we produced sold-out pre-convention workshops for the Online News Association. We convened the first summit of university-based news sites and two women media entrepreneur summits. When you give people practical, accessible tools and information, they will use them.

Our Knight Community News Network suite of consultants engaged partners to provide learning modules on how to become a nonprofit 501(c)3, avoid legal risks, use social media and engage audiences. Our J-Learning site offers tutorials in using publishing software and hardware.

Innovations Awards

For nine years, J-Lab and its advisory board rewarded first-mover innovations via the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. We honored 56 winners and showcased 196 notable entries, good ideas even if they didn't win. Again and again, our awards were an early scout for innovations that later turned into Knight News Challenge winners or Knight grantees. Many of the ideas also were replicated by other news organizations.

While we may not know exactly where we are going in the future, sometimes, it's helpful to look back. I am struck by how, if you track past Knight-Batten winners, you really capture the arc of journalism's reinvention over the last decade. The awards were among the first to validate and honor:

  • News games with Minnesota Public Radio's state Budget Balancer (2003).
  • Participatory journalism with KQED's "You Decide" exercise tool and early crowdsourcing with USAToday giving readers the chance to pick their winners in West Virginia's NewSong Festival for songwriters (2004).
  • Database journalism with the Grand Prize going to ChicagoCrime.com, a searchable database of local crime that later became EveryBlock. Minnesota Public Radio was honored for Public Insight Journalism participatory journalism efforts that have since been adopted around the country (2005).
  • Blogs , with the still-robust Global Voices winning for curating and translating international blogs. Our first social media award went to the Bakersfield Californian. The theme of journalistic transparency emerged with webcast news meetings of the Spokane's Spokesman-Review (2006).
  • Non-traditional journalism winners: the Personal Democracy Forum for its techpresident.com initiative and the Council on Foreign Relations for its Crisis Guides. It was time to acknowledge how new players were entering the news and information space. Our first citizen media award went to The Forum, the nine-year-old citizen-run hyperlocal site for Deerfield, N.H. (2007)
  • Fact-checking was the theme with Wired.com's Wikiscanner winning for developing a way to truth-squad entries on Wikipedia. PolitiFact won for fact-checking public officials and candidates. Ushahidi showed us how mobile phone crowdsourcing could help with crisis information (2008).
  • Innovations in mainstream media had the New York Times sweeping the awards with aportfolio of innovative entries. The rise of nonprofit journalism channeled honors to the Center for Public Integrity (2009).
  • Transparency was the theme of Grand Prize winner The Sunlight Foundation's Sunlight Live coverage of the health care summit with an innovative blending of data, liveblogging, streaming video and social media. An award to ProPublica's distributed reporting corps paid tribute to the theme of collaboration (2010).
  • Social media was the hallmark of the final year of the awards, 2011, which honored Storify's social media story builder and NPR's Andy Carvin for his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring.

The Knight-Batten Awards were unique in their focus on innovations that "spurred non-traditional interactions," demonstrably engaged audiences, "employed new definitions of news" and "created news ways of imparting useful information." Again and again, they proved to be remarkably prescient about innovations that would have real staying power.

My thanks to our supporters, who had the courage and creativity to fund these activities, including The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Knight, McCormick, Ethics and Excellence, Ford, Wyncote, William Penn, Gannett and Ottaway Foundations and to American University, our home.

Blogically Thinking 2014-10-31T16:30:10+00:00
<![CDATA[Journalism Education: It’s Time to Craft the Gateway Degree]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do more consulting, custom training and discrete projects.

After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned.  This post addresses journalism education.

If I were to lead a journalism school today, I'd want its mission to be: We make the media we need for the world we want. 

Not: We are an assembly line for journalism wannabes.

The media we need could encompass investigative journalism, restorative narratives , soft-advocacy journalism , knowledge-based journalism,artisanal journalism, solutions journalism, civic journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, explanatory journalism, and maybe a little activist journalism to boot. That's in addition to the what-happened-today and accountability journalism.

Journalism is changing all around us. It's no longer the one-size-fits-all conventions and rules I grew up with.  Not what I was taught at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Not what I practiced for 20 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yet, as someone who consumes a lot of media, I find I like journalism that has some transparent civic impulses, some sensibilities about possible solutions, and some acknowledged aspirations toward the public good. Even though I realize that might make some traditional journalists squirm.

And I'd assert that – if the journalism industry really wants to engage its audiences and woo new ones, and if the academy wants its journalism schools to flourish – it's time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.

It's time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.

There is some urgency here. Colleges and universities are cascading toward the disruptive chaos that has upended legacy news outlets.  Many, like newspapers, will likely shut their doors in the next decade or two, victims of skyrocketing tuitions, unmanageable debt, unimaginative responses and questionable usefulness.

Adding to the urgency are indications that some J-school enrollments have declined in the last few years, according to the University of Georgia's latest enrollment survey, released in July. Industry retrenchment is partly blamed for making prospective students and their parents nervous about future jobs.

How do you quell that nervousness?  One way is to articulate a new value proposition for journalism education; next, of course, is to implement it. 

It's time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.

It's time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.

Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, nonprofits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others.

We already know that a journalism education – leavened with liberal arts courses and sharpened with interviewing, research, writing, and digital production/social media competencies– is an excellent gateway to law school or an MBA.  And we already know that journalism education has moved away from primarily teaching students how to be journalists; indeed, seven out of 10 journalism and mass communications students are studying advertising and public relations, according to the UGA study.

In particular, schools that offer students hands-on experience running real newsrooms, a piece of the "teaching hospital" model of journalism education, pave the road to richer, more varied futures.

Refining the Gateway Degree, however, means embracing different types of journalism and showcasing different definitions of success achieved by alums, not just highlighting those who work in news organizations.

Journalism education as a Gateway Degree is a good business proposition – both for the journalism schools and for the industry. We need journalism schools to teach more than inverted-pyramid stories and video and digital production, in part because the industry is awash in entrepreneurial startups that are practicing excellent journalism but are increasingly mission-driven. They are driving strong coverage of public schools, public health, diverse communities and sustainable cities. Moreover, the news startup space is increasingly populated by nonprofit, regional investigative news sites.

For many startup founders, it's not enough to afflict the comfortable or speak truth to power.  They want their journalism to solve problems, improve lives and help make things better. These startups want measureable impact...

For many of these startup founders, it's not enough to afflict the comfortable or speak truth to power.  They want their journalism to solve problems, improve lives and help make things better. These startups want measureable impact beyond winning a journalism prize or changing legislation. This is a mindset, however, not a skill set, and one not often addressed in a standard journalism curriculum.

Instead, journalism schools in recent years have been hyper-focused on skill sets – convergence in the last decade, and coding and data skills in this one.

Media entrepreneurship courses especially can help pave the way for embracing a broader mission and cultivating different mindsets. Courses in entrepreneurial journalism train students to spot what disruption guru Clay Christensen calls "jobs [that need] to be done" and rethink how to engage audiences in those challenges. Students do competitive scans  (a good exercise for solutions reporting); they construct business plans (a useful reality exercise); and they build wireframes, proof-of-concept sites or apps (an introduction to the maker culture).

These activities also help channel those students who come to journalism school thinking they are going to produce works of art – the "I like to write" students – into more grounded activities.

Equally important, though, is the role that journalism education can play in the aspirations and social mindsets of Millennials, who are now wearing two hats: as news consumers and news creators. "One of the characteristics of Millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities," Leigh Buchanon writes in Meet the Millennials.

There is more work to be done in rendering how responsible journalism meshes with responsible aspirations to advance the public good.  But the ripple effect of engaging audiences in issues people care about can be enormous if news organizations master the onramps.

So I'd say it's time to be creative in leveraging current abilities and new mindsets to design a robust Gateway Degree that can imagine and deliver upon the media we need for the future.

Blogically Thinking 2014-10-31T16:19:31+00:00
<![CDATA[Encore Media Entrepreneurs Invited to Apply for Four $12,000 Startup Grants]]> Posted To: Press Releases

Washington, D.C.  -  Encore media entrepreneurs, age 50+, are invited to apply for seed funding to help them launch news projects in 2015 as part of a new initiative launched today by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

Four $12,000 awards are available to those Baby Boomers who have a vision for a news venture and a plan to continue it after initial funding is spent. The awards are supported with funding from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

Funding is available for web sites, mobile apps or other news ideas. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 15, 2014. See guidelines here. Apply online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EncoreEntrepreneurs.

"We are seeking to create replicable models for engaging older adults in digital leadership roles in democratic society – roles that can help watchdog local officials, foster doable solutions to community problems, and build models for civic participation through the media, not just the voting booth," said J-Lab Director Jan Schaffer.

"This cohort group, raised in the journalism of the Watergate-era, seem eager to participate in their communities in new digital ways," she said.

J-Lab has provided seed funding to 100 start-ups and collaborative pilot projects since 2005. "At least 17 of the 100 start-ups we have funded so far were the vision of adults aged 53 to 70. They have been among our most enduring projects," Schaffer said.  See some of those projects here: http://www.j-lab.org/projects/masters-mediapreneurs-initiative/

These site founders were familiar with new digital tools, Schaffer said. Often, they were empty nesters who had been involved in their community. Some were journalists who took left newsrooms in the downsizings that have swept the news industry since 2007. Others are embracing an encore career – or just an encore hobby.

Here's an observation from Maureen Mann, a retired school teacher who founded The Forum in Deerfield, N.H. in 2005 at age 59: "One thing to point out is that people over 50 are used to having access to good media, want good media and have the time to make it happen – often for a lot less money (or in some cases no money but a desire for a good source of news)."

Encore media entrepreneurs align with research from the MetLife Foundation that finds adults in the 55-64 age group have the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. Two out of three:

  • Want to have local or regional, not national, impact.
  • Say they'd find their business worthwhile if they made less than $60,000 a year, which is in line with sustainable models for media start-ups.
  • Say they need less that $50,000 to get started.  Nearly one-half expect to tap personal savings to launch ventures.

J-Lab, founded in 2002, is a journalism catalyst. It funds new approaches to news and information, researches what works and shares practical insights with traditional and entrepreneurial news organizations. Jan Schaffer is Entrepreneur in Residence at American University.

J-Lab Press Releases 2014-10-29T20:07:01+00:00
<![CDATA[2014 J-Lab/AEJMC Breakfast]]> Posted To: Workshops & Training > Summits

Event Date: Aug. 7, 2014

AEJMC 2014

Summits 2014-08-07T13:29:25+00:00
<![CDATA[Gender Gap Blues?  Build Your Own Sandbox]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

There was much hand wringing at the June 30th forum, "Closing Journalism Gender Gap," at the National Press Club,

Indeed, the numbers are appalling: Women comprise only 36 percent of the journalism workforce and only 23 percent of the leadership (where they make 25 percent less than their male counterparts). Yet they make up 64 percent of journalism school enrollments, where many will elect careers in public relations. The numbers come from research supplied by the sponsors, The Poynter Institute and the press club's Journalism Training Institute.  Many of the numbers come from the Women's Media Center study earlier this year.

Who would think that we'd still be dealing with this mishigas at this moment in time? Bylines are being counted, op-eds are tallied, pundits are logged amid considerable consternation.

Advice was plentiful: Push through. Banish bashfulness. Ask for more. Hang in there. After all, "it's the best job in the world," affirmed an extremely articulate panel.

I've got to say, though, I'm not convinced those strategies will make much of a dent in the numbers, especially nowadays when legacy newsrooms have little wiggle room to do much hiring. And when they do, it's often programmers or coders they want.

Achieving change from the victim's chair is seldom an empowering exercise. Overcoming gender styles that are viewed as liabilities instead of assets is not where you want to be.

There are other options:

• Just leave.  Yes, leave – but do it matter-of-factly.  And do it with a plan to build out your portfolio in entirely new ways.  Join a news startup.  Amp up your social media skills. Do a deep dive in a particular topic area. Understand how the emerging news ecosystem is embracing change. Attach yourselves to new circles of competence. The goal is to attain new skills – and a sponsor or two – not more clips.  You are never more desirable than when someone else wants you.  And the doors do revolve.

• Seek an internal greenhouse.  Raise your hand to be on the innovations team. or new-products team. Women have unique ways of connecting the dots on trends and good instincts about engaging audiences.  However, these are muscles that need to be toned. These skills can also be a future escape hatch, if you want it.

• Build your own sandbox. Grow your media entrepreneurship skills, whether as a job or a hobby. Start a website, a blog, a newsletter, an app that lets your spread your wings in new ways.

Amid all the numbers tossed around about the plight of women journalists, I have not seen statistics that tell us whether women are leaving newsrooms in disproportionate numbers when buyouts are offered or downsizing occurs.

But I do know in reading 2,011 applications for some 22 startup awards J-Lab offered with McCormick Foundation funding between 2008 and 2013, there are incredibly smart, talented women who have left – in some cases fled – newsrooms and have good ideas for the future of media.

As a general rule, they don't aspire to collect scalps. They'd rather do journalism that builds communities, rights social wrongs, empowers the voiceless and fosters a much closer relationship with their audiences.

It seems to me those are jobs that need to be done.

Blogically Thinking 2014-07-03T02:00:53+00:00
<![CDATA[10 Takeaways from Teaching Entrepreneurship]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Articles

(This article originally appeared on PBS Mediashift.)

So far, two cohort groups, some 21 people, have gone through my Seminar in Media Entrepreneurship for mid-career professionals. It is the first seminar that each cohort group takes as they embark on the 20-month, 10-course journey to a M.A. in Media Entrepreneurship (MAME) at American University's School of Communication (SOC).

As entrepreneurship courses multiply in journalism school curricula, opportunities arise, but so do many questions.

Here are 10 takeaways from my experience to date.

Click the image for the full series. Original photo by Paul Goyette and used here with Creative Commons. Click the image for the full series. Original photo by Paul Goyette and used here with Creative Commons.

1. Require students to have a startup idea in mind.
It may not be the project they will present for their capstone, but if they have to think of a venture after they begin their course work, they will quickly fall behind.

2. Vet students' passion to launch something and the creativity of their idea as criteria for admission.
Don't require GREs or even high GPAs. Neither count for much in the entrepreneurship space.

3. Consider using Pandora to market your program.
This is a brilliant idea from SOC Graduate Services director Sharmeen Ahsan-Bracciale. Every student in my class said they had heard about the program while listening to music.

4. Define "media" broadly.
It's clear that my students regard media entrepreneurship as more than journalism. It is any kind of digital information or toolkit. And who knows? The emerging pattern has media startups adding journalism capabilities as they grow. Consider how the expansion of such digital information deliverers as BuzzFeed and Twitter has whet their appetites for bonafide journalism and led to recent hires of news editors with journalism chops.

American University's DC Startup Forum series helps spread entrepreneurial ideas.American University's DC Startup Forum series helps spread entrepreneurial ideas.

5. Urge students to think of their startups as accomplishing a "job [that needs] to be done."
I've found this to be a useful framework. As disruptive technology guru Clay Christensen notes, people don't buy products; they buy solutions to problems they encounter.

6. Present, present, present.
I have students distill their epiphanies from class assignments into very short, 3- to 5-page wrap-ups accompanied by an AV presentation to the entire class. They've used Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi and SlideRocket for presentations that got increasingly sophisticated week by week. By the end of the semester, they had a focused pitch deck. They even scheduled their own sharing session to teach one another multimedia presentation tricks.

7. Get permission to publicize their ideas – on your website and to the rest of the school.
While some students want to stick to the non-disclosure route, others will find support and help by being open. In the future, I'd like to invite interested faculty and students to their final project presentations.

8. Partner with nearby accelerators to expose students to the local startup scene.
American University is the first university to partner with 1776, a year-old incubator in Washington, D.C. that has attracted scores of fledgling enterprises. Students and faculty can work at the AU table and attend some presentations. Faculty have begun sharing their expertise in clinics for 1776′ers that Amy Eisman, SOC's director of media entrepreneurship, is expanding.

9. Launch a speaker series, not just for media entrepreneurship students but other students as well.
Our DC Startup Forum presents local entrepreneurs in monthly, hour-long Q&As during spring and fall semesters. WAMU public radio uploads video of the sessions. They also appeal to budding social entrepreneurs at AU's School of International Service and business entrepreneurs at the Kogod School of Business.

Dan PachecoDan Pacheco

10. Aim for a prototype or minimum viable product.
This is a key challenge for many media entrepreneurship programs. If extra programming skills are needed, consider bringing on a visiting programmer for 10 to 12 hours a week who can help jumpstart student ideas. Credit for this idea goes to Dan Pacheco at Syracuse.

One idea leads to another and the routes to new opportunities have been surprising. We've found no shortage of good ideas for the future of news and information.

Blogically ThinkingArticles 2014-01-30T15:52:49+00:00
<![CDATA[Revisiting 10 of the Many Things I’ve Learned Since Abscam]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Articles

With the release of  the "American Hustle" movie about Abscam, I've been moved to remind myself of some takeways of my involvement in that FBI sting operation. Full disclosure: This originally appeared in the American Press Institute's "Survival Guide For Women Editors." 



As a federal court reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, I got a 
tip one Friday that something big was going to happen that 
would “involve the Halls of Congress.”

I couldn’t nail the story that day. But the next day I broke what came to be
 known as the Abscam story.

Nabbed taking bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks were three
Philadelphia city councilmen, a U.S. congressman and a U.S. senator from New Jersey and eventually more elected officials.

To this day, there are a lot of journalism case studies about the Abscam story. At issue: Who were my sources? Did the prosecutors leak the sting to the press to “stampede” a grand jury into returning an indictment?

Little did I expect that this experience would impart some life lessons.

In a defense motion to dismiss the case, Judge John P. Fullam sentenced me to six months in jail for declining to reveal my sources. I never had to serve my time, thankfully, because it quickly became clear the prosecutors were making their case with videotapes, not leaks. Nevertheless, I fielded several early-morning calls from anguished suspected sources, urging me to clear them of culpability. As those criminal justice types sweated out their own careers, my newsroom colleagues, ironically, voiced notable envy at the turn in my career.

Such is the stuff of media law textbooks. Over the years, I have been amused as various students have called textbook chapters about Abscam to my attention.

While I can’t disclose the truth, I can say that much of what has been written is based on a wrong premise, on wrong assumptions.

It was one of my first experiences with “having journalism done to me.” Little did I know the experience would prove invaluable in later years.

As a leader in the civic journalism movement, I favored a term for the sloppy reporting that surrounded a lot of civic journalism efforts. I called these stories “drive-by shootings.” It was journalism based on what the reporters thought was conventional wisdom, not tested with original legwork. Journalism that gave a platform to the critics but seldom interviewed the practitioners.

And so, I use this anecdote to revisit some life lessons learned since.

  1. Beware of easy assumptions — about people or about stories. The truth is always more complex, and it always makes for better stories, better relationships.
  2. Anger is seldom productive; humor works better.
  3. Being a “good girl” is seldom good enough. No matter how terrific an outcome you deliver, the connections you made getting there will always be more important.
  4. You’ll always learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. Don’t beat yourself up second-guessing your decisions.
  5. For every one person who hates you, 10 others will love you. Do what you can to make peace with your adversaries, then move on. They will probably never love you.
  6. Know that the very tasks you found most distasteful will become, in good time, effortless strengths.
  7. If you feel like a victim and act like a victim, you will become a victim.
  8. When you suffer from oxygen deprivation, move into a better environment.
  9. Jobs come and go. Relationships endure.
  10. Reach for the sky; you might just land on a mountaintop.

Blogically ThinkingArticles 2013-12-18T18:42:32+00:00
<![CDATA[Lost in the gloom, an entrepreneurial boom]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

(This article first appeared in Nieman Lab, as part of its 2014 predictions in journalism series.)

Even as revenue-strapped news outlets continue to cut staff, we need to celebrate in 2014 a new reality: Media entrepreneurship is at an all-time high.

jan-schafferOnce-fledgling startups now count their employees in the 100s. International news players see enough U.S. market promise to open operations here. Startup accelerators are nurturing scores of ideas for media “jobs to be done.” Journalism schools are designing media entrepreneurship programs to meet growing demand.

The Investigative News Network (INN) counts more than 90 members. The new Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers association has attracted more than 100 members just in its first year.

Some of this growth has been by acquisition, some by adding new products, some by internal expansion and some via new launches. Vox Media, for one, counted 85 employees in 2011 and had expanded to some 300 by earlier this year — and that was before it acquired Curbed, Eater, and Racked. Politico lists some 180 employees on its website plus another 26 at its newly purchased Capital New York. The Huffington Post identifies 317 employees online — not counting operations outside the U.S. Likewise, Buzzfeed says it has more than 300 staffers. And that’s just for starters.

The Qatar-owned Al Jazeera America launched here four months ago. The three-year-old RT America, the first Russian English-language news channel, has become one of the most-watched foreign news channels in the United States. The Guardian U.S. launched its New York-based online operation a little over two years ago, finding fertile grounds for expansion here.

We saw some important media-entrepreneurship milestones this year; more will come next year. All will have a ripple effect on redefining news, reconsidering news conventions, validating new players, and re-imagining news distribution. Consider the possibilities of some of these 2013 mileposts.

  • Tech-daddies (and mommies) entered the journalism space. How will Jeff Bezos reconfigure The Washington Post? What will Pierre Omidyar create with his embrace of Glenn Greenwald? How will Twitter advance with Vivian Schiller as its new head of news?
  • Public broadcasters entered full-bore mergers with independent news startups. In Colorado and in St. Louis, public broadcasters have formally combined with enterprising startups to begin to increase and amplify local news coverage. These efforts promise models not only to sustain local news coverage but also to open new doors for engaging audiences.
  • Also this year, we saw the first individual hyperlocal news startup execute an exit. The five-year-old Sacramento Press figured out how to calculate a valuation so that a local Internet marketing company could buy it. It is in the vanguard of working out how small news sites can establish their value so they can be sold when their founders need to move on. Serial entrepreneurship should be as doable in media as it is in Silicon Valley.

One of my many hats is journalism educator, teaching mid-career professionals who have ideas for media startups. Of the 12 in this year’s MA in Media Entrepreneurship cohort group, only two hailed from journalism. Others came from Siemens, NASA, private schools, nonprofits, and advertising.

They all have very focused ideas for “jobs to be done” (in disruptive guru Clay Christensen-speak). They are not necessarily journalism jobs, but they are definitely media jobs, anchored in the digital information space. So for 2014, let’s stop the handwringing about losses in legacy journalism and work on creating and growing the next acts in media.

Blogically Thinking 2013-12-17T19:26:04+00:00
<![CDATA[Donors Liking Public-Indie Media Partnerships]]> Posted To: Ideas & Innovation > Blogically Thinking

Creating public-radio and indie-media partnerships may open new paths to fundraising, station executives told a session at Tuesday's Public Radio Super-Regional meeting outside Washington, D.C.

When Oregon Public Broadcasting sought to jumpstart a statewide news network, it sought matching funds for a Knight News Challenge grant and landed the needed funds in a few weeks.

"This was some of the easiest money we've ever raised," Steve Bass, OPB's President and CEO, told a standing-room-only crowd at the Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD.

Likewise, Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio, which hopes to finalize its merger with the St. Louis Beacon by year's end, said the two organizations projected they'd need to raise $3 million over five years to cover the costs of joining two newsrooms into one 30-person operation.

He said it took only about 15 conversations with donors to raise about $2.5 million.  "We spent 10 years raising money for a new building and this took only two to three months."

Since The Beacon was founded in 2008, Eby said funders repeatedly asked: "Why aren't you working with The Beacon?"

When the merger stalled at the University of Missouri, the owner of SLPR's license, 26 community leaders signed a letter urging the parties to "get this done," Eby said.

In Oregon, OPB is already seeing content benefits. "OPB is getting six to 10 broadcast spots a day" from other partners around the state, Bass said.  What's more, Julia Silverman, who is spearheading the initiative, has been able "to spot trends in monitoring partner news reports that we can piece together into broader stories."

With newspapers shuttering a lot of their statehouse coverage, OPB's partners want more state government coverage.  They are also interested in environmental and arts-and-culture stories, Bass said.

The partnership not only supplies partner stories for OPB's website, but OPB stories and reporter bylines are appearing in newspapers across the state.

In St. Louis, SLPR and The Beacon took a very methodical approach to the pending merger. Consultants analyzed:

  • Web site coverage and found much work that needed to be done.
  • Donor overlap and found very littler crossover in major donors to SLPR and The Beacon.
  • Content opportunities and identified a half-dozen vertical areas that will become the mission focus of the new newsroom.
  • The overall market and found opportunities for news coverage and events.
  • Technology and content management systems, which are still nuts to be cracked but, for now, they will use NPR's Core Publisher.
  • Overall governance, and they are planning a new newsroom organization chart and new board structures.

Eby said his staff initially was not keen on the idea of a merger, but when he explained that this investment is really about the future of news and information in St. Louis, "This turned the tide with the staff."

Blogically Thinking 2013-11-14T20:48:52+00:00