Thursday, May 27, 2010

Boot Camp for Journalism Entrepreneurs

Last week, I was an instructor at the News Entrepreneur Boot Camp 2010 at USC. Sponsored by the Knight Digital Media Center, USC Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Public Policy(CCLP), and the Online Journalism Review, the camp brought together about 20 aspiring entrepreneurs, almost all former journalists, who are trying to create new news/information enterprises in the digital world.

If you'd like to watch a video of my session, click here, or take a look at my power point slides.

As part of the preparation for the lecture, my research associate at CCLP, Maria Vazquez, developed an excellent resource guide for anyone interested in starting a new community news web site, or for anyone who is interested in learning more about the growing phenomenon. It includes links for legal and financial resources as well as case studies and teaching materials.

Tom Davidson, Vice President of Growth Spur, a former journalist who has successfully transitioned to the "evil" business side, had some excellent insights. Here is Growth Spur's advice on how to budget for a news start-up.

It's still very early in the learning curve. Lisa Williams, of Placebloogger, another speaker at the boot camp, says she has links to more than 7000 community news sites on the web. We don't yet know if these start-ups will survive, in the short term or the long term. But if the "students" at the boot camp were any indication, there is a huge amount of talent and enthusiasm out there trying to make it work.

The clear weakness on the part of most of these aspiring entrepreneurs is business skills. But they've got a passion, and they can learn the business skills, by actually doing it, and making mistakes--paying too much or not paying enough, thinking too short term, or not long term enough. The trick is just not to make too many serious mistakes early on that can derail the business.

As I told the campers, in this world, content is not king. Cash is king. The old rules don't apply any more. We're still learning how to monetize news and information in new and different and sustainable ways. (See Emerging Trends among news start-ups.) But something is gonna work. It's exciting to see and scary to do.

Community News Case Studies Wanted

I recently joined the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy as "executive in residence." Along with my research associate Maria Vazquez, we are looking for examples of community news sites that have made it past the start up phase and are sustainable enterprises. We'd like to create multi media case studies to teach others the lessons learned. If you know of any good examples, please let us know.