Educating Media Startups

Bankrupt newspapers, increasing consolidation and the threat of top-ten lists taking over journalism, have brought a sense of restlessness to the already divisive conversation about the future of the industry.

And with journalism schools trying to keep pace with the changes, some institutions have become experimental grounds for a new type of media, opening channels of innovation and providing young graduates with tools and empowerment to become media entrepreneurs.

“The idea behind our classes is to prepare people to build their own startups successfully,” said Jeremy Caplan, Director of Education at the Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. “But also, we prepare people to be leaders in the new generation of media.”

Created in 2010, the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism offers a Master of Arts and a semester-long Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism. The program has become a media incubator for successful projects such as Narrative.ly, a platform specializing in long-form journalism that was named one of the 50 Best Websites of 2013 by TIME magazine.

The center prepares students in areas such as business, marketing, social media and technology immersion. Apprenticeship programs, mentoring and development of each student’s projects are also fundamental, all while keeping track of the innovations in media.

“It’s very exciting to be in one of the golden eras of journalism in terms of the dramatic changes in distribution,” said Caplan. “The capabilities to get great content into the hands of people are becoming very quick, cheap and successful.”

This optimistic school of thought contrasts with the notorious organizational changes seen in traditional companies, who keep reducing staff and cutting budgets. Examples of this include established media companies such as Time Inc., CNN and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., which have had massive layoffs in the last six months alone, according to the Poynter Institute.

However, Caplan believes that this situation can actually benefit those journalists who are able to understand and take advantage of the current situation of the media.

“There is an explosion in opportunities available,” he said. “Part of it is technological, part of it is the changes on how people consume media…the consumer will be less passive and more interactive.”

Exploring and understanding the current trends in immersion and interaction between consumer and content provides an access point for those interested in testing the new waters of journalism. Mastering tools and adopting trends such as social media, infographics, data visualization, user experience design, among others, can help new media entrepreneurs to differentiate themselves from their competition.

But these tools are only as good those who use them, says Caplan.

“Students need to have a passion or media skill around a particular subject area. They need to have some sort expertise around it and make sure they can share it with other people,” he said. “Because that’s what really it going to help them stand out, no matter what they are doing.”

Photo credit: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

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