< Hard Sell


Friday, January 15, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: Time was you graduated from journalism school and got a job, albeit a low level one, paying your dues covering school board meetings or scrambling for a fleeting moment of airtime. After a few years, you graduated to more authorship, bigger stories, more investigation, and so forth and so on. Journalism school touted itself as a leg up on that ladder. Well, that was then. These days, with less demand and the very idea of a viable journalism industry in serious, serious doubt, journalism training is beginning to reflect the new world order. But should journalism schools be training their students to better sell themselves? Jeff Jarvis is an associate professor and director of the Interactive Journalism Program at the City University of New York’s new Graduate School of Journalism, where he’s been building what he calls entrepreneurial journalists,” and he says there’s nothing impure about it.

JEFF JARVIS: We were told when we came up through the business to keep our hands away from that filthy lucre, and the result is I think we gave journalism very bad stewardship. And a lot of the reason that we're in trouble today is because journalists didn't understand their own business.

BOB GARFIELD: So, what specifically are you teaching to get modern journalism students more attuned to the realities of the marketplace?

JEFF JARVIS: In my class in entrepreneurial journalism, all the students create a business plan for a new product, a sustainable, that is to say, profitable, journalistic enterprise. And we were lucky; we had 100,000 dollars in seed money from the McCormick Foundation to give the best of these businesses money to actually start. We have a jury of entrepreneurs, investors, publishers, editors who decide who gets the money. And we have seven businesses now starting. They're very different; along in the process though they learn the same things. They learn an elevator pitch. They learn to look at market analysis and report from the market about what the market really needs. They learn revenue and advertising and how to make that work. They learn the cost side of the business, which we discuss too little these days. And they learn how you can start products and businesses now for so very little because there are great platforms on which you can do it.

BOB GARFIELD: You mentioned a variety of approaches. Tell me about the variety. Are we talking about hyper local blogs, are we talking about aggregation sites? Just, what?

JEFF JARVIS: There’s one student who’s starting an iPhone app around sports. Two more students are going to create an infrastructure for the assignment of news coverage to bloggers and journalists and journalism students. Another student is working on an algorithmic means to help you prioritize the flow of stuff that you get in. One student is looking at distributing radio shows in her home state in Africa over the phone as phone calls. Another is serving the Ugandan Diaspora in the U.S. and the U.K., and another has created a platform for educators to share their curriculum and news about science.

BOB GARFIELD: When you add up all of these new entrepreneurial approaches, how will that stack up compared to the vast structures of mass media that are now, you know, sort of collapsing beneath our feet?

JEFF JARVIS: I presented a study in New Business models for News to our facility at CUNY, and it argued that the big old dumb company, newspaper company, is not going to be replaced by some big, smart new newspaper company. It’s going to be replaced by an ecosystem of a couple of hundred different places who operate under different motives and means and business models. That’s the world our students are going into. We'll still make calls to NPR and The New York Times to help our students get jobs, but the reason I'm teaching entrepreneurial journalism is so we can also prepare our students to go start their own jobs, create their own jobs and their own work. Now, at the end of the day, what does journalism look like as a whole? Well, as Clay Shirky says, we don't know. Nothing works and everything works. But I have faith that there is a market demand for journalism and that the market can meet it. The discussion so far about this has mainly been about revenue streams. Advertising’s down. We have to charge. You may cue your jingle at will.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, hold it. I’m going to take you up on that.

GROUP SINGS: Present and future business models for monetizing the newspaper industry.

BOB GARFIELD: You were saying?

JEFF JARVIS: I believe that at the end of the day journalism is going to be more efficient. We are not going to waste as much effort on duplicative work and commodity work and production, and we're going to put the money where the value is. So what’s going to happen is a lot of our students and, indeed, by the way, a lot of the journalists who have left newspapers are now trying to start these enterprises. And part of what we can do in a university is educate them not only in journalism and in new media skills, but also in the business of journalism.

BOB GARFIELD: You know, it’s certainly my belief that while there will be a lot of journalism going on, the brave new world offers endless opportunity but the cowardly old world offered pretty big salaries, and that that’s going to disappear. And, in that sense, I wonder if journalism schools, if they're not just breeding white rats only to have them killed in the laboratory? Is there some moral responsibility to warn students that the journalism schools they're applying to are not likely to lead to the kind of careers that previous journalism educations have led to?

JEFF JARVIS: Oh, indeed we do. As soon as they come into the school I give the “scared straight” talk to the journalists. In fact, when I first did this when the school opened, I did such a good job that one student put her head in her hands and wailed, oh, my God, I've made a terrible mistake. I locked the door to keep her in, because what followed is a very exciting new world where, in fact, journalists can make a good living. In our study of new business models at CUNY, we found a blogger who’s now covering suburban towns, bringing in 200,000 dollars revenue. We also looked at how to improve their lot so they could bring in 350,000 dollars and hire people to do journalism and hire people to do sales and still take home well over 100,000 dollars a year. When we say that to our students their response is, okay, teach me to do that.

BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Jeff, it is always a delight, thank you very much for joining us.

JEFF JARVIS: Thank you, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Jarvis is an associate professor and director of the Interactive Journalism Program at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, and he is the author of What Would Google Do?