Tuesday, April 30, 2013

University of Memphis journalism department becomes a leader in entrepreneurial journalism

University of Memphis journalism department becomes a leader in entrepreneurial journalism
By:  Michael G. Lander
Dr. Carrie Brown gives some opening remarks before
the three teams in her entrepreneurial journalism class
make the pitch that they would make to potential
investors for their businesses.
Analyzing potential markets and trends, creating revenue-generating strategies and making a pitch to potential investors is usually not something that most journalists have intimate, first-hand knowledge of.  

Despite the symbiotic relationship that journalism itself has had with business throughout its long history, it has not been something that most journalists themselves have usually learned much about unless, of course, they just so happen to be reporting about it in a news story.
All of this may have changed recently when a handful of university journalism departments across the U.S., including the one at the University of Memphis, began offering courses that now bring journalism and entrepreneurial business concepts together.

The University of Memphis journalism department has stepped beyond conventionality by implementing its own entrepreneurial journalism certificate program at the graduate level well ahead of many other journalism schools around the country.

"We have one of the most developed programs and are one of the leaders in entrepreneurial journalism," said Dr. Carrie Brown, an assistant professor of journalism at the U of M.

LaunchYourCity Co-President, Andre Fowlkes, talks briefly
to the University of Memphis entrepreneurial journalism
students before they give their presentations.

The entrepreneurial journalism certificate program offers students with an alternative academic credential that is designed for those with a B.A. or B.S. degree.  A minimum of 12 hours of courses are required in order to receive this newly created certificate.

"The entrepreneurial journalism courses can introduce students to business concepts and... to accept that profit and journalism must work hand-in-hand... and can even drive us to better reporting and innovations," said Dr. Lurene Kelley, a former U of M journalism professor who spearheaded the entrepreneurial effort with Brown.

Brown and Kelley initiated the efforts to bring entrepreneurial journalism to the U of M in 2011 with the help of LaunchYourCity co-president, Andre Fowlkes, whose company helps entrepreneurs and start-ups by providing them with instruction and mentoring from experienced innovators and investors.  The first class was taught by Kelley and followed by Brown in the fall of 2012.

"We basically took an existing graduate level course (7100) on media management and added entrepreneurial concepts to it," Brown said.

Brett Bilbrey and Laura Fenton make a sales pitch for
their localsinthecity.com hyperlocal website.

Later, in October 2012, Brown submitted a proposal for the entrepreneurial journalism certificate program, which has since been approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

"Andre Fowlkes from LaunchYourCity has co-taught the class, helped design the curriculum, and the partnership has really been a critical part of our program," Brown said. 

Fowlkes was initially asked to speak to one of Kelley's classes, and his visit eventually led to the certification program that the university has today.

"We decided to come together and bring in the idea of teaching through apprenticeship and it just grew from there," Fowlkes said. 

The entrepreneurial journalism certificate program and its courses are designed to prepare and equip students with innovative thinking and entrepreneurial skills that they can use to either start their own business or that they can bring with them into a legacy news organization.

"Entrepreneurial journalism is a mindset.  It encourages risk-taking, unorthodox thinking and embracing change, pivots and disruption.  These are critical skills in a new economy that promises no person steady employment and no industry steady growth," Kelley said.

Andrea LeTard and Brittany Tuggle receive feedback from
LaunchYourCity Co-President, Andre Fowlkes about their
presentation for their localsinthecity.com hyperlocal
 With this, students also learn about the organizational culture and its leadership and the barriers to change with strategies to overcome that.  The Entrepreneurial Journalism and Media Management (J7100) course is part of the journalism department's core required courses for all students seeking their master's degree.  
In the J7100 class, "students throughout the semester work in groups where they pitch their ideas for a start-up business, talk with potential customers to see if there is a market, develop a market strategy, and ultimately try to sell their idea to investors," Brown said.

Shakia Clark and Rachel Wilhite are two of the graduate students who have taken some of the entrepreneurial-oriented classes offered by the U of M.  Clark took the J7100 course in the spring 2012 semester when it was still a mixture of media management and entrepreneurial journalism. 

"It was a great class that challenged me to think beyond 'traditional' journalism," Clark said.  "It allowed me to think outside the box... inspiring innovation, which is needed in every corporation today."

Wilhite is in her second semester as a journalism graduate student with a concentration in advertising.  "Thinking like an entrepreneur has so many applications... innovation and creativity are collaborative efforts and the class engages us," Wilhite said. 

Rachel Wilhite and Calvin Carter present their draft901
dating website as part of their final project assignment
for their entrepreneurial journalism class.
 Wilhite is currently pursuing an internship with Launch Memphis in the 2013 fall semester. 
"Who knows?  Maybe one day I will have my own startup," Wilhite said.  "Memphis is quickly becoming a hotbed for innovation.  This is amazing for our community since it brings more investors and web developers to our area."

Over the years, there has been a prevailing mindset in college journalism departments that journalism students just need to learn whatever it takes to know how to report and deliver news, Brown said.  There has not been any emphasis on training students on the business side of a news organization that many of the young journalists eventually hope to work for.  This mindset continued to prevail even as significant changes have occurred that have impacted how news organizations operate. 

Many of these have had to learn how to adapt to an ever-changing media landscape where traditional business models and paradigms no longer exist.  In some cases, especially when it came to newspapers, this has often forced them to not only become even more efficient, but to downsize as well.  Within this new environment that journalists have found themselves in, many have discovered that they needed to have even more skills and to know more than just how to report news.

"The world that our students are going into is much different than it was 10 to 20 years ago and the methodology currently being used in college is not adequately preparing journalism students for their careers," Fowlkes said.  "What we must do is to develop the skills that they will need to succeed and we think that entrepreneurship is what will help them do that and to do it better."

Amy Gregory, David Morris, Tyler Stafford, and Tiffany Zhou
present their proposed turnitoff application in their
entrepreneurial journalism course.
In her proposal for Entrepreneurial Journalism Certificate Program, Brown wrote, "It is no longer enough for journalism students to develop strong skills in writing, reporting and creating multimedia editorial content.  They must also learn business fundamentals, marketing strategies and how to take advantage of new opportunities for sustainability and growth."

This is where the entrepreneurial journalism certificate comes in.  With this certificate program in place, journalism students at the University of Memphis have an opportunity to learn the business side of media operations.  What they learn from this not only helps them should they decide to become entrepreneurs themselves, but it also makes them more indispensable to news organizations who can benefit from their versatility and knowledge. 

"I think that the entrepreneurial journalism will be extremely valuable to journalism students in the future... and it is exciting to be a part of this," Brown said.

Even with the University of Memphis being quick to embrace this, Brown said, many journalism departments around the country have been slow to adapt their curriculum to the changing dynamics within the world of journalism.  City University of New York, American University in Washington, D.C. and Arizona State University have been notable exceptions to this and they have been leaders in introducing the fusion of entrepreneurialism and journalism together.  

Andrea LeTard listens as Tyler Stafford and Tiffany Zhou
make their pitch for turnitoff application that they proposed
for use by public and private schools.
 While they have been three of the distinctive leaders in this area, there have been others, like the University of Memphis that have been quick to embrace this concept and to incorporate it into their curriculum.  
In her proposal for an entrepreneurial journalism certificate program, Dr. Brown wrote, "The entrepreneurial journalism certificate program will put the University of Memphis on the cutting edge of national trends in journalism education... By joining this growing movement... the University of Memphis journalism department would be a leader in its field."

Even though the entrepreneurial program is currently only for graduate students, Brown said that she hopes to see that it is one day available for undergraduates as well. 

Students who participate in this program are required to complete the Entrepreneurial Journalism and Media Management (J7100) and the Social Media Theory and Practice (J7330) course.  They can then choose from a number of other options, which include classes at the Fogelman College of Business and Economics and various Launch Memphis programming or practicum such as Launch Memphis (UNIV7100), and Startup Memphis Entrepreneurial Journalism Practicum (J7650). 

Brown said that there are plans to possibly add additional courses in the future from the Fogelman College and some in introductory computer science, programming, and application (app) development. 

Brown expects further changes in the entrepreneurial journalism curriculum as it continues to evolve and hopes to see other courses added later on.  For her, the prospects of all this is extremely exciting and challenging.

"If you are passionate about journalism, this is one way we are helping build its future," Brown said.

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