Should journalists become entrepreneurs?

Henry Peirse, who runs GRNLive (a global network of stringers & freelancers) reckons that training journalists to be entrepreneurs is moronic. I engaged him on the topic, and there was an interesting back and forth - which I've added to here.


  1. This raises an interesting point. At what point to you cease to be a journalist and become a pure businessman? At what point will, say, Raju Narisetti (just appointed Deputy Head of Strategy at News Corp), cease to be a journalist? I do a fraction of the newsgathering that I did a year ago, yet I still consider myself a journalist.
  2. Of course, there's another element to this - Henry seems to be suggesting that you can't produce good journalism and sell it, too. I would dispute that. Ever heard the maxim 'you're only as good as your last article'? As a journalist, your last article will often get you your next commission, so you're always selling. Especially if you're a freelancer - it's a game of pitch-and-follow. Chase the story, chase the invoice. To say that journalists shouldn't be entrepreneurs forgets that there's a large chunk of self-employed journos out there making a living entrepreneurially. Some are more entrepreneurial than others, of course.
  3. Jeff Jarvis, professor at CUNY's graduate school of journalism, would likely disagree. In the piece quoted below, he says: "I insist on teaching our students the higher discipline and the greater rigor of seeking to create profitable enterprises. I also believe they are more likely to build better journalistic products, services, and platforms if they are accountable to the marketplace."

    I'd back this up. Working in the real world makes you more attuned to the real world, and better equipped to report on it. Some of the best lessons I've learned were during two years running a small embroidery business, and three summers running expeditions in the Caribbean. Not journalism roles, but they've helped my journalism.
  4. Henry's right here - there is an enormous volume of shit journalism out there. But like any flooded market, eventually  an equilibrium will be established in which the real market value of the product is found, and the meritocratic element returns to what content is bought/worth paying for. 
  5. In order to give themselves the best opportunity to compete, when the market settles and the current waves of disruption in media die down, journalists have to understand distribution and sales channels for the content they are creating. You can't sit at the rear of the cave, painting a wall, expecting people to wander in and discover your artistic talent. You have to know how to bring people in. 
  6. What I meant to say here is that the industry doesn't work - at least, not in the way it once did. It's in top-to-bottom turmoil. And that fact behoves journalists to understand entrepreneurship more deeply and redefine how content reaches consumers. The ones that do have spun off the likes of Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Now This News, HuffPo, The Verge and others. Andrew Sullivan is the latest to make entrepreneurial journalism work. You can do both at the same time.

    As journalists we should be learning about the fundamentals of industry disruption, to know how to remedy the threats to our trade, and understand the theories by which we might make it sustainable. Go read some Clay Christensen, journos, or pick up a Jim Collins book, and figure out how their thinking applies to your trade. Be inventive, be innovative. Every. Damn. Day. Or get ready to find a new job. 
  7. If good journalists are good - and I mean really good, indispensibly good, should their content & reputation not do the selling for them? Jack Dorsey, Twitter's co-founder, now develops and sells Square, a disruptive little payment product. In this Stanford talk, he discusses how they don't really do any marketing. They do more internal communication work than they do external communications. They don't really sell the product, in the traditional marketing. The product sells the product. Ergo, if the theory holds, if you're good enough, if your content speaks for you, you'll be employed in journalism.

    Money quote (at the 28-minute mark): 
    'The external communication is the product. The product is the story we're telling the world. We want to put everything through this. We don't want it to be about a person. We want it to be about how people are using it and how people are fitting it into their lives and what they're doing with it. That's the strongest story we have.
  8. Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner: Jack Dorsey, Square - The Power of Curiosity and Inspiration [Entire Talk]