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Three '08 Students Win Entrepreneurial Journalism Contest

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

A platform for physics teachers and students to share lessons and news. A service to connect Ugandans living abroad to journalists in their homeland. A business to broadcast news, weather, traffic reports, and audio shows over cell phones in Nigeria.

These three projects, conceived in the third-semester Entrepreneurial Journalism course taught by Prof. Jeff Jarvis, won a total of $43,000 in an end-of-term competition in December. A nine-person jury of journalists, entrepreneurs, and investors observed nearly a dozen student presentations before awarding the prize money to Joseph Filippazzo for the physics venture, Rebecca Harshbarger for the Uganda networking plan, and Adeola Oladele for the Nigerian broadcast service.

Other proposals included a video magazine and commerce site for graffiti, a system for sharing bargains among friends, a site to explain business news, and a network for covering the social scene on a busy commercial street in Queens.

Jarvis conceded that journalism was defined broadly in this exercise. “If you see journalism as helping the community organize itself to do what it wants to do, then all these entries fell well within that range,” he said.

The money for the awards came from a $100,000 grant to the CUNY J-School from the McCormick Foundation. Student winners are encouraged to use the funds to seed their ventures.

Oladele, who received $3,000 for further study, said she hoped eventually to raise enough money to start her business in her home state of Kwara in Nigeria. When asked what was the most important thing she learned journalistically from the project, she said it was to “make use of what already exists. In my case, it’s the frequent use of cell phones.” She added that most Nigerians have cell phones and “unlike TV and radio, my broadcasts will not be affected by power outages, which are rampant.”

Filippazzo said he’s well into phase I of generating initial content and raising funding for his Hey Heisenberg! physics site. The tentative launch date is March 1. He said he came up with the idea last summer after becoming frustrated with his personal experience looking for a physics PhD program.

Harshbarger has already begun to build the web site for her Ugandan project. As a result of taking the Entrepreneurial Journalism course, she said, “I feel much more confident in understanding the business side of journalism- and why it’s so important.”

Jarvis said the CUNY J-School aimed to give continuing support to nascent ventures like these. That’s one reason the School received a $3 million challenge grant from the Tow Foundation to start a Center for Journalistic Innovation, which will include an incubator for new products and startups.