In the four years since we opened our doors, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism has developed a reputation as a leading-edge school. In part, we were lucky. Because we started at a critical time for our profession, we knew a profound shift was underway to a new form of journalism: interactive, multimedia story-telling distributed on a variety of platforms. Starting from scratch, we created an innovative curriculum, hired faculty in sync with the new thinking, and designed an all-digital, wireless facility for a new age.
The results are very encouraging. The School retains the energy of a start-up – and I hope we never lose that spirit. We change things constantly, trying to stay ahead of the forces disrupting the profession. Our students are trained as “converged” journalists, learning the eternal verities of traditional journalism – strong reporting, good writing, critical thinking, and ethical values – along with the skills they need for the multiplatform digital world. That synthesis is a big reason they’ve fared so well in the job market when they graduate.
Now it’s time to take the next big step: Working with our faculty, we plan to design and launch a program in entrepreneurial journalism – providing students with the education and research tools needed to build a susustainable future for journalism. The proposed program would add a fourth semester for select students – with new courses, workshops, research, and apprenticeships – earning graduates an M.A. degree and, upon approval of the New York State Education Department, a certificate in entrepreneurial journalism.
For example, students might take courses in emerging business models for news, new technologies for journalism, hyperlocal ventures, management of new media, or advanced uses of social media. They might develop products in a course on entrepreneurial journalism, or work in local neighborhoods to help people report on their own communities.
Training our own students is just the beginning. We need research to find the economic models that will replace the financial underpinnings that no longer work, and new products to reach new audiences in new ways. So we will expand beyond our pioneering work last year for the Knight Foundation that examined innovative financing models for local news. We will create a more ambitious incubator to provide seed money and investment for promising journalistic ideas.
All these efforts build on work we’ve already started. From the get-go, Professor Jeff Jarvis, who heads our interactive program, has been teaching an entrepreneurial course in which students develop a journalistic product or service, including a basic business plan. Their efforts are judged by a jury of venture capitalists, media executives, and editors. The jury awards seed money, supplied so far by the McCormick Foundation, to the best ideas. The result: We now have five recent graduates incubating their ideas at the J-School.
Another pioneering project: a hyperlocal news site, in collaboration with The New York Times, in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Our students write stories and collaborate with residents who are reporting on their own communities. The best work is published on The Local, part of The Times web site, and we are studying the most effective ways to bring advertising revenue to the site. Our work is supported by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Our profession clearly needs to find ways to sustain quality journalism. The problem is not about journalism itself. Plenty of good work is being done on various platforms. The problem is finding viable new products and the business models to support them in the digital age.
We think the CUNY J-School can help – by training students to think entrepreneurially, by undertaking critical research, and by investing in innovation.
Tall order? Yes. But a profession in crisis demands nothing less.