Planting Seeds for a New Era of Entrepreneurial Journalism

Why we’re launching a new online program to empower independent journalists to become “armies of one.”

Jeremy Caplan
May 26, 2020 · 5 min read

Update: We announced our first cohort! Find out more about the program on our new site and read here about our pilot cohort.

Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that many legacy news organizations will not survive. The arrival of a global pandemic has further decimated the industry, leaving thousands of journalists laid off, furloughed or with substantially lower pay.

At the same time, many journalists are realizing they not only can — but want — to operate independently. They display a hunger for turning passion, expertise and craft into paying work, moving beyond the legacy employer and going it alone. Alongside the emergence of what some are dubbing the “passion economy,” new tools and platforms have emerged to aid these “armies of one.”

Niche creators are independently launching podcasts, starting newsletters, and creating YouTube channels. They’re developing event series, building Patreon-funded communities and messaging people with Subtext. Some are debuting local, niche or industry publications to fill the news desert gap and to revitalize civic engagement.

To serve this emerging community of creators, in October of 2020 the Newmark J-School will launch a new, 100-day certificate program, which will be exclusively online. Our goal is to provide a springboard for niche creators and their emergent micro ventures. The program will be led by experienced innovators. These experts in marketing, revenue and sustainability will help journalism entrepreneurs thrive in the media ecosystem.

Entrepreneurial journalism fellows trade feedback on their projects. Photo ©Skyler Reid/skyreid.com

Journalists becoming fearless armies of one are focused more on filling news gaps than on building Silicon Valley-style high-margin ventures. They don’t need venture capital — no 10x returns await. They do need to make a decent living.

Niche creators’ needs vary by stage, geography, focus area, media type and various other factors. But they share common objectives and challenges. Some need guidance on marketing and engagement tactics to reach a dispersed community. Others need a hand figuring out how to make enough to survive serving a small locality.

We see an opportunity to support and serve this emerging generation of independents by helping them with the complex process of carving out a sustainable niche. Many are sharing the stories of underrepresented or underserved communities. This diverse group of creators can reshape the face of journalism entrepreneurship. They’re challenging assumptions of what media entrepreneurs look like and what impact means for niche creators.

To serve them we’re designing a program tailored to their nimble and inventive thinking:

A fully-remote experience

Participants can come from New York City or anywhere else. Geography should not be an obstacle to learning.

Serving individuals juggling multiple roles

For those already carving out an independent career path, the program will expand the impact of their work. We welcome a diverse group, including those with caretaker responsibilities or other personal or professional commitments.

Guidance and coaching from diverse practitioners

The program is grounded in hard-earned lessons from experienced practitioners — those who have launched their own local sites, newsletters, podcasts, and membership campaigns. It’s not about abstract theory, but real-world, actionable insights.

Walk away with new skills, new ideas, and a new network

After spending 100 days in our program, participants will emerge with new project momentum and a head start toward sustainability. They’ll start their next chapter with a stronger network of colleagues, mentors and collaborators.

Entrepreneurial journalists fall in the gap between big news organizations and scalable startup ventures. Journalism micro ventures are often too small to benefit from philanthropy aimed at larger news organizations. And entrepreneurial programs still focus on scalable ventures as the model for value-creating entrepreneurship.

Even as the number of independent journalists rises rapidly, the challenges they face as creators remain substantial. Some burn out quickly after going it alone. Others rely on one-day workshops, YouTube videos and friends’ advice.

Our program is designed to fill the gap between one-off parachute sessions and programs too long or costly to be feasible for independent creators. We’re building a new kind of entrepreneurial program, custom-made for the “armies of one.”

Ten years ago the Newmark J-School was the first to offer a degree in entrepreneurial journalism. We did so to serve a growing number of journalists seeking alternative paths. We worked with New Yorkers and those from around the globe — 37 countries — each crackling with ideas to reinvent the business of journalism.

We learned a lot from our original entrepreneurial program about how to serve and train spirited, independent thinkers — and their career trajectories speak to the values of that program.

Over the years we graduated fellows like Matt Kiser, founder of WTFJHT.com and Current Status, Noah Rosenberg, co-founder of Narratively, Adda Birnir, founder and CEO of Skillcrush, Katarina Hybenova, founder of Bushwick Daily, Chad O’Carroll, founder of NKNews.org, Ilan Greenberg, co-founder of Coda Story, and Luz Mely Reyes, co-founder of Efecto Cocuyo.

These and many other journalism entrepreneurs form the backbone of our network and inform the wealth of material baked into our program, from case studies and best practice guides to templates and toolkits.

In launching this new program we look forward to partnering with other like-minded organizations serving the next generation of emerging journalists. If you’d like to collaborate on this effort to strengthen the new ecosystem, please be in touch: jeremy.caplan@journalism.cuny.edu. We’d love to work with you.

p.s. Feel free to join our newsletter list for updates. And here’s a Poynter story about the program.

Journalism Innovation

Ideas, Experiments and Explorations in Entrepreneurial Journalism

Jeremy Caplan

Written by

Director of Teaching and Learning @NewmarkJSchool; Former @Time Reporter | I love learning, teaching & sharing. jeremy@jeremycaplan.com

Journalism Innovation

Ideas, Experiments and Explorations in Entrepreneurial Journalism, from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY

Jeremy Caplan

Written by

Director of Teaching and Learning @NewmarkJSchool; Former @Time Reporter | I love learning, teaching & sharing. jeremy@jeremycaplan.com

Journalism Innovation

Ideas, Experiments and Explorations in Entrepreneurial Journalism, from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY

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