Posted April 19th, 2012 by Sharon Green in Future of Journalism
‘The future of news is entrepreneurial, not institutional. I believe journalists must become entrepreneurs‘
– Jeff Jarvis, American journalist and associate professor of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The idea that news, and journalism, is moving into the entrepreneurial space is nothing new. Since the introduction of web journalism and online news, the way in which we create and disseminate content has changed. American journalist Jeff Jarvis and many others have shared this sentiment and spoken about the shakeup of the structure of news moving away from being dominated by large corporations and making way for new and smaller startups. This is not a discussion about the fate of news and journalism but rather one that looks to the optimistic future of it and how it will be built. Today, it’s not uncommon to come across many journalists that once worked for “the institution” but have now moved on to freelance careers or started their own business based on their newsgathering and production skills.
British broadcast journalist and TV presenter Marverine Cole says gone are the days where journalists start at a mainstream media organisation and stay on for 20 to 30 years. She sees future journalists with a mix of experience on their CV, with long and short contracts across a range of media. “Jobs are so few and far between these days that it’s inevitable people will have to be innovative about the way they get work and not be so choosy about what they do,” she says.
“The field of broadcast journalism is so much tougher out there now, so being multi-skilled is essential. Generally you’ve got to be a chameleon. It means then that you’ve a better chance of maintaining a source of income in one area if and when a contract ends elsewhere.”
Cole enjoys the variety of work that comes with freelancing. She runs an award-winning beer blog, presents TV news programmes, produces radio documentaries, conducts PR and media training and manages her own promo video company Funf Media with her husband. “It’s a big difference from when I was in a staff post as a Grade 5 Broadcast Journalist at the BBC where I was told what to do, what not to do, and when to do it. The freedom is great and I’m earning a great deal more than a Grade 5.”
Callum Scott, an associate professor at Melbourne University and Deakin University in Australia, has been freelancing for a number of years and teaches creative entrepreneurship to media and communications students. Scott enjoys the dynamic pace of the freelance lifestyle and hunting down the work himself. “I like working as a freelancer because I’m not a team player and freelancing is wonderfully unpredictable, which keeps me on my toes.
“I was simply sick of working for people and having to play by their and the company’s rules. Freelancing affords me the luxury of never having to compromise.”
Scott believes there are many opportunities available for the entrepreneur but warns that “it’s not a game for the faint hearted”. A freelancer needs to learn to think creatively, as well as critically, he says.
Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist, blogger and media lecturer based in London, left his mainstream media job in September 2009 to embark on a freelance career and hasn’t looked back since. Westbrook enjoys the freedom that comes with being self-employed and having the opportunity to work on multiple creative projects simultaneously. “Being self-employed I’m in total control of what work I do and who I do it with, and in control of almost every minute of my working day. If I’m not excited by a project or a story I don’t have to do it. I think a lot of people end up freelancing as a stop-gap while they look for a ‘proper’ job, but they’re overlooking an opportunity to use this freedom and control to create something remarkable doing what they love.”
While Westbrook never considered himself to be much of “a business person”, he started exploring entrepreneurship because he was excited by all the opportunities he could create.
“This is a unique time we’re in where anyone can start a web-based business for less than $100 and the audiences and communities that you can create are growing. And when you start at it, you realise that entrepreneurship and journalism can sit side-by-side: they’re both extremely creative, and at their best are about helping people.”
Almost three years into freelancing and Westbrook is not only making a decent living but also living the lifestyle he wants. But despite his own success, he warns that taking the entrepreneurial route is not for everyone. “It’s always a risk, and you have to be comfortable with uncertainty, and the fact that most ideas fail. And that’s not for everyone.
“But if you don’t think you have a business mind, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to create something. Five years ago I didn’t think I had a business bone in my body. If you have an idea for a project that you can’t get out of your head, just start, and start small. You’ll learn everything you need along the way. As Chris Guillebeau says: “Failure is a real possibility. Regrets are optional”.
What are your thoughts on the future of journalism as entrepreneurial? Have you taken the plunge and gone freelance? Did you succeed? Feel free to share your story in the comments section below.