Three recurring characteristics

The entrepreneurial journalism courses taught by the professors we interviewed share some common characteristics; the differences in these courses emerge when one considers how long the courses have been taught and the professors’ levels of professional and academic experience.

The first recurring characteristic
92% of the courses are “semi-annual” - that is, they last between four and five months, and students are in the classroom about 3.5 hours per week. One course included in our sample is a notable exception: DeporTEA School of Journalism, an Argentinian school that has been around for more than 30 years, has a course called “self-management and media marketing” which lasts for an entire year. However, this course is divided into three modules, each taught by a different professor. Alexandra Lopez teaches one of these modules, in addition to a course of the same name at TEA School of Journalism, but that course lasts for only four months.

The second recurring characteristic
92% of our interviewees teach their courses as part of an undergraduate program which culminates in a journalism or social communications degree. Only two professors teach courses in post-graduate programs. These courses are generally shorter (four weeks with two hours per week spent in the classroom) and the content structure is usually more focused. Carina Novarese teaches a communication module for a master's degree in communication management at the Universidad de Montevideo in Uruguay, where in the first month, students are expected to deliver an overview of the digital trends which are currently shaking up media.

The third recurring characteristic
76% of these courses are mandatory; in some circumstances, students have to take prerequisites before they can take entrepreneurial journalism courses. For example, Professor César Lengua from Peru requires his students to pass a course called "Market analysis," which gives them a in-depth understanding of the (post)media ecosystem.

Only six professors reported that their courses were optional. Summer Harlow, is a professor based in the United States, where universities are traditionally more flexible with their curricula than their counterparts in Latin America and Spain. She said that in the future, it is likely that entrepreneurial journalism will be a mandatory subject for all journalism students at her university.

Professors pitch their courses

As part of our interviews we challenged the professors – just as they challenge their students – to craft a compelling pitch for the course they teach. These are some of the best responses we gathered:

Students

Our research focused on teachers and their courses. However, we also wanted to know about the professors’ perceptions of their students in relation to entrepreneurial journalism. The results presented here are from interviews with professors and offer a first glimpse of student reactions to these classes. We believe further study of student motivations and the factors that help them become more successful is warranted and could be done through interviews and surveys with students.

We asked the teachers in our sample to evaluate the degree to which their students have both interest in, and knowledge of, entrepreneurial journalism. For that, we used a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 indicates a low level of interest/knowledge, and 5 indicates a high level of interest/knowledge. The average level of prior entrepreneurial journalism knowledge can be considered low at 2.04. This can be explained by the novelty of entrepreneurial journalism at many universities and the lack of connection these courses have with other courses in the curriculum, something that we will describe later as "discouragement factors.”

The paradox between course popularity among students and the higher chance that an elective course could be cancelled warrants the attention of the highest levels of academic management. On one hand, elective entrepreneurial journalism courses generate high levels of interest with students. On the other, these courses are often relegated to the margins of the curriculum where they are more likely to be modified or eliminated.

We compared the professors’ perceptions of their students’ level of interest and knowledge with two additional questions: The first question: What do teachers believe encourages (or would encourage) students to become entrepreneurial journalists? The answers were open-ended, but were later grouped according to their central themes. About 48% of teachers say the most important factor is students believing they can create their own project with editorial and financial independence.
Or, as expressed by Peruvian Professor Carolina Albornoz: "Ideological independence (not following in the footsteps of big media) and economic independence (creating your own source of income)."

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The other big motivator for students (about 28%) to become entrepreneurial journalists is the possibility of creating alternatives to established media. According to teachers, after students have completed professional internships or have had hands-on experience inside a newsroom, they are more motivated to create their own projects. “After spending an internship in traditional media, they realize that they want to do something else, because they didn’t like the experience, or they wanted to do something that was more personally fulfilling,” said Gonzalo Sobral of Uruguay.

"My course," says Miguel Huerta from Chile, "is in the second semester in their fourth year of classes, which is when [students] have already spent time working in media and have seen the reality of media. And the reality of the media in Chile is sad reality." The rest of the factors that encourage students, include: Learning about other entrepreneurial journalism startups. Discovering that others have managed to create, launch and sustain a news site. Student passion for a particular project, topic, or audience. Conquering the fear of trying something risky. The need to find work in an increasingly competitive journalism market.
As José Crettaz from Argentina says: "You have to plant the seed of an entrepreneurial mind-set, because it is key to being employable, regardless of where you find work; whether it's your own project, or if it’s within someone else’s business."

“You have to plant the seed of an entrepreneurial mind-set, because it is key to being employable, regardless of where you find work; whether it's your own project, or if it’s within someone else’s business.”
José Crettaz, Universidad Argentina de la Empresa.

The second question was the opposite of the first: what do these teachers think discourages their students from undertaking entrepreneurial journalism?Here, the variety of answers was greater and, therefore, it was more difficult to group them into common themes. The most common response was a lack of economic resources (28%), followed by the lack of design and management skills to create a new website.

In the wide variety of “discouraging factors” suppressing entrepreneurship, each individual country has its own characteristics, but some patterns started to emerge. For example, Yanancy Noguera says that Costa Rica has a weak entrepreneurial ecosystem, and that the State has guaranteed employment. This combination discourages self-starters, creating a notable contrast with other Central American countries.

“Of course there is corruption, of course there is inequity, and there are many problems that need to be resolved. But the problems are not so critical that journalists feel an obligation, or a necessity to develop different kinds of journalism that are more innovative, more aggressive,” Noguera said.

Elizabeth Saad from Brazil, on the other hand, says that the main problem is that university curriculums are outdated and out-of-step with market conditions. The gaps that occur in educating journalists about entrepreneurship do not exist in a vacuum, but are inextricably linked to the whole process devised by universities to train journalists. This breakdown offers us valuable insight into the ways that educators and professionals are re-imagining what the future of journalism is going to look like.

María Sánchez from Spain notes that not everyone has the "culture of entrepreneurship," while Gonzalo Sobral from Uruguay believes that a large problem is a lack of creativity: "The students who are attracted to journalism seem like the restless type, curious bookworms. Meanwhile, students who are more orderly and systematic tend to wind up doing corporate communications. Each side fears that the other is where all the creativity is happening."

Guest Speakers

The entrepreneurial journalism courses taught by the professors we interviewed have become a space where students are exposed to real-world examples of successful entrepreneurship – whether that be a case study that deconstructs how an independent media project became successful, or via a guest lecture. We discovered that 80% of the professors we interviewed have invited at least one entrepreneurial journalist to share his or her experience with their students.

For example, Professor Sarita Murillo (Bolivia) brought Doly Leytón to her class, the founder of La Region, a publication focused on tourism and the environment, as well as Fabiola Gutiérrez, the ambassador for SembraMedia in Bolivia. Meanwhile, in Professor Alexandra López’s (Argentina) class, Roberto Dánna has spoken about Flores de papel, a neighborhood newspaper - in print and digital format- that he created in partnership with the merchants in his area on the outskirts of the city of Buenos Aires to generate a mutual profit.

In Spain, two professors mentioned visits from Ignacio Escolar, the founder of eldiario.es who is one of the most mentioned sources when talking about successful entrepreneurial journalism.

While the professors mentioned journalism entrepreneurs as the most commonly invited guest speakers, they have also invited other speakers to their classrooms, including freelance journalists and entrepreneurs from areas outside of the media. These guests help reinforce the idea of a journalist’s personal branding. The professors have also asked professionals to come speak who work in traditional newsrooms but have taken on leadership roles related to innovation within the company, a concept that also comes up in some of the courses analyzed as part of this study. Only one teacher mentioned having invited a media investor, which reflects the disconnect that not only academics but journalists in general have with the field of investment.

Challenges

What are the most challenging aspects of teaching an entrepreneurial journalism course? Answers from the professors included: Developing the course itself. External factors, including fitting the course into the overall academic curriculum. The type of students and the experience they bring to the class. The general characteristics of the job market in the country where they teach

One of the challenges teachers must navigate, which came up repeatedly, was the fact that their students have difficulty adopting a business mind-set. The knowledge gap can be broken down into a few common areas of difficulty for students: identifying the problems and needs of the market, creating a balanced business model, and managing basic accounting, among others.

Gonzalo Sobral says teaching his students about business plans is the most complex issue they tackle. To his students, the idea of creating a business plan is daunting. "It's as if you’ve mentioned the devil," he says. Diana Taborda from Colombia agrees: "For them it is nuclear physics, it's where I take the longest. I need them to understand it, not completely master it."

A second recurring theme is that both professors and students struggle to understand the magnitude of the disruption that the journalism industry has experienced in recent years. José Crettaz says: "The first challenge is to make students understand the depth of the transformations happening to the media, which is the industry in which they are choosing to work." Many of the professors interviewed said that understanding this tectonic shift is crucial to comprehending what it really means when we talk about entrepreneurial journalism. "One of the most complex issues for me is having my students understand the importance of entrepreneurial journalism in the context of our country,” says Abraham Torres from Mexico.

“One of the most complex issues for me is having my students understand the importance of entrepreneurial journalism in the context of our country.”

Abraham Torres, Universidad Anáhuac Cancún, Mexico

Elizabeth Saad from Brazil says that her students come to the course with a "distorted" idea of what journalism is actually like these days: "They think they're going to work in the newsroom and go out onto the street to report. Things have changed a lot.". Juan Luis Manfredi is convinced that entrepreneurial journalism is real, not a fad, adding: "The reality is that launching your own entrepreneurial journalism project is going to be the most likely way to find a job."

"Entrepreneurial journalism is real, not a fad. The reality is that launching your own entrepreneurial journalism project is going to be the most likely way to find a job."

Juan Luis Manfredi, Universidad Castilla-La Mancha en Madrid, Spain. 
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Other challenges mentioned by the teachers interviewed include obstacles faced by the teachers themselves, such as how to have up-to-date knowledge for each lesson and how to plan the course as a whole.

One professor who regularly has a course with between 70 and 80 students said that the size of the group is the main complication: "I divide them into groups, and yes I realize that not all of the group members are equally involved or accept the challenge to be creative. This is a challenge that I have to solve with the right methodology. In the end, the results can be dramatically different, very uneven."

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