Data points: Measuring the efficacy of an entrepreneurial journalism course

To measure the degrees of both effectiveness and impact for the courses taught by entrepreneurial journalism professors, we defined some performance parameters. First, we put together a list of 17 basic entrepreneurial journalism concepts, from cash flow to different forms of monetization, to the creation of a journalist´s personal brand. Second, we defined a list of six tools or Agile Methodologies: Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, Lean UX, Sprint, and Pitching.

Third, we asked the professors if they had recently published any academic reports or papers related to journalism entrepreneurship. Fourth, we asked if any of their students had started or continued a journalism project during their entrepreneurial journalism course.

Content and basic concepts

In general, the professors interviewed addressed, to a greater or lesser extent, more than half of the basic concepts included in our predefined list. Among the most recurring themes are key concepts such as the Unique Value Proposition (96%), followed by branded content and marketing for media (92% in both cases). Case studies of entrepreneurial journalists, entrepreneurial media, memberships, and subscriptions also had a major presence in the courses included in our sample.

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The Key Performance Indicator, known by its acronym as “KPI,” was the only concept mentioned less than 50% of the time. As its name indicates, KPIs allow performance to be measured through a process with previously defined objectives, and it is commonly used in strategic planning. Other concepts not mentioned frequently include: programmatic advertising, minimum viable product, monetization through consulting, and cash flow. Cash flow, however, was included in two out of every three courses.

The professors interviewed also mentioned concepts which were not part of our list. For example, using the book The Blue Ocean Strategy to compare red ocean strategies (in crowded existing markets) with blue ocean strategies (in new markets).

Other topics mentioned included the use of ad blockers, cryptocurrency, blockchain, organizational structure, and personnel management.

Javier Galán emphasized the importance of understanding the unique peculiarities of having an ethical, operationally-sound media company: “A media company is not like a business that makes soda cans; one has to manage it in a different way. We really emphasize that everything which applies to a normal business is something else entirely in a media company. A media company has a social responsibility that is core to its mission and everything else is a tool to help it fulfill that mission.”

Tools and Methodologies

The entrepreneurial journalism professors interviewed have a preference for two tools/Agile Methodologies: Design Thinking and the Business Model Canvas. One out of three professors interviewed (32%) use both, while these two tools were mentioned separately by 14 professors (56%).

The next most mentioned methodology is pitching, which is usually taught at the conclusion of a course by having the students present the projects they created during the semester. Some professors approach this topic by having students make short videos, a type of “elevator pitch,” that the creators of each project have to record and publish.

Other techniques professors mentioned that they use in their courses include: brainstorming, participant observation, and Scrum, a brand of Agile development that is often used in the software industry. Scrum is designed to make incremental changes to a product rather than completing a full development cycle without making adjustments along the way to ensure the product is not obsolete before it’s finished.

Academic Publications

The academic publications sector is one of the areas with the most potential for growth that we think exists for entrepreneurial journalism professors and researchers. Whether it be a book or an academic paper, only 36% of those interviewed had published academic-style research in the last five years related to the topics of entrepreneurship, business models, innovation, or new digital media. Since there were few responses on this topic, it is worth examining some specific examples.

Summer Harlow has published research on business models, innovation, and the sustainability of entrepreneurial journalism in Central America. She focused on one country specifically: El Salvador. In 2017, she published the book “Liberation Technology in El Salvador: Re-appropriating Social Media Among Alternative Media Projects." It is an ethnographic study that explores how four Salvadoran alternative media projects integrated digital technology into their practices.

In Spain, there are more and more recent publications. In 2017 Maria Sánchez published, "Strategic Management, Innovation and Communication Foresight," a manual about techniques and case studies. Javier Galán was the coordinator of "Media Company XXI. Strategic Planning," a book published in 2017, on which Juan Luis Manfredi also collaborated. In 2015, Manfredi was also the coordinator for "Innovation and Journalism: Start at the University," which is available for free, and addresses real-life teaching experiences related to entrepreneurial journalism. Miguel Carvajal, meanwhile, has focused his research on journalism innovation and new business models.

In Argentina, Fernando Ruiz has published books about the media, such as "La Opinión" by Jacobo Timerman and "Ámbito Financiero." In 2018, he also published "Cazadores de noticias. Doscientos años en la vida cotidiana de los que cuentan las noticias." In Mexico, José Luis López has researched the ecosystem of social networks and the challenges digital journalism faces in order to adapt, innovate and survive. In Brazil, Elizabeth Saad has researched innovation strategies and the business models of media companies, among many other topics.

Creating Media

Is it possible to incubate or plant the seeds which will inspire the creation of a journalism site in a course that, in most cases, doesn’t last longer than five months? The information provided by the professors interviewed offers some hopeful data: 72% mentioned at least one entrepreneurial journalism project led by former students.

Abraham Torres told us about a project in Mexico called Belafonte, a site founded by Pablo Luna that uses multimedia narratives to "cultivate people’s opinions.”

In Colombia, Diana Taborda mentioned Mente Abierta (Open Mind), a communications agency that designs collaborative strategies with a focus on educating viewers through the use of multi-platform storytelling. Manuela Torres and Alejandra Echavarría, its founders, are journalists trained at the Universidad de Antioquia.

Miguel Huerta told us that in 2015 in Chile, two of his students created a website called Blink, with the intention of teaching children in as little time as possible. As they state on their website: "Everyone believed that they would die, until they both fell into a barrel of toxic waste that turned them into Blinkers. Since then, they have dunked people in the same barrel so that they become part of this radioactive community.”

Novice Professors, Experienced Professors

Looking at the following four criteria – ex-students who start their own sites, content and basic concepts, tools and methodologies, and research about entrepreneurial journalism -- we ranked our sampling of teachers based on how much they met each of the defined criteria. At the top of our ranking there are experienced professors and at the bottom there are novice professors. These two rankings do not imply the value of the teaching performance is being judged, they only show the degree to which each of the criteria was met. They are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that we have defined to measure the impact of entrepreneurial journalism teaching in Latin America and Spain, which enabled us to trace the path of development and specialization for others who are interested in venturing into this field.

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A fifth of the professors interviewed scored the highest marks, and showed tangible results. These professors are also the ones who incorporated the most topics from the list of skill areas we identified as good practice among entrepreneurial journalism teachers. Among the reasons they scored so high — their former students have started their own projects based on their courses.

Within this group of teachers you will find the highest use of tools and Agile Methodologies, and their portfolios include research and publications related to the topic of journalism entrepreneurship.

The teachers ranked in the highest tier had an average of 13 years teaching experience and 15 years experience working in media. Their entrepreneurial journalism classes are, on average, not more than 5 years old, following the trend identified earlier. In addition to their extensive experience in the classroom, they also have field experience; the vast majority of these teachers also started their own media sites.

On the other end of the spectrum, teachers who are not ranked as high for their performance have not started their own media sites. On average, the professors in this group have more than a decade of teaching experience, but only recently started teaching in the field of entrepreneurial journalism. They have already tackled teaching the concepts and basic content of journalism entrepreneurship, and they have the potential to incorporate Agile Methodologies. Despite being new to teaching in this area, they have demonstrated the ability to research by publishing academic books and papers, and they have the potential to develop this area of journalism that, as of yet, does not have a well-defined space in academia or a clear identity in the journalism profession.

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