Digital pioneer Robert Niles on teaching entrepreneurship

March 28, 2011 in Blog, Education, Interview

Robert Niles

Robert Niles

An interview with digital pioneer Robert Niles by JA’s Tram Whitehurst

Robert Niles founded and edits Theme Park Insider, an award-winning theme park news site. He also contributes to the Online Journalism Review and conducts trainings for journalists across the country.

What do you think entrepreneurship means when it comes to journalism? Where is the intersection between business and journalism for individual journalists?

“Entrepreneurship in journalism reduces to doing whatever needs to be done to raise the resources necessary to keep publishing. Typically, that means finding customers to write enough checks to pay for whoever’s doing the reporting and production of the publication.

This is the work that’s always been done by publishers. But as news organizations become smaller and smaller — and even individuals become entire publication staffs — that work’s now being done by people who also have editorial responsibilities.”

What are some of the most important entrepreneurial skills young journalists should be learning in order to prepare for the marketplace?

“Ultimately, entrepreneurship requires the ability to listen, to observe and to ask questions that elicit informed response. And those are the skills of a journalist. If you can report, you can be an entrepreneur. You simply must lose your fear of math and of responsibility for money though.

To be a successful entrepreneur you must be able to identify a “pain,” an unmet public need. Then you must develop or call upon the personal network that can help you identify resources and a medium through which to meet that need. Journalists work their sources for information all the time. It’s not that far to apply those skills to entrepreneurship.”

How should journalism schools go about teaching these skills?

Journalism schools need to bring in more people who’ve started information businesses, to spark conversations among those entrepreneurs, students and faculty. Don’t rely just on big names who’ve started big companies. Students need to hear from some of the many people who’ve launched and continue to run profitable sites on their own, or in very small partnerships. That’s where millions of people are getting their news these days.”

Do you know of any schools and/or journalists that are doing this particularly well?

“Well, USC’s doing a nice job with its news entrepreneur boot camps. (Yes, that was a shameless plug — I help organize those). Also, Arizona State and CUNY and NYU have established promising efforts to train journalists in entrepreneurial skills.”

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