Entrepreneurial Journalism in Europe

July 16, 2012 • Digital News • by

EJO Report

To some, “entrepreneurial journalism” sounds like an odd turn of expression, as traditionally journalists have been expected to abstain from business.

For years media professionals enforced the so-called “Chinese wall” separating newsrooms from the business side of media companies. Yet times are changing, and the wall has become porous. As the availability of long-term job contracts decreases, media professionals find it necessary to reinvent aspects of journalism, placing more emphasis on self-promotion. In an earlier article, EJO provided an overview of initiatives in the U.S. geared toward promoting entrepreneurial journalism. This follow-up analysis takes a closer look at the situation in Europe.

The Internet wreaked havoc on the news market for more than a decade, forcing news outlets to reconsider business structures. With journalists in abundance and few jobs available, trial and error has become a must for media companies and self-branding an important challenge for journalists. Europe is not exempt from this trend, though the situation cannot be directly compared with the U.S. and varies from country to country. The job market for journalists, however, has become tight everywhere.

Pioneers of entrepreneurial journalism in Europe

In Europe, efforts to combine journalism with entrepreneurship and to explore new options have been modest compared to those in the U.S. In a recent report, Nicola Bruno and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford identify two mayor challenges for journalistic start-ups: First, the market for online news continues to be dominated by legacy media. Second, the market for online advertising is dominated by a few very large players. Diverse cultural patterns and small markets due to language barriers add to the challenges.

“We were working in the traditional press for two years, but there was no prospect of getting a long-term contract. After two years of working on short-term assignments we preferred to create our own employment,” says Xavier Drouot, the Director of the French independent regional news site Carredinfo.fr in Toulouse.

According to Drouot, entrepreneurial journalism is at the center of the professional transition, but he admits that it still misses an educational basis in France. To the contrary, “In the U.K., the discussion has arrived at the educational institutions, but not yet in the media industry as a whole,” says media economist Robert Picard of the Reuters Institute.

In the middle of the continent, Germany has journalistic traditions of its own. “The journalistic environment is different to the one in the U.S. That is why a German copy of the American concept of ‘entrepreneurial journalism’ doesn’t make much sense,” says Klaus Meier, a journalism professor of the University of Eichstätt. Indeed, there is, even compared to most other European countries, a huge public broadcasting sector in Germany, but also newspapers are still doing fairly well compared to the American breakdown of the industry.

Ulrike Langer, a German journalist and media educator who has been exploring the U.S media landscape as a freelance correspondent, adds, “Most journalism programs in Germany do not distinguish between the traditional self-employment in journalism (freelancing) and the concept of entrepreneurial journalism.” Here, she points to a weak point of the ill-defined concept. If entrepreneurial journalism hopes to be anything more than a bombastic take on freelancing, it requires the joint cooperation of journalists to create a business (in German: “Journalisten-Büro”).

In Italy, discussion about entrepreneurial journalism began appearing in 2009. At that time, the national daily La Stampa ran articles about the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, created at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. Since then the conversation has continued, recently inspiring a panel at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.

Stefano Tesi, an Italian journalist and media expert, sternly opposed the concept in his blog  – emphasizing that the two roles of journalist and entrepreneur are incompatible. According to him the “authority, credibility and professional skills of the journalist” simply cannot be combined with “the abilities and the lack of scruples of an entrepreneur.” He anticipates the inevitable undermining of a journalist’s profession and ethics.

The combination of journalism and entrepreneurship seems to have stronger hold in Baltic countries. Latvian journalists use grants and other sponsoring options to create their own blogs and websites. This allows them to engage in investigative journalism and their articles are often followed by books on the same topics.

This, however, is not the only way they profit from their work. For example, Agnese Kleina, the editor of interior and design magazine Deko, started a fashion blog, which has around 15,000 unique users per month and has since become a brand with its own clothing collections.

Further South, in countries like Albania, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine, traditional freelance journalism prevails over the concept of entrepreneurial journalism, though salaries and working conditions have forced journalists to be creative in terms of earning money after the fall of the Iron Curtain. For Alexanderu-Bradut Ulmanu, a Romanian freelance journalist and journalism educator, entrepreneurial journalism does not necessarily mean opening a business, it is rather the ability to combine different resources, including grants and participation in various funding programs.

Ulmanu explains there is a strong need for additional funding in Romania, as poor economic conditions are neither in favor of journalists employed by large media companies nor of freelance journalists.

The situation is similar in Albania. There are news websites like www.lajmifundit.com and www.alblajm.com which are run by just one person. These are, unfortunately, not profitable and their advertising revenue is just enough to keep the websites running. Larger sites like www.gazetaidea.com and www.respublica.com are funded by private foundations, yet are not self-sustaining either. According to Dardan Malaj founder of  www.lajmafundit, in Albania only cell phone companies and a few banks are budgeting Web advertising, while all the others prefer to advertise in print media.

Training opportunities in Europe

Educational offers in entrepreneurial journalism also differ throughout Europe. In the U.K., the City University of London offers an Entrepreneurial Journalism program which focuses on data journalism and community management. A similar course is offered by Bournemouth University for mid-career professionals. Other British universities and institutes such as the Cardiff School of Journalism, Goldsmiths University and the Media and Communication Department of London School of Economics offer more general media management and business administration subjects targeting journalists.

In France, according to Xavier Drouot, teaching entrepreneurship in general is undervalued. The School of Journalism at SciencesPo Paris, however, offers a course on Entrepreneurial Journalism in its Master’s program. Other efforts to inspire innovation include the Movement for the Young and Student Entrepreneurs  (MOOVJEE), a French association created in 2009 which encourages young people to start their own businesses during or following studies. With a focus on entrepreneurs of all stripes (not exclusively journalists), the program provides mentoring resources and an annual award for the best project.

In Germany, there are several major journalism programs where the basics of self-employment and entrepreneurial journalism are taught. The University of Eichstätt offers, for example, a Master’s program in Management and Innovation in Media and Journalism, while the Technical University of Dortmund provides a course called “Basics of Economics for Freelance Journalists.” At the University of Mainz, Volker Wolff, the former editor of Wirtschaftswoche, a leading German business weekly, is the Director of the Master’s program in Journalism. He has always placed a strong emphasis on making media practitioners aware of the business and financial aspects of reporting.

However, most of the journalism schools outside the universities in Germany “are bound to publishing houses,” says Ulrike Langer. “These, of course, are not interested in teaching their students how to make use of a free market and how to bypass publishing houses as distributors.” The German Association of Journalists has supported freelancers by providing some survival training concerning business practice. Recently, Langer broke new ground by offering an Entrepreneurial Journalism course for the Association. She also teaches the subject as a part of her two-day course called “How to Earn Money on the Internet” at the Akademie für Publizistik in Hamburg, another well-known training facility.

Concerning Switzerland, Sylvia Egli von Matt, director of the country’s largest journalism school MAZ, nods in a similar direction. She emphasizes that journalists must be trained to become, “more creative and to act in a more entrepreneurial spirit.” Even if entrepreneurial journalism is “nothing completely new, as MAZ has for a long time been offering specific courses for freelancers, it is worthwhile to discuss the new educational offers in the U.S.” According to her, they “provide a broader approach to journalism. Media practitioners need to experiment, to cooperate, to found small businesses and also to become leaders.” Egli also says future journalists need to develop projects together with designers and technicians, “they need to create – as ‘spin-offs’ – new formats, new forms of investigation and narration, and also new business models.” Vinzenz Wyss, journalism professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, shares these viewpoints. He believes Swiss journalism schools still have a long way to come in preparing future journalists for fundraising and making business decisions.

In Romania, many professional training programs are offered at universities and associations on multimedia journalism, online journalism, Internet technology, media management, alternative media and social media. Such programs aim to enable professional journalists to work as freelancers or as media managers. Similarly, Albanian, Latvian, and Serbian journalism schools offer various programs with a special focus on online journalism, but no courses on entrepreneurship are provided to the future journalists.

As several scholars have pointed out, educational institutions in several countries are also slow to react to changes in the real world due to the legally complex procedure of accrediting academic curricula.

In Ukraine, despite the growing number of NGOs addressing various media development issues, most of them are focused on freedom of speech, censorship, and media ethics, while few pay attention to entrepreneurial journalism. The trend in bringing a new digital culture to journalism is set by individual attempts rather than systematically through educational institutions. Neither are there any structural changes that could illustrate the trend in action. The “U-media” project of the Internews-Ukraine – an international, non-profit media organization focusing on media development – has been conducting more systematic activity in this regard. A recent example is the Social Innovation Lab – a creative laboratory for bloggers, media innovators and programmers aimed at generating ideas for the innovative use of online tools. Internews also organizes short-term journalism schools and camps to train students and mid-career practitioners.

The Mohyla School of Journalism in Kiev is currently implementing two complimentary programs, both initiated and launched by the Foundation for the Development of Ukraine. The Digital Future of Journalism program is a post-degree program aimed at teaching young professionals to utilize opportunities created by new media. The second – Digital Media for Universities (DMU) – program is crucial in speeding up the development of training activities for business-minded journalists. The program addresses journalism educators, and faculty members from different Ukrainian universities are trained to teach digital media as well as develop and/or innovate their teaching curriculum.

*****

In attempting to create an overview corralling the various outlooks and initiatives related to entrepreneurial journalism in Europe, one thing remains clear: There is no common understanding of the phenomenon and its ramifications. Some view the transformation as a new window of opportunity for ambitious journalism, while others merely consider it a new name for the old game of freelancing.

 

This report was created with contributions from Tina Bettels, Natascha Fioretti, Jonila Godole, Kate Nacy, Dariya Orlova, Liga Ozolina, Miroljub Radojkovic and Andra Seceleanu.

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