The dominant scholarly understanding of and approaches to journalism do not match the variety of practices that make up journalism today.
The profession’s recent reconfiguration as a post-industrial, entrepreneurial and altogether atypical way of working calls for new ways to investigate, theorize and teach journalism. Our fellowship project at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute will examine the new conceptualization of journalism that is increasingly popular in industry, professional education and academic scholarship: entrepreneurial journalism. Entrepreneurialism is considered one of the main answers to current professional and economic challenges of journalism. In the entrepreneurial model, the enterprising individual — rather than the institutional organization of the news industry — is attributed the role of informing society and performing the professional ideal of journalism.
By no means standardized, new forms of entrepreneurial journalism include a variety of the following:
- Business models, ranging from subscription-based and foundation-funded to client-based and crowdfunded models.
- Work forms such as at-home-alone or in cafes, in small teams and freelance collectives, subcontracted and outsourced, at startup companies or otherwise atypically employed.
- Products and services, including infographics, longreads, data journalism and hyperlocals.
Even though such practices are in flux, we see that the conceptualizations of entrepreneurial journalism in both scholarly work and trade publications coalesce around nontraditional and often outright anti-establishment notions of both journalism and labor. These emerging definitions of what journalism is inform the practices, ideals and mission of entrepreneurial journalists worldwide. Our project documents and traces key examples and conceptualizations of new forms of journalism and examines how they work toward a new understanding of journalism theory and practice. Our case study approach includes examples in countries as varied as the U.K. and the U.S., Colombia, The Netherlands, Italy and Iran. We collaborate with the online database MultipleJournalism.org to document and present our case studies.
Case studies connected to this project, conducted by different members of the research team, include: Mediapart, the successful French online newspaper; La Silla Vacia, the political news blog in Colombia; CodeforSA, the South African data journalism hub; De Correspondent, the Dutch crowdfunded online magazine; and IRPI, the Italian independent investigative journalism unit.
With the support of our RJI Fellowship and working with a team of researchers, we plan to extend these case studies to U.S. companies, including Buzzfeed (its investigative team, established in 2014), Chicago-based Narrative Science, and Evan Williams’ Medium. Team members will spend time in the U.S. observing the operations of these and other new news companies, interviewing the professionals involved, and documenting the products and services they provide.
Our goals are to:
- Identify key components of this emerging “new” journalism.
- Understand journalistic entrepreneurship as a social phenomenon (beyond, for example, a strictly economic or individualistic understanding).
- Map the particular emotional and material conditions of entrepreneurial journalism.
We hope our project contributes to the understanding of the ways in which the conceptualization of entrepreneurial journalism is developing and how it is informing and influencing emerging journalistic practices around the world. Furthermore, we aim to provide an appreciation of the sustainability and representativeness or transferability of the models that are seen as benchmark cases. By integrating and comparing international cases of journalistic startups — their passions and their principles, their goals and their problems — this project will help support the growing community of independent news professionals worldwide.