Of the several roles that the web essays, the most prominent is that of being an ‘enabler’ – an enabler of information, of ideas, of innovation, of providing new business models, etc. And if the panelists at the 16th World Editors Forum are to be believed, when it comes to the media world, even the journalists are not immune to being ‘enabled’ by the web. Increasingly, a number of journalists are taking to the web in larger roles than ever. The journalists of today are letting go off their cushy jobs in exchange for starting entrepreneurial ventures of their own.
The session on ‘Entrepreneurial journalism: the growing influence of online-only news’ on the third day of WAN-IFRA 2009 focused on how print firms of today were increasingly scouting the web to source news and the role that online journalists – or entrepreneurs, played in fulfilling the demand. The panelists at the session included Rafat Ali, CEO & Founder, paidcontent.org, USA; Frederic Filloux, Editor, Schibsted International, France; Olivier Creiche, CEO for Europe, Six Apart, USA; and Sanjay Gupta, CEO & Editor-in-chief, Jagran Prakashan Ltd, India. The session was moderated by Laura Oliver, Editor, journalism.co.uk, UK.
Rafat Ali began the session by bringing to the fore the importance that entrepreneurial journalism (EJ) played in the lives of journalists. “At a time when news companies are not sure of their own destiny, why let them decide your destiny,” was how he described the current situation facing entrepreneurial journalists. Ali took time out to bust some myths and what EJ wasn’t really about. “Entrepreneurial journalism isn’t a cyclical trend or about entrepreneurship by the poolside or a discussion about the future of journalism or newspaper; in fact, it even isn’t about you. What it is about is being a secular trend, about the blood, sweat and tears put in by journalists, about being a 24/7 operation where you are ready to burn the candles from both ends and even the middle, and finally it is about the art of hustle.”
Frederic Filloux was next and he began by stating that entrepreneurship was an imperative tool for journalists, a one where training played an important role. He quoted: “To become entrepreneurial, we had to learn the basics of business skills, think long-term, get help from anywhere and basically, be a professional.” He cited the example of ‘20 mins’ newspaper for which it decided to launch its own start-up rather than outsource or hire freelancers.
He noted, “Doing things on your own helps publishers to keep their newsrooms small, avoids them the hassle of dealing with technology, there are no administration and HR issues and it requires a management that is lean.”
According to Filloux, entrepreneurial journalism was a response to opportunity. “Why not, as the cost to publish on the web was almost nil, digital workflow was easy to manage and production of multi-media is cheaper,” he said.
Olivier Creiche began by presenting the reality facing print firms today. He said, “It is well known that the technical costs of production are decreasing and with the advance of software, the costs have almost diminished. So while in the paper world you can tell the difference between large and small players, the same was not possible in the new age world where each player has a offering as competitive as the other.”
Creiche cited the example of one such entrepreneurial venture Netmedia Europe that has only 50 employees but is present across 5 EU countries and has 13 million unique visitors. “Much of the success of the site could be owed to the presence of experienced professionals, the fact that they have presence only in the online world, have vertically segmented audiences, low tech costs, focuses on community building and are financially backed.”
Sanjay Gupta presented the print blueprint of India and the scope that it had for the multiple players. “Print and online in India has a long way to go – penetration of print is only 40 per cent and only 5 per cent Indians have access to the web. Newspapers in India, therefore, will never die and will survive for a long time to come.”
Gupta further pointed out that the web would drive the future and that regional languages would play a major role in driving traffic to the web. As of now, there were hardly any portals that concentrated deeply on providing content in regional languages, barring a few, he said. Presenting his stance on entrepreneurial journalism, Gupta said that a lot of journalists today were taking the entrepreneurial route and were providing specialised services. “It is not content, but an entrepreneurial journalist launches a brand and slowly builds it up. The challenge would be to get in new set of readers, the fact that the news market is capital intensive and that scalability across geographies that would be a huge task,” he pointed out.