Guest blog: Journalism and business nous can go hand in hand

How do broadcasters know the footage they’re getting from the latest Syrian outrage, tsunami or sinking cruise liner is the real thing ?  How can they sift through grainy mobile footage or muffled screams to pick the perfect clip to sum up the visceral reality of the moment? And when they do, do they ever worry that the people who may have risked their lives to get their footage get no reward?

ReelRushes could be the answer, writes City University’s Barbara Rowlands. It’s brilliantly simple. Citizen journalists upload their footage via an app to the ReelRushes website, which is then verified for its authenticity by a team of dedicated staff. Broadcasters, who pay a subscription, download it, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be exposed as false.

Well, that’s the theory – and in practice, it just might work. In any case, it’s not a bad idea, complete with business plan, cash flow projections, external investment requirements, and a breakdown of customers, market and competition for a bunch of postgraduate students at City University London to come up with.
ReelRushes was one of two winners of City University London’s new entrepreneurial journalism module. The other was Upstart – an online hub that provides guidance and networking opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

They were among 22 media start-ups that  were pitched last week by 154 postgraduates, broken into 22 teams of 7 or 8. There were four ‘dragons’ – Sue Greenwood, MD of Sweeble Ltd, an online publishing company; Ollie Lloyd, CEO of Great British Chefs; Ben Caulfield, founder and director of Born Talented and Iris Ben-David, founder of StyleShake, an online fashion platform.
Most of the ideas were workable, many original and the pitches slick.

There was Shorthandy, an app for learning shorthand, and MenAboutTheHouse.com, a network that sets out to connect house fathers but also provides add-on services that will enhance their experience of child-rearing.
As module leader it was amazing to see their slick, enthusiastic pitches.

In January, at the start of the module and before lectures on generating ideas, different business models, creating value, business planning and how to pitch, it looked an impossible task.
It seemed to be a form of heresy, business gobbledegook, not what they had come to City for.

But with most of the theory squashed (sometimes reluctantly) under their belts, having listened to the advice of our invited guests, such as former Future CEO Stevie Spring and Reshma Sohani of the investment fund and mentoring organisation, Seedcamp, plus mixing with entrepreneurs at two networking evenings, most now understand the importance of developing business skills.

So too does Professor George Brock, the head of the journalism department: ‘City’s Entrepreneurial Journalism course rests on the assumption that need to understand what makes media businesses tick. If they don’t understand what went wrong with the business model for daily printed news, for example, they’re not likely to make much contribution to finding the model that works for digital publishing. And journalists need to have a voice in that.”

Barbara Rowlands is director, MA Journalism, City University London

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