Ohio Journalist

The Business in Journalism

By Brian Grady

(June 11, 2011) — Scripps alumni from the 1970s encourage Scripps students to stop thinking like reporters, and start thinking business.

“I would encourage journalists to think like entrepreneurs, and not to think that a traditional media route is the way to go,” said Rebecca Fannin, an alumna from 1977.

Fannin splits her time between journalism and event planning that unites venture capitalists with entrepreneurs in China. She’s the author of ‘Silicon Dragon,” a book that argues China is technologically far more advanced than the United States. She also writes about international tech news for Forbes, among other publications.

“Some of these Chinese companies and entrepreneurs are fairly large, and as a journalist, I’ve been in the forefront,” Fannin said. “I got inspired by their stories and became an entrepreneur myself.”

Until recently, Fannin said she was similar to who intend to catch the innovation bug.

“I was not entrepreneurial at all,” said Randy Rieland, class of 1973. “I was an editor of publications, but I didn’t start them. The entrepreneurial part of me now is looking at what I’ve learned, what I can do and how I can turn that into a product.”

Rieland worked in print for 25 years before becoming the vice president of Interactive Media for the Discovery Channel, where he launched the company’s first website. He left Discovery two years ago to freelance and start up his own consulting company.

Then there’s Rudy Maxa, class of 1971, a travelling man who hosts and owns his own public television and radio show called “Maxa’s World.”

“If you had told me when I was 31-years-old that I have a radio show and I have a television series with 75 episodes on public television,” Maxa said, “I would have said, ‘What are you, nuts?’”

Maxa became a writer for the Washington Post straight out of college, moved to The Washingtonian and then began his “serendipitous path” to multimedia entrepreneurship. He started hosting a two-minute radio show every other week for $75 on the public show “Market Place,” then based out of Los Angeles. Freelance travel journalism opportunities led to exposure, which eventually led to Maxa’s own show and company.

Neither Rieland nor Maxa wanted anything to do with business. They said in the ’70s, young entrepreneurship was reserved for stacked family bank accounts and retail. Only later in life did Rieland and Maxa pursue their own business operations.

Maxa chased entrepreneurship because he wanted to control the revenue for the travel show he hosted, and not be strapped to a video production company’s label. Rieland chased it because he’s a problem solver, and decided he works best independently.

Both late-blooming entrepreneurs said 2011 graduates should start earlier.

“With your generation, there’s not going to be a lot of you who plug into a news organization for over 25 years,” Rieland said. “So what you need to do is go out there thinking of yourself as a product. That’s a very different model from when I was in school.”

Maxa said the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism of the 1970s was too straight edged for today’s generation. After graduation, Maxa would visit campus and give advice to students, saying, “Write as much as you can in college and get involved at the student newspaper.”

“I’m sorry to say it was conventional wisdom,” he noted.

Now, the Scripps College of Communication is trying to bring business in focus for media students. Entrepreneurial student organizations have launched. Student publications like The New Political and Thread continue to pop up around campus.

“Journalists have a significant advantage when they think about starting a new business,” said Henry Heilbrunn, founder of Interactive Directions, a media-consulting firm for startups. “The advantage is that they communicate effectively.”

Heilbrunn started as a reporter for The Associated Press. A rigid journalist with intentions of being a foreign correspondent, he was offered his first stint at innovation because he was younger than the rest of the newsroom staff. The same way today’s JSchool graduates are asked to develop a publication’s social identity online, Heilbrunn was called upon to create a company strategy for the emerging cable television.

“I moved on to satellite television and eventually to startups,” Heilbrunn said. It was not only a love for writing, but also creating the story from scratch that attracted him to the world of innovation.

Heilbrunn said that students should learn even a “rudimentary” knowledge of business, and advised, “knowing how to present yourself in a business environment puts you a leg up on the journalist that doesn’t.”

He visited Ohio University to teach business management and new media a few years back, and says now is the time students should begin taking advantage of those classes. At low cost and significantly lower barriers to entry, starting a new business can be more fun and less painful if students can find a way to differentiate their products.

“When we think about entrepreneurs today, we think about them for the most part using the technology that’s available, the information assets that are available.”

Journalists who possess an insatiable curiosity, the ability to network and the willingness to work in a now “global community” have an entrepreneurial edge.

Heilbrunn said an individual can become an entrepreneur at any point, including straight out of college. “A good entrepreneur leverages every life experience,” he explained. “Regardless of the length of the career.”

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