The business of journalism

Learning how an online publication turns a profit

William Love, Sandpoint High School

A goal of mine for this school year is to incorporate more about the business of journalism into my classes. I want students to understand the change in how the model works. But more importantly, I believe this knowledge will drive students to innovate.

In many respects, journalism teachers are the drivers of small business incubators. We provide opportunities for student to work with a brand and drive the decisions on everything from selecting stories to marketing the product.

Some of the students in our classrooms will eventually make these decisions at for-profit and not-for-profit (I hate the term real world) media companies. Somebody in our classrooms will likely have the idea that shifts how the media business model works in the future.

Of course, journalism students first need to know how the business works. I read an article earlier this month from Fortune that I plan to use to start the school year as a jumping off point for journalism entrepreneurship. The article is a Q-and-A with Jessica Lessin, who is the founder of The Information. Her site focuses on technology news, and despite having a small readership, it has been profitable.

Below are some questions that I plan to have the students answer. However, the point of this is to get the students thinking about ideas they can apply to their publication. The ultimate goal is to get them to innovate!

1. What is a subscription-based media business model?
Explain how The Information model is different than one that relies on advertising.

2. What is “scalable” in relation to business?
Give an example of how this works with media businesses.

3. How does Facebook use algorithms to deliver content to its members?
Explain why this important for media businesses to understand.

4. What are Instant Articles?
Explain how you would produce an Instant Article.

5. Based on the article, interview and your research, what are some factors that make a media publication like The Information successful?

6. Based on your learning, provide two actions that could help a student publication engage with and develop its readership. Explain how it will be instituted and why it will work.