Journalism, Viral Loops, Etc.

Though I understand a graduate degree in journalism seems like an insane proposition to many right now, applications are up at all the programs where I’ve spoken to faculty, and if you’re going to pursue that course of study, I am more convinced everyday that NYU is the place to do it. Among readers of The American Scene, Jay Rosen is probably the most well known professor. His analysis of the changing media landscape is certainly more sophisticated than anything being done at Columbia University. And beyond Professor Rosen, the program as a whole is making an effort — how successful it’ll be is beyond knowing — to train students for the actual world they’ll be facing, rather than running a program as if they’re all going to get jobs as cub reporters at daily newspapers.

An example just posted on the course listings: “Entrepreneurial Journalism, taught by Adam Penenberg.”

Journalists who can successfully navigate these turbulent media times must be equal parts journalist and entrepreneur. In this seminar students will learn how to build successful freelance careers, manage their own journalism brands that they will extend through social media platforms like Twitter, pitch ideas for media start ups, write their own business plans or book proposals, and explore ways to attract venture capital. There will be a lot of learning by doing. Students will work as media entrepreneurs and run their own online publications, which they will operate as a business. At its center will be a blog, where students will post several times a week.

They’ll retain an ad server, market their work to the blogosphere (and beyond) and track traffic. The semester will culminate with students either drafting their own business plan for a media start-up that they will pitch in class to a venture capitalist, or penning a formal book proposal, which a literary agent will also critique in class. Guests will include well-known journalists, successful media entrepreneurs, literary agents and venture capitalists.

Professor Penenberg, the guy who caught Stephen Glass, taught my press ethics class. He also just published the book Viral Loop — and his fascinating approach to marketing it demonstrates that he practices what he preaches.

Interesting how the generation of journalists coming up now is being forced to engage in marketing their work in a way that is, insofar as I know, unprecedented in the field. It’s certainly affected my career. At Culture11, it was once suggested that the three editors who commissioned or wrote basically all the publication’s articles should spend fully half of their time on viral marketing. Editors have asked me to Tweet links to freelance pieces I write for their sites. I doubt that Gay Talese ever considered himself a brand — but I am pretty certain that Malcolm Gladwell has for some time. I wonder what implications brand management, Twitter followers, and all the rest has for the kind of work that is produced by the profession.

Any thoughts?