Lesson Plan: The Magic of Entrepreneurial Journalism

Exploring how journalism innovators are laying the foundation for the next generation of journalism

Entrepreneurial Journalism students explore news startups at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism

Overview & Purpose

These introductory sessions aim to get students excited about the subject of entrepreneurial journalism and to convey three primary takeaways:

1) Innovative new journalism products and services are reshaping the news landscape.

2) The barriers to entry for new journalism ventures have declined, democratizing the process of creating and developing new journalism products and services.

3) Building and sustaining communities remains a major challenge for emerging news ventures, as does determining how best to generate sustainable revenue streams.


Participants who take part in these sessions will be able to…


  1. Explain what entrepreneurial journalism is and cite a few examples
  2. Detail some of the opportunities and challenges faced by new entrepreneurial journalism ventures in:
    1. building a new product or service
    2. developing a community
    3. identifying and implementing sustainable revenue streams
  3. Describe, in their own words, why entrepreneurial journalism matters and consider some of the ethical challenges that arise in the context of entrepreneurial journalism
Suggested Schedule for 150-Minute Lesson
  1. 0-10 Minutes: Ice breaker: As they enter the classroom, have each student write a definition of entrepreneurial journalism on a Post-It note and place it on the board. Once students have begun placing Post-Its on the board, ask them to remain standing near the board, reading colleagues’ definitions. Ask them to help group similar entries around themes that emerge from the definitions. For a very large class you can invite a subset to participate or you can allocate space on several classroom walls for the activity. Clarify that you’re not looking for a “right” answer, that all ideas are welcome for this opening activity.
    1. Alternative: Instead of defining entrepreneurial journalism, students can put up a Post-It about a source of news that they used in the past 24 hours to find out about what’s going on around them. This can be a Web site, an app, a social media platform, TV, radio, podcast, newsletter, messaging service, or anything else at all that they’ve used to be informed. On the Post-It they can include the name of the publication and a phrase describing what it is if necessary. For example, they can note that it’s a newsletter or podcast, a news program on Netflix, or a messaging subscription on Subtext. As students add their Post-It — and they can add two or three if they’d like— have them work on grouping the Post-Its into categories by subject or media type, or whatever seems appropriate to them.
  2. 10-20 Minutes Debrief on the ice-breaker. Read some of the definitions aloud and take note of patterns. Or if you’ve chosen to have students identify sources of news that they’ve used recently, sum up the kinds of things the students have posted and some of the categories that they fall into.
    1. Then present your own definition(s). [Or if you’re using the alternate news source icebreaker, share some of the news sources you and others use that may not have been included in the students’ list]. In addition to sharing some notable student definitions and your own, here are two preliminary messages you may want to convey: 
      1. This is an emerging field and the definitions are evolving. New news organizations are emerging every week.  
      2. Today’s journalists and the students in the room themselves will play a major role in reshaping the news industry. Many of the innovative journalists at new news organizations have gained their positions recently. 
    2. Here are some definitions you can offer up in the course of discussion:
      1. Entrepreneurial Journalism is a field focused on serving the information. needs of underserved customers in creative new ways.
      2. The field of Entrepreneurial Journalism is a living laboratory for what’s next in media, focused on finding new solutions for the news industry’s biggest challenges.
      3. Entrepreneurial Journalism is a discipline focused on developing and sustaining new ventures to more efficiently and effectively serve present and future consumers of news and information.
      4. Entrepreneurial Journalism is the pursuit of new business models for news.
  3. 20-35 Minutes: Examples of entrepreneurial journalism ventures. Move from introducing the definitions of entrepreneurial journalism to showcase examples of innovative entrepreneurial journalism ventures. Highlight five examples, noting what they do that is innovative and how they’ve made progress in one of more of the following areas:
    1. Addressing an underserved niche or geographic community
      1. Example: Spoon University was a creative startup developed by students at Northwestern who saw a vacuum in food journalism aimed at college students. By creating a system that prioritized editorial training and high-quality content at each local chapter, the network grew to include more than 100 chapters before being acquired by Scripps Network
    2. Creating new products to effectively serve a need
      1. Example: The Skimm built an audience of several million readers by starting with a daily newsletter aimed at a young professional female readership. The founders saw an opportunity to provide a news consumption experience that was tailored to the community of women they knew. It was distinct from the experience of reading a news site or scrolling through social media content. 
    3. Building community to engage people as active participants, not just passive consumers
      1. Example: ProPublica empowers readers to participate in newsgathering by sharing information, experiences and expertise. ProPublica also has an innovative distribution model that includes distribution partnerships with major news organizations to disseminate stories.
    4. Using technology in creative ways to provide news or information more efficiently, effectively or affordably
      1. Example: Quartz. Through its app and its bot studio, Quartz engages readers with an interactive, chat-style news service and creates bots that its readers can engage with. Quartz also moved beyond traditional news “sections” by focusing instead on “obsessions,” which entailed a rethinking of traditional news “beats.”
    5. Developing new business models
      1. Example: The Correspondent. The most recent iteration of the Correspondent began publishing in 2019 after raising $2.6 million from 45,888 members who contributed from more than 130 countries. Here’s more about that fundraising campaign. The Correspondent originally launched in the Netherlands in September 2013, having raising more than 1 million Euros in eight days. The news community was built on a set of core principles that include shunning advertising in favor of member support. With more than 60,000 members paying about 80 Euros a year, the venture is sustainable and is experimenting with international expansion. 
  4. 35-50 Minutes: Group exercise: In groups of three or four, students delve into one of the five entrepreneurial journalism ventures noted so far in the session: Quartz, ProPublica, The Correspondent, Spoon University and The Skimm. Assign the ventures to the groups so they don’t waste time selecting one. Students should explore how their assigned venture 
    1. Have each group collect its observations in bullet point form. The groups’ observations can be collected with an online form using Slido, Poll Everywhere, a Google form, an open collaborative Google Doc, or using a service like Socrative or GoSoapbox. Or have them use easel paper or large Post-Its (one per group). 
    2. Ask the groups to articulate in their observations a few characteristics that are noteworthy about what that company did w/ its product/community/tech/biz model. Ask them to  compare/contrast that novel approach with an approach taken by another news organization.
  5. 50-65 Minutes Debrief. Sum up a few of the points made by the groups by showing on screen the observations they posted to the shared doc or form, or by noting a few items from the easel papers or large Post-Its. 
  6. 65-80 Minutes Break
  7. 80-100 Minutes Introduce the three facets of Entrepreneurial Journalism
    1. PRODUCT. Explain that journalists are developing new ways to provide news and information to people on topics old and new. For example, there are news organizations that now focus on telling stories primarily through podcasts – like Serial. Other entrepreneurial ventures, like NowThisNews, focus on using video distributed through social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc).  
      1. A news product is news delivered in a form of packaging — digital or otherwise — intended to make it easy and enjoyable to consume. One of the key challenges—and opportunities—faced by emerging news organizations is determining what kinds of news products to develop to serve contemporary news consumers. Another key opportunity — and challenge — is figuring out what platforms to use to deliver the news efficiently and effectively. For some news products, Facebook or Instagram may be useful channels. Newsletters rely instead on reaching your inbox, calculating that many readers are more faithful to their email than to their social accounts.
      2. COMMUNITY. No news product can thrive without a community of people who regularly consume its content. What used to be called an “audience” is often now referred to as a community. That’s because those consuming news are also increasingly contributing, either as sources, commenters or contributors. In some cases, they are participants in community events or co-creators of crowdsourced or crowdfunded projects. 
      3. REVENUE. News organizations have moved from relying almost exclusively on two widely-understood revenue streams —advertisements and paid content— to a world of diverse revenue streams. The availability of abundant free content has led news entrepreneurs to explore a wide range of evolving revenue streams that require experimentation. For example: 
        1. Membership. As noted earlier, The Correspondent and many other emerging news organizations generate revenue from membership payments. 
        2. Events. An entrepreneurial venture like the Texas Tribune hosts more than 100 events a year, generating a substantial portion of their annual revenue. People will pay to attend events even when they may balk at paying for online content. 
        3. Premium Content. Some news organizations create “freemium” tiers of service, where some content is free but other content is for sale. Some service journalism, like upstart cooking and sports news sites, offer extra material or services for a fee. 
    2. 100-120 Minutes Exploring the challenge of building something new Ask students in small groups to consider some of the challenges entrepreneurial journalists face as they undertake the process of developing new ventures like the ones discussed in this session: 
      1. Building a new product or service that is useful/interesting/desirable for someone
      2. Developing a community (building a substantial size audience)
      3. Identifying and implementing sustainable revenue streams (making money somehow)

      4. 120-140 Minutes Have a final debrief discussion beginning with the material students just discussed and moving on to other themes addressed in this session. Ask students to
      5. 140-150 Minutes: 3-2-1 Exit Ticket. Before students depart for the day, have students answer three brief concluding reflection questions on paper or through an online service like Socrative.
        1. What are 3 things you learned/realized?
        2. What are 2 things you’d still like to know more about?
        3. What is 1 question on your mind?
      Delving Deeper: Key Concepts to Explore if Time Permits
      1. Over the past 30 years the news world has changed dramatically. (Another lesson covers this in more depth). We went from having two or three newspapers, TV stations and magazines per city to having thousands of news sources. That has led us into a world of news abundance and fundamentally altered how people think about and engage with news. 
      2. Technology has radically changed how news is gathered, distributed and monetized. These changes continue at a fast pace, requiring that news organizations adopt a posture of continual development. These changes include
        1. The growing importance of platforms in distributing news
        2. The increasing significance of mobile devices for news consumption
        3. The emergence of bots and audio skills (Alexa, Google Home, etc) as a new vehicle for news distribution
      Discussion Questions
      1. What is Entrepreneurial Journalism? 
      2. What challenges/opportunities do entrepreneurial journalists face today that they may not have faced to the same extent 30 years ago, prior to the popularization of the Internet?
      3. Why does Entrepreneurial Journalism matter? Who is affected by the development of entrepreneurial ventures? 
      4. What impact do new journalism ventures have on existing news organizations?
      Helpful Materials
      1. Post-Its with pens for ice-breaker
      2. Markers and large easel paper or giant Post-Its for group work. 
      3. Blank paper or online survey for final “3-2-1” takeaway summary response
      Supplementary Links

      Steps to check for student understanding

      1. bit.ly/ejlinks curated by Jeremy Caplan = Overview of entrep journalism resources
      2. bit.ly/ejoverview curated by Jeremy Caplan w/ relevant links, stats and resources
      3. bit.ly/ejresources curated by JC