Why Journalists Make Great Entrepreneurs

    by Kathryn McManus
    April 30, 2015

    There is tremendous transition within the field of journalism. The number of full-time U.S. daily newspaper journalists now stands roughly at 36,700, according to the American Society of News Editors, down from 55,000 in 2008. I constantly receive calls from journalism colleagues who are in transition and grappling with how to move forward with their expertise. For any journalist who is in a state of transition, it is tremendously useful to know how to build on an idea and scale it into a business.

    I am fortunate to teach entrepreneurship at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Each semester I break the class into three teams and ask thought leaders in journalism, technology, and communications to share a real-life challenge they see within our industry. These thought leaders have recently included Chris Crommett, founder of CNN en Español; Louis Libin, former CTO of NBC and president of Broad Comm; and Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR.

    "I think my biggest skill is understanding what it is that I don’t know and then seeking out the very best advisors."


    The student teams spend the rest of the semester researching and conceptualizing workable business models. Throughout the course, they learn theories of scalability, positioning, team development, competition, barriers to entry, and funding. More than 30 community and national experts mentor the students. All of this hard work culminates in an event with more than 100 community leaders in attendance. The students present their findings in the form of an investor deck. After each presentation, the community offers feedback on how the students can make their businesses stronger.

    Part of a Journalist’s Genetic Makeup

    When I started creating the curriculum for the course, I realized that the skill sets necessary for success as an entrepreneur are part of the genetic makeup of journalists.

    As journalists, we are naturally curious and exposed to the world unlike any other profession. We see the very best and worst of varied systems and societies. We interact with pioneers, innovators, politicians, and celebrities as well as leaders who are altruistic and leaders who are corrupt. We are exposed to and report on innovation. We have been trained to seek out truth and stay politically neutral while amplifying our stories to educate. With shrinking budgets, we have learned to adapt and become resourceful. I cannot think of a better training ground for entrepreneurs.


    And I’ve learned by doing. For more than three years, I traveled 150 days a year covering news as a field producer for TV Asahi. I worked as White House press, became a CNN internal consultant evaluating operations for international affiliates, launched CNN Japan, and founded a journalism technology startup that connected interview-ready subject matter experts with journalists globally. And now, at the same time I’m teaching entrepreneurship at Cronkite, I head up communications and strategy for SocialWhirled, a digital publishing platform and campaign management system used by national brands and their agencies of record.

    Through it all, I think my biggest skill is understanding what it is that I don’t know and then seeking out the very best advisors.  There is no way I would have been able to take on the various challenges without the guidance and mentorship of others.

    As I continue to teach and develop operations, what really excites me is the additional impact other journalists will have as trained entrepreneurs.  Not only will journalists identify, report, and educate us on society’s biggest issues, fellow journalist entrepreneurs will be prepared to act on their passion to develop solutions that impact us all.


    To learn more about how to create and monetize an entrepreneurial venture in journalism, be sure to register for my DigitalEd training, which will take place on May 6, 2015, at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT. If you can’t attend the live session, we’ll provide archived video for all registrants.

    Kathryn McManus joined SocialWhirled as the vice president of communications and strategy in 2014. She also is a faculty associate at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, teaching its flagship entrepreneurship program. McManus served as an international assignment editor, and an internal consultant for streamlining operations at CNN before launching CNN Japan. She also developed and sold NewsCertified Exchange, which created a communications solution that connected interview-ready thought leaders with journalists from over 250 of the world’s top media outlets.

    Tagged: arizona state university entrepreneurship Kathryn McManus startups transition walter cronkite school

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