The promise of entrepreneurial journalism

Philadelphia Magazine recently named Jim MacMillan Philly’s best “Nuevo Journalist”. In other circles he is known as Philly’s best unemployed journalist. MacMillan, a veteran of the Philadelphia Daily News and a Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer, has recently finished a model that he hesitatingly calls “entrepreneurial journalism”.

Entrepreneurial journalism differs from freelance journalism in that it is a self-funded, self-publishing model. MacMillan recently wrote on his blog: “Launching careers in the new media landscape may be brutally difficult, just as they were for my friends and I, who developed our own freelance careers by working up to 80 hours per week, often for 30 or 40 days straight in the 1980s. If you couldn’t cut it then, you might not make it now.”

After taking a buyout from the Daily News late last year, MacMillan took it upon himself to dismiss claims that you can’t do journalism all by yourself. Before taking a position teaching convergence journalism (multimedia, multiplatform journalism side-by-side with journalism fundamentals) in Missouri, there were two questions MacMillan asked himself when he initially took on his experiment. First, there was the issue of the audience. He just left an organization with a circulation of 100,000. Currently, he has 52,000 followers on Twitter.

“In terms of number of followers, I’ve done some work to cultivate them from groups where I can form good relationships,” he said during a conversation we had a few months ago.

Second, there was the issue of salary. MacMillan cites the book What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, a online media advocate, as inspiration.

“Dollar for dollar you make very little off your blog, but you can use it for leverage for other better paying opportunities,” MacMillan said. “Can you pay your bills by being an entrepreneurial journalist? You can, but maybe not directly.”

Jarvis was quoted in a Philadelphia Weekly article about MacMillan called “Can Jim MacMillan’s iPhone Save Journalism?” as saying, “what he did isn’t extreme at all but will be the norm as most of us will have the tools to share news as we witness it—even live. The tools will be simpler and everyone in newsrooms should be learning from them and using them.”

Throughout his experiment MacMillan has found that the importance of a good story reigned supreme regardless of the media or journalistic model.

“If we could not write, tell, or spin a good story, most of us would be out of jobs,” Macmillan said. “But in new media, the methods by which we spin that story have altered.”

Even the idea that you should write short for electronic media has turned into a 140 character and link post (ideally it should be less than 140 characters to allow for the ReTweet).

Electronic media is also a very visible media, of course. The use of graphics and video has become increasingly cheap and easy in the past decade. The creation of the Flip video recorder has turned many of us into fledgling authors.

As the media continues to reinvent itself, regardless of how you choose to tell the story, it’s the story that inevitably is the most important element; I doubt that will change.