CUNY’s MA and certificate in entrepreneurial journalism

Folks – have you seen the curriculum for CUNY’s entrepreneurial journalism degree? And their advanced certificate in media entrepreneurship program? I was looking at some of the courses they were offering and I wish it was possible to just move to New York this coming winter and spring! Look here for an application. A description of the program is here. My daughter would LOVE to spend a few months in the Big Apple. Downside: Out-of-state tuition for the certificate is $9,085. And that is not counting living expenses (rent in NYC is $3,000/month and up) or travel. But it would take what we’re learning here and times it by five. Just a thought for those of you who might want to go deeper into the entrepreneurial thing and get that certificate.

One word of caution, however.  I’ve spent much of my life freelancing, even while employed full time with various newspapers and it’s rough out there. The money that news organizations are willing to shell out for you to write something for them is getting lower by the week, it seems. Not long ago, I pitched an idea to CNN.com’s religion blog and they liked it but…the pay was only $100. If it only took me 1-3 hours to write it, maybe that’d be good money but it takes a lot longer to write a lengthy blog with multiple links and sources. CNN.com had paid me $400 for a blog post the year before (it got 6,500 responses I might add), so the price dropped by quite a bit from 2012 to 2013. What I’m saying in all this is that you can work your heart out doing this stuff, but the pay is abysmal unless you strike it rich somehow. Which most start-ups don’t.

Also, since we are talking about monetizing sites, can you all take a look at this discussion of Patch and other hyper-local sites and what they need to do to succeed? The link is here and I will try to cut and paste.

Memo to Patch editors: If you’re going to work that hard, why not start your own hyperlocal site?

Howard Owens
Howard Owens writes that the duties described by a Patch editor, while vast, are pretty standard for anyone running an independent news site. “But here’s the thing about the work load for Patch editors: They’re not owners. They are expected to do all of the things they would have to do if they owned their own web sites, but merely in service of building wealth for AOL shareholders. … Patch editors should know that what they’re being asked to do on salary they could do for themselves far more successfully and with some chance of building a valuable business for themselves and their families.” Owens has owned and operated The Batavian, a local news site in upstate New York near Buffalo, since 2009.

8 comments

  • Avatar
    Guest

    Most people I know who’ve gone to work for Patch did so for the money. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s true that Patch does pay slightly more than other local newspapers (at least in my area). Most of these people aren’t true believers in hyperlocal news, or have any interest in starting their own businesses. They’re just journalists that want to be employed. Is that so wrong? People gotta eat.

    Howard’s dismissal of those who prefer “the good old corporatism days of journalism with secure 9-5 jobs, two weeks paid vacation and dental coverage” is ridiculous. What’s wrong with a 40-day work week? Why shouldn’t journalists expect the same hours and benefits of every other working person?

    Speaking for myself, I’d love to run and own my own hyperlocal website, but I can’t afford not to have an income for a week, let alone however many months and years it takes to make a site profitable. Let’s not forget Howard was a high-ranking newspaper company executive before he took over the Batavian. I’d guess that his income and savings were probably in much better shape than the average Patch editor.

    • Howard Owens Guest

      I’ve never approved of the “what’s wrong with the 40-day (sic, but a funny one) work week?” attitude in journalism.  There’s no place for it when your industry is dying, and the question is very symptomatic of why it’s dying (far more than anything the Internet has done to disrupt newspapers).    Why shouldn’t journalists get the same working standards as everybody else?  Easy answer: They’re journalists.  You shouldn’t be in this game if you’re not dedicated to the profession.

      And we had ZERO savings when we started running The Batavian ourselves.  We had to claw and scratch to the point where our take home is what I made in 2001 (before I became an executive).   Hyperlocal isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, as some seem to think, it’s a way to do what you love, be compensated for it, not have to answer to “the man” and serve your community.

      Yes, not everybody is going to be cut out for that, but many of these Patch editors could do it if they gave it a try and be much more successful doing it.

  • df1898

    Howard talks of 100-hour work weeks. There’s only 168 hours in a week, so if sleeping, eating and bathing take up roughly seven hours a day, that leaves about five hours per week to do whatever you want. Great business model. Covering or writing about water board meetings is not fun, for goodness sake. Neither is meeting a content quota. Go back to school and study to become a nurse. That occupation ought to be around for awhile. — D. Farrell

  • Mary Lewis

    As long as health insurance is so expensive to buy independently, Patch seems like a great option. Especially if you’re single and don’t have the option of getting insurance through your spouse. Also, many self-employed people say they spend more hours working than when they worked for someone else. Howard’s argument looks great on paper, but there are a lot of practicalities to consider.

  • DaveBrooks

    “some chance of building a valuable business” … true, but no chance at having health care, and no chance of a living salary unless you’re realy top-notch (like Howard Owens, which most of us aren’t)

  • Reykjavik

    It would seem that the economics of the web require at least 100K uniques per month to even hope eking out a living (and at that level, AdWords and ad networks still don’t pay that much). That sort of traffic doesn’t happen overnight, if ever. So in addition to not making money, these entrepreneurial editors need to fund the start-up that may never pay off. My guess is that a lot of content creation will ultimately migrate to pro-am journalists, passionate citizens with writing skills. We may have seen the zenith of for-pay journalism, which (remember) wasn’t until recently a white-collar, college-educated sort of thing. And really, is that so bad? At most newspapers, the folks doing this trench-level work tend to be recent college graduates anyhow, who have a tenuous claim on having better skills than the average citizen and are mostly unknowledgeable about their local market.

    • howardowens Reykjavik

      We don’t do 100 uniques per month.  Where do you get such a bull shit number?  Our best month is about 70K in a month, but we were making a living at 30 or 40K.  And if you’re putting AdWords on your local news site, you’re not doing local online publishing right.

      • Reykjavik howardowens

        Once you crest over a certain traffic size, it does become easier to monetize things. But in the realm of small sites (and 100K monthly uniques is pretty small), it’s difficult to get the RPMs to make a real living. My data comes from a decade in the business running sites from 10K monthly uniques to brand name sites with more than 10 million. And if you aren’t doing AdWords or networks, then you need some sellers, who typically like to get paid (and that adds even more to your costs).

        At 30K uniques, would be interesting to know what your traffic looks like. Most news sites don’t have the level of repeat visitation among their broader audience to turn that level of users into major, revenue-generating pageviews. Even the best news premium sites like WSJ are only getting RPMs in the mid-30s. At 50 pages per monthly unique (a generous ratio), that’s about a half million a year at these unheard of RPMs — more likely, it’s less than a third of that. Guess you’re just different from many others.

        I’m happy that some folks are able to make a go of it, but display ads are a race to the bottom. And advertisers ultimately tie sponsorships back to some business metric (acquired audience, impressions, etc.) Flat rates only mask it for a little while. Look at some of the leaked data on Patch — only a fool would buy at their rates and traffic levels (hence their deep, deep problems). Frankly, the future of online media will be to find higher value monetization methods than advertising — lead gen and commerce come to mind, as well as all these paid content experiments.

        • Howard Owens Reykjavik

          Pretty much everything you say is wrong.  You’re telling me advertising doesn’t work is like telling like telling Orville “this thing will never fly.”  You’re just wrong, and every day I prove it to you by continuing to fly.

    • Perry Gaskill Reykjavik

      Sorry, Not-a-puffin but I don’t agree because of the implied assumption that ad networks and AdWords are the only revenue streams available. Indications coming from Aol, for example, are that Patch is not using CPM-based pricing, but instead a flat-fee model based on exclusive or shared page placement. If memory serves, Howard is doing something similar at The Batavian.

      It’s also probably not correct to assume that 100 thousand eyeball pairs is in all cases a profitability threshold. There are much more complicated variables. For example, the town of Batavia, New York currently has a population of around 16,000, yet The Batavian is able to generate an something like 6,000 UVs per day. If anything, that indicates not only how well The Batavian has been able to engage its local community, but also the extent to which Batavia has been willing to be engaged.

  • Patrick Thornton

    I agree with some of the commenters that working for Patch is a salary and benefits now, which some people really need. However, I don’t think Patch is long for this world, and if you spend a year or two trying to build a local Patch, you might end up with nothing.

  • Bean1010

    Maybe some people need a salary and health benefits.  And there is nothing wrong with working hard for those.  That’s what most people do.

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One thought on “CUNY’s MA and certificate in entrepreneurial journalism

  1. Carrie Brown says:

    Glad to see your interest in the CUNY certificate. I think it would be amazing. We’ve modeled our certificate program to some degree after theirs, and I’ve learned a lot from Jeff Jarvis at the workshop I went to at ASU earlier this year. They definitely have more prestige but I think our certificate program can offer some similar things, especially since you get to work with a lot of folks outside of the journalism department as part of it. .

    Howard Owens is a very useful source because the simple fact is that he is actually DOING it, so he is not taking about something theoretical there. But as he says, it isn’t easy, nor is there guaranteed success. I do think that Patch was great in the short-term, but I was always skeptical that it could support a large corporate structure. You might want to Google him and check out other advice he has for hyperlocal publishers.

    Most hyperlocals have to go beyond just advertising as a revenue stream…..

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