News Leadership 3.0

May 28, 2009

In search of an inner entrepreneur

Here are five steps to finding and cultivating potential entrepreneurs in your newsroom. Step 1: If you’re the boss, recognize that it’s not you.

KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp focused on journalists who want to start news and information businesses, for the most part one-person bands at least initially. As I noted earlier this week, journalists can indeed be entrepreneurs. The follow up question: Can traditional news organizations support entrepreneurs in their midst?

Here are five things that will help that happen:

1. Recognize that top bosses are not likely to be entrepreneurs, as worthy a goal as that may be. An executive can be entrepreneurial, and the job entails many of the same visioning and organizing roles that the entrepreneur must play. But the executive is unlikely to be in a position to assume the significant risks of entrepreneurship, especially if the she is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization, as many editors now are in their newsrooms.

2. Identify the entrepreneurs in your midst. Here’s my favorite definition: “A risk-taker who has the skills and initiative to establish a business.” Look for the early adopter who is passionate about ideas, willing to buck conventional wisdom - perhaps even annoyingly so -  and has the commitment and discipline to see an idea through.

3. Dedicate time. Give the newsroom entrepreneur with a promising idea time to work on it. Schedule regular but not overly frequent check-ins (weekly). Be clear about timelines and expectations. As long as there’s sufficient progress and the premise is holding up, think of the effort as you would a potential Pulitzer-level investigation. No dawdling. But give it time to pay off.

4. Allow room for failure. Of course, not every idea will pay off. Most won’t. Recognize that you are investing in a learning curve as much as in a specific idea. The better and faster your inner entrepreneur can fail, the better and faster she will create the next big thing. So when something doesn’t work out, ask the entrepreneur what she learned rather than what went wrong.

5. Learn how to foster innovation in your organization. Create an atmosphere in which people support entrepreneurship and want to be part of it. Here’s a great list of tips to get you started.

I’m sure this list is incomplete. How can news executives foster entrepreneurs in their organizations? Please share your ideas in the comments.


I think these are fine ideas for identifying and nurturing people who can be innovative in the context of an organization.  That is not the same as being an entrepreneur.  The risks and rewards are too different.  As an entrepreneur I do not have company benefits such as sick days, vacation days, a regular salary direct deposited into my bank account, a 401K or a health plan.  I only get to eat what I kill.

The greatest thing about being an entrepreneur is the freedom to do what you want the way you want.  There is no corporate superstructure controlling (or assisting with) human resources, purchasing, IT, etc.  No one is holding the suggested weekly meetings to “check in.”  I connect with clients, friends, colleagues, and competitors on my own terms to figure out if I’m doing things right or need to make changes. And the final decisions for assessing and implementing changes are mine alone.

The risk is with my capital and that of any investors I have attracted.  We set the terms of their investment together and if I find their demands too intrusive, I am free to find other sources of funds.  Within an organization the sources of money are removed from the hands of the would-be-entrepreneurial-journalist, as is the ultimate return on investment.  Getting a bonus for a job well done is not the same as establishing a stream of income to last out one’s lifetime and into the lives of ones descendants or favorite causes.

Useful training in the context of schools of journalism would cover practical aspects of basic bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, and business law when one has all of those responsibilities and no resources of a larger organization available for advice or support. It may be hip to talk about journalists as entrepreneurs, but we need to understand that the real ones hang out their shingles, and their shelter and food hang in the balance.

Good points. I agree that working within an organization poses less risk. But it also may require risk in pushing against tradition. Thanks for the comments.

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this section entry.


Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud