Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

myNewsBiz 2011: what does it tell us about entrepreneurship?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 24, 2011

So the winners of myNewsBiz have been announced and that wraps up the pilot of our entrepreneurial journalism competition for this year.

The two winning ideas reflected the breadth of entries we received. The winner, Visualist, an idea by City University students Nick Petrie and Ben Whitelaw (of Wannabe Hacks fame) aims to provide journalists in smaller newsrooms with the skills and tools to do data journalism. The judges felt it brought something new to journalism, and targeted a very popular area in journalism today.

The runner up idea was a great idea for a magazine, called Relish, submitted by four students at Kingston University, London. The judges loved the name, but also the fact that it targeted a clear, new and gadget hungry audience – men who like cooking.

Read more about the entries and the judges’ comments here. And there’s more coverage on journalism.co.uk.

What did we learn?

All that’s left to do is give the two winners their £1000 and £500 respectively to spend getting their business ideas off the ground. We announced the competition last November and we wanted to achieve two things (as well as give out cash to good business ideas):

  • we wanted to get more journalism students actively thinking about how business/enterprise works
  • and I personally wanted a snapshot of how the next generation of journalists perceive entrepreneurship, after lots of talk on both sides of the Atlantic.

We achieved the first measure, and then some. As well as a series of online training videos, I visited lots of universities to talk about entrepreneurial journalism and promote the competition. Even those who did not win benefitted from the process of idea generation and asking themselves important business questions, like what is their USP and what are their revenue streams.

And there were some excellent ideas submitted, with a variety of products and services. Among those that the judges highly commended were:

  • a magazine aimed at students
  • Plastik magazine, already doing well in South Wales
  • a magazine for young lesbians
  • an online CV service for journalists

Many of the entries though (understandably!) showed little or no knowledge of what makes a good business idea. Those that scored badly did not have a clear target market identified, or any concept of how or where revenue would be made. Only a small handful of entries had really considered the figures, and were able to say “we’d need to sell 5,000 copies to break even.”

Interestingly (from my perspective, anyway) none of the entries really investigated the potential of launching an intentionally small company with low overheads and exploiting lots of free tools; the majority of entries pitched mainstream-style products (printed magazines) despite the high costs and risks associated with that. Similarly, all but two ideas were for products (even though the idea the judges liked best is a service business).

Five big mistakes lots of first-time entrepreneurs made:

.01 no clear market: lots of entries did not really know who they were trying to target with their idea; great businesses (including publishers) work when they help a specific – easily identifiable – group of people with a specific problem.

.02 choosing a market with little money: those that did know who their audience were had chosen markets where not much money flows – so there was limited chance to sell products, events or services to your audience. By contrast, the judge’s second-favourite entry has a gadget hungry market who are interested in buying.

.03 pitching a product with little value: another common problem was to pitch something that the world doesn’t need. This included blogs, podcasts or magazines that talked about general areas like music, film or sport but didn’t offer anything useful. You have to make peoples’ lives better if they (or advertisers) will part with their cash.

.04 spending money badly: most people did not have a good idea of how they would spend the £1,000 if they won it, often wanting to spend large chunks on posters, clothing or stationary. This can happen to experienced entrepreneurs too though!

.05 their idea doesn’t replicate or scale: finally, the judges were most keen on business ideas that had the potential to grow, or be replicated elsewhere. Too many of the pitches were reliant on the passion/work of one person.

Some interesting early reflections then, which I will delve into in more detail as part of research I am carrying out for Kingston University this year. Clearly, interest in entrepreneurship is yet to grow beyond a small number; the vast majority of student journalists & graduates would rather pursue the traditional path to work.

I believe though that competitions like this are vital if more students are to equip themselves with entrepreneurial skills. I’m undecided about running it again next year, although if we did, we would look for sponsors to get involved. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then please do get in touch. 

3 Responses

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  1. Danny Wright said, on June 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

    “I’m undecided about running it again next year, although if we did, we would look for sponsors to get involved.”

    Adam, I have to applaud the myNewsBiz competition you ran. The winners, by the looks of things, were very worthy. On some of the mistakes you mentioned – perhaps this is down to a lack of business acumen in the entrants. That isn’t a criticism of them, but more perhaps on the difficulties trainee journalists face in the education process. If there were more support for entrants to construct a business-savvy proposal, the quality of submissions would be higher. Maybe it’s time for ‘Journalism & Business Studies’ to run as a course in our higher education institutions. This support should come from universities teaching journalism and the business sector. I sincerely hope you do continue this next year as it is a vital avenue for young aspiring hopefuls to make a career out of journalism, rather than competing in a race to the bottom. With that little bit extra help, then the concept of entrepreneurial journalism can really flourish.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on June 27, 2011 at 9:26 am

      Hi Danny, thanks for the kind words of support.

      When I say I’m undecided about running it next year, it’s because of all the work it would involve on my part, rather than any disappointment in the entries to the competition! For us, it was a great success because we got students (who would otherwise not engaged with the idea of entrepreneurship) thinking about business ideas, and target markets etc. For those who entered it was very useful, regardless of whether they won. I also hope people benefited from all the training materials we published on the website too.

      I agree with your point about education, and it’s something we’re looking at closely at Kingston’s journalism department. The problems stem from way before university however: our primary and secondary education system beats out any dreams of innovation and strengthens our fear of failure – it really is no surprise so few young people (in journalism or otherwise) realistically think of pursuing their dreams.

  2. […] What does the myNewsBiz competition tell us about entrepreneurial journalism? – as our nationwide search for entrepreneurial journalists wraps up, I look back at what we’ve learned. […]


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