Beyond the wall: Failure in entrepreneurial journalism

Amanda Brouwers

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


    In recent years, we’ve seen an increased focus on the concept of entrepreneurship in journalism education and among journalism practitioners (Nacy and Russ-Mohl 2012; Vos and Singer 2016; Wagemans et al. 2016). The positive image of entrepreneurship among the latter arises from a need for innovation, due to technological and economic crisis in the journalistic field (Vos and Singer 2016). This does not mean entrepreneurial journalism – as the combination of entrepreneurship and journalism is often called – is without critique or problematic aspects. ‘The wall’ has been the dominant focus of (academic) critiques, referring to the separation of financial and editorial issues by journalists (Jarvis, in Briggs 2012; Coddington, 2015; Porlezza & Splendore, 2016) that protects journalistic ethics (Pein, 2014) and autonomy (Puppis et al., 2016). However, auto-ethnographic reflections from the founder of a developing journalistic startup show that failure, rather than ethics, are a key problematic aspect in entrepreneurial journalism. Though failure is rarely the focus of studies on entrepreneurship (Shepherd, 2016) – which tend to sample success stories – it is often characterized by academics and practitioners as an important concept (Briggs, 2012; Ries, 2011; Shepherd, 2016). Failure is deeply intertwined with experimentation (Briggs 2012) and the eventual innovation that upsets the existing equilibrium (Schumpeter, 1934), resulting in development and added value. In Silicon Valley, failure is considered a normal phase of one’s career (Briggs 2012). In contrast, failure is rarely a focus of, and hardly ever mentioned in, journalism studies. When it is discussed, it’s often in the context of the journalistic system as a whole, falling short of set norms and values (Bennett, Lawrence and Livingston 2007) – reinforcing those same norms and values in the process. We lack insights into how failure is experienced on the level of the individual journalist, how it’s regarded in traditional journalistic culture and how journalistic failure differs from entrepreneurial failure. This means we cannot assess how failure shapes behavior in entrepreneurial journalism as it does in traditional entrepreneurship (Shepherd, 2016) and how it affects the development of innovation. Furthermore, we cannot know whether there is stigmatization of failure from the journalistic field, possibly obstructing journalists to learn from their mistakes (Ibid). This paper critically examines auto-ethnographic data collected from the founder and four co-founders of a journalistic startup, when they were conceptualizing the idea(s) for this project. I will show how failure became part of their business model by looking at how, in this particular case, failure was emotionally experienced, and how discourses on failure were internalized, shared with peers and put into action. The issue of entrepreneurship opens up media and journalism studies for discussions. If we take these seriously, we need to understand entrepreneurial journalism from the journalistic, business and human side. Failure plays a part in all of these. Neglecting failure as a focus of study, thus will prevent us from obtaining a full understanding of how entrepreneurship affects journalism and expected innovations. References Bennett, L.W., Lawrence, R.G. & S. Livingston (2007). When the press fails: political power and the news media from Iraq to Katrina. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Briggs, M. (2012). Entrepreneurial journalism: how to build what is next for news. Los Angeles: Sage. Coddington, M. (2015). The wall becomes a curtain: revisiting journalism’s news-advertising boundary. In Carlson, M. & S.C. Lewis (Eds). Boundaries of journalism: professionalism, practices and participation. Nacy, K. & S. Russ-Mohl (2012, July 19). The Journalist as Entrepreneur. European Journalism Observatory. Retrieved from Pein, C. (2014, July 28). Amway Journalism [Web log post]. The Baffler. Retrieved from: Porlezza, C. & Splendore (2016). Accountability and Transparency of Entrepreneurial Journalism. Journalism Practice, 10:2, 196 – 216. DOI: 10.1080/17512786.1124731 Puppis, M., Fürst, S., Hofstetter, B., Meißner, M. & Schönhagen, P. (2016, November 11). Crumbling Wall between Business and Editorial Departments? Corporate Interests and Journalistic Autonomy in Times of Crisis. Paper presented at ECREA 2016 Conference «Mediating (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures», Prague. Ries, E. (2011, April 1). The Lean Startup. [Video file] Retrieved from Schumpeter, J. A. (1934). The theory of economic development: an inquiry into profits, capital, credit, interest and the business cycle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Shepherd, D.A. (2016). Learning from entrepreneurial failure: emotions, cognitions and actions. New York: Cambridge University Press. Vos, T.P. and Singer, J.B. (2016). Media Discourse About Entrepreneurial Journalism. Journalism Practice, 10:2, 143-159. DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2015.1124730 Wagemans, A., Witschge, T.A.C. & M. Deuze (2016). Ideology as Resource in Entrepreneurial Journalism. Journalism Practice, 10:2, 160 – 177. DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2015.1124732
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018
    Eventemma conference 2017: Value Creation in Media Markets: Business Models, Clusters and Ecosystems - Universiteit Gent, Gent, Belgium
    Duration: 11-May-201712-May-2017


    Conferenceemma conference 2017
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