Peter Fray: The future of journalism rests on entrepreneurship

One of Australia’s most experienced and innovative media professionals, Peter Fray, has deep experience in transition within legacy news organisations. As a 2016 Tow-Knight entrepreneurial fellow, he has fully embraced the practice of entrepreneurial journalism and now passes it on to a new generation of journalists at the University of Technology in Sydney, where he is professor of journalism practice.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | August 29, 2016

In a comprehensive, inspiring article on the need for innovation in journalism that Fray posted on LinkedIn last week, he said the industry has largely neglected to learn the business of the news business.

He argues that what our industry really needs, is to develop an ecosystem of journalistic enterprises that meets the needs of our audiences, and can be monetized. To accomplish that, media, technology, and business have to collaborate.

Fray’s own experience as an entrepreneur taught him the importance of having a good business plan from the get-go. Three years ago, he launched PolitiFact AUSTRALIA, the country’s first stand-alone fact-checking site. It was doing well, employed about 12 journalists, but eventually ran out of money and had to close.

This was part of the reason he wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship at the Tow-Knight Center. During his time there he developed Clevr, a machine-learning B2B tool that encourages deeper audience engagement by automatically surfacing new authors readers might like. Clevr’s IT partner, Sakura Sky, are currently refining the prototype and Fray is planning to trial the tool with a publisher as a way of boosting advertising revenue.

“The industry’s way forward is to be open about business models, share best practices, and be prepared to talk about our failures,” Fray said.

Keen on learning more about entrepreneurial journalism, and its benefits for legacy newsrooms, we made a call to Australia:

What can entrepreneurial journalism do for legacy newsrooms?
One of the great lessons that entrepreneurship can give people, is the idea that there is a vibrant, healthy exciting future for journalism. There are skills, techniques, and attitudes they can adopt and learn that can help them not sink into the rant of thinking that they’re about to lose their job. It gives people in newsrooms hope.

What is the biggest challenge for legacy newsrooms?
The house is burning down and at the same time, journalists are being told that they are going to build a new house. Entrepreneurship can show there are plenty of ways to build a new house, and many are doing it. And if it does indeed burn down, maybe you’ll get a job in a new one, which may look like a teepee or something you’ve never seen before, but it is a place where journalism is practised.

How do you encourage innovation within a newsroom?
You need to find people who are doing great work and celebrate their successes. You also need to be very open and honest about failures, yet celebrate the taking of risks. There has been a change in attitude over the last five years. When I was Editor-in-Chief of The Sydney Morning Herald, we were never very good at talking about our failures, and learning from them.

How would you describe the mood in our industry around innovation?
There is enormous goodwill from people in the news business for the news business to continue. You don’t go into journalism to be a millionaire. If you did, you really made a mistake. You went in for some form of public service. Of course, there are always people that are resistant. The business models may have changed underneath us, but the basic motivation as to why you were a journalist is a great foundation for wanting to be an innovator.

How much time and resources should be allocated to entrepreneurial journalism?
Not everyone is going to set up a Google lab, but you can achieve a lot by putting a few heads together over a weekend. Some newsrooms have a suggestion box, or staff that have an idea are given some time off to work on it. In my opinion that makes them better employees, because they are motivated and not sitting on the bench thinking they’ve got this great idea but no one is listening to them.

How can newsrooms start practising introducing entrepreneurship? 
Entrepreneurial journalism by its very nature has got to be collaborative. Put in a room a journalist, a developer, and a product person; tell them to all learn to speak the same language, give them a problem to solve, and you know that something exciting is going to come out by putting these four people together. Not only that, it also shows people that you believe in the future and are investing in it.

Related article: What entrepreneurial journalism can do for legacy newsrooms

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