Judges Hand Out $40,000 in Seed Money to Launch Journalistic Ventures

December 21, 2010 | CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

By Peter Hauck

It was standing room only in Room 308 on the afternoon of December 13 as the spotlight focused on the vacant podium. Out in the lounge, the 10 students from Professor Jeff Jarvis’ Entrepreneurial Journalism class put away their notes. After spending the last four months refining their ideas, learning how to put together a business plan, and practicing their pitches, they were ready for prime time: Each student had 10 minutes to convince a demanding jury of venture capitalists, media professionals, and entrepreneurs why their project should receive seed funding.

“I’m more nervous than the students,” said Jarvis as he waited to begin introductions. “We started this class and the awards competition four years ago with a grant from the McCormick Foundation, which helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, funded by $6 million from the Tow and Knight foundations. These will be the first awards given out by the new Center, so this is a very exciting day for the School.”

Indeed it was. The 10 presentations were polished and professional, and included starting a hyperlocal website, publishing a consumer-funded photo magazine, and building a new platform for multimedia, non-linear storytelling. After deliberating for 90 minutes, the jury announced the prizes:

• Veteran journalist Jeanne Pinder received $20,000 to pursue her project that uses the power of Web 2.0 to bring price transparency to the healthcare marketplace.

• Shane Dixon Kavanaugh of the Class of 2010 was awarded $10,000 to fund his plan to build an ad cooperative bringing together some of the best hyperlocal media in Brooklyn with the magazine he already publishes there.

• $5,000 went to 2010 graduate Amy Berryhill to develop a platform to enable publishers and educators to build interactive games.

• Musikilu Mojeed of the Class of 2010 won $5,000 to create NigeriaPoliceWatch.com, a website designed to help Nigerians improve the performance of the national police force.

“I’m alternating between pure delirious happiness and having this uh-oh feeling of the dog that chased the bus and caught it,” said Pinder. “This award will help bring my project to the next level so I’m excited to move ahead.” A 23-year veteran of The New York Times who volunteered last year for a buyout, she joined the class when it was opened to mid-career journalists who were looking to start a business. “There was so much intellectual vigor and energy in the class,” she said. “It was a tough but rewarding experience.”

“I’m proud of all the students who took the course and presented today,” said Jarvis. “And Jeanne’s success was well-deserved. It’s a great message to other similarly motivated journalists. Not only are we launching a program as part of the Tow-Knight Center that will lead to the nation’s first Master of Arts in Entrepreneurial Journalism, we’re also offering a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism for professionals looking to find new opportunities amid the profound changes that are disrupting the news industry.”

“We believe that the innovation, experimentation, and investment that journalism so badly needs to build a sustainable future are most likely to come from entrepreneurs,” Jarvis continued. “And our students are committed to helping build the future of journalism.”