Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism opens at CUNY

In this photo: Marissa Mayer and Tim Armstrong discuss the future of news; Credit: Dan Reshef

Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüensaid the foundation’s support for the Tow-Knight Center was driven by a concern for the health of media that informs democratic practice where people are less aware of civic life at the local level. In recent years, Knight Foundation has supported hundreds of experiments in journalism, he said, and the next big thing is to find the business models to make it all sustainable.

In a recent panel discussion hosted by Philanthropy New York on philanthropic support for local journalism, Tow Foundation Executive Director Emily Tow Jackson said, “We recognized that the changing economics of journalism could negatively impact the health of our democracy.”

Describing the Tow Foundation’s support for the new center at CUNY, Jackson said, “With the transition to the digital age, newspapers large and small were laying off staff, cutting back on coverage, some even closing. We were concerned and wanted to contribute to finding solutions.”

The purpose of the center will be to:

  • Educate students and mid-career journalists, focusing on innovative business management;
  • Research new business models for news;
  • Incubate development of new journalistic enterprises.

Already, the Tow-Knight Center has selected its inaugural slate of 11 entrepreneurial journalists from all around the world, including from Brazil, Cameroon, Denmark, Rwanda and the United States. In addition, $40,000 in grants have already been made to support new enterprises being proposed by several CUNY graduates from previous entrepreneurial journalism classes. For example, Jeanne Pinder, a former New York Times editor, received $20,000 to create ClearHealthCosts, an online information hub designed to deliver information about health care costs.

In this photo: Alberto Ibarguen, Google Inc. Vice-President Marissa Mayer, AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong; Credit: John Smock

The launch event centered around a discussion, led by center director Jeff Jarvis, with Google Vice President Marissa Mayer and AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong on their current business strategies and the future of news.

In his inimitable rapid-fire way, Jarvis drilled the two executives for the better part of an hour, focusing in particular on their plans for delivering local news content. At Google, Mayer suggested that mobile devices will be a critical delivery system. Being able to present news on a device, “that says I am here,” Mayer noted, will be a huge business advantage, given that 70 per cent of expendable income is spent within five miles of a person’s home.

For Armstong, the commitment to AOL’s Patch, a fast-growing local news service now available in hundreds of communities, was born of his own frustration in not being able to find highly relevant information about his own small community.

Jarvis offered an ambitious charge for the Tow-Knight Center, to be a center for entrepreneurial innovation that will propel journalism forward. “What Stanford and MIT do for technology, nobody does for journalism.”

– Vincent Stehle, Knight Foundation consultant

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