We caught up with Sara Kelly to find out about what motivated her to pursue a career in journalism, and to discuss her latest book, The Entrepreneurial Journalist’s Toolkit.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself--your background and what got you interested in journalism and subsequently academia?
I’ve been writing since I learned how to hold a crayon, and I’ve been interviewing people for almost as long. As an only child in a family that moved around a lot, I had to learn my environment pretty quickly—which meant mostly hanging back and observing from the sidelines. Keen observation is key to learning how things work, making logical connections and telling a good story. After college, I studied creative writing. I enjoyed it, but my fiction wasn’t very accessible. I heard once that Mark Twain had credited working as a journalist with making him a better writer, and journalism ultimately provided the kind of discipline my writing needed.
For nearly two decades, I was a print journalist, freelancing for magazines but mostly working as an editor for alternative weekly newspapers. Alt weeklies were full of big personalities, big controversies and big talent. They were the blogosphere before the blogosphere existed. And because the staffs were small, they were a great place to learn all aspects of the business. My colleagues and I developed an intimate understanding of changing journalism business models, and by necessity, we all learned to become entrepreneurial about our journalism skills. Today, as an educator, one of the best parts of my job is coaching and preparing students for the new journalism marketplace. The prospects are much less daunting to them because they never assumed they’d spend their whole careers in print as my generation did.
Although we don’t hear it as often these days, several years ago the decline of newspapers led many to assume that journalism was dead. In retrospect, that seems pretty silly. In many ways journalism is stronger than ever. It just looks different. Sure, fewer people read newspapers these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not consuming news. There are just a lot more ways to get news now.
For creative, curious, entrepreneurial people, journalism is more exciting than ever, with almost limitless ways to get information to others around the globe. The big challenge in this crowded information marketplace is creating value for consumers who are surrounded by endless sources of free information. Because many journalists are now engaged in a direct relationship with their target audiences, they need to understand the basic business principles that will allow them to survive and thrive as journalism entrepreneurs.
Most of the book’s chapters encourage readers to approach their work in a marketplace context. This doesn’t mean simply trying to rack up the greatest number of clicks on a Web page, but trying to bring unique value to news consumers. In Chapter 8: Find Your Audience, journalism professor Jane Singer reflects on the days when journalists pitched stories to simply please their editors. In my own newsroom days, I recall lots of stories about media—largely because the media interested us as journalists. It’s no longer enough to please an editor. Journalists now have to write to their audiences—which is how it always should’ve been.
Key to surviving as a journalist these days is being flexible, adaptable and willing to retrain and learn new things as consumers’ needs and interests change. The way people communicate changes almost by the day. The biggest challenge in writing this book was trying to keep concepts timely. I tried to stick to the main ideas, using snapshots of the journalism marketplace as it existed when I was writing as examples from which readers could extrapolate as tools and technology changed.
The Entrepreneurial Journalist’s Toolkit takes a comprehensive view of the role of an independent journalist today. While there are books out there for journalists who want to do specific things—like launch a Web publication—this text takes a broader approach to the journalist’s career, considering everything from market research to marketing and personal branding. None of these things have traditionally been taught in journalism schools.
The Entrepreneurial Journalist’s Toolkit is a career-focused guidebook to the new media marketplace.
I’m now working on a documentary film about model railroading called Model Citizens.
Today’s journalism and communication students need the tools to develop and maintain their own media businesses and freelance careers. In addition to mastering the basics of converged journalism practice, they need training in business entrepreneurship, mass communication and business law, and…
Paperback – 2015-02-18