A lesson re-learned

26 Apr

I last taught my media entrepreneurship class at American University two years ago.

That group’s ideas were, in a word, transitional. Many revolved around how they could take familiar media ideas and adapt them to a digital age: let’s capture listings for my traditional newspaper in a different way. Let’s build a tool to allow sources and traditional newsrooms to collaboratively assess documents. Let’s turn the classic suburban weekly newspaper into a digital-only publication.

By contrast, this year’s class pitched more-radical rethinks. Yes, their project ideas had familiar themes – hyperlocal sites or food-and-drink blogs.

But they had a couple real head-snappers, too: A medical-information site that blended scientifically-reliable reporting with Angie’s List-style reviews of docs and hospitals. Or projects executed almost entirely as a YouTube partner channel. Or – my personal favorite – a multi-screen, API-driven site to allow users to view their favorite sport* in a new way.

(*Yes, I’m being intentionally vague to honor NDAs. In doing so, you’re losing a little of the flavor. Most of you, in fact, wouldn’t even recognize the “sport” the student is pitching – and I guarantee that heads at Comcast Sports Net would explode if they saw the usage data and dollars spent on this sector – because it’s nowhere on their radar.)

Once again, the students reinforced what is to me the dominant theme of last half-dozen years in media: Digital forces may be flaying traditional operations – but those same forces create myriad opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The most gratifying element? Well, one student is already neck deep in executing a variation of her project pitch inside her (very traditional) organization. Two more have been in touch to say they’re still tinkering to try to execute their idea. Fingers crossed for all of them.

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