J&PR Wired

Digital Media Startups: Driving
J&PR Students Toward Innovation

By Natalie Norris

Thomas Martinez shares his "Sore Thumbs" app during Digital Media Startups for a practice pitch. Credit:Emerald Carroll

In fall 2013, Chico State Journalism & Public Relations offered a trial course where students were encouraged to think about journalism in an entirely new way: Through the lens of Digital Media Startups.

The "special problems course," which is how a trial-run class is described, brought an entrepreneurial focus to the journalism and public relations option, said Debra Johnson, a professional-in-residence public relations professor.

Johnson received a fellowship to attend theScripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute at Arizona State University. She was one of 15 educators nationwide selected for the program, which was held in January, 2013, at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

One requirement upon being selected was that the educators must offer an entrepreneurial journalism course the following semester. With that in mind, Johnson created Digital Media Startups.

The course introduced J&PR students to aspects of journalism that they had not encountered in the program before.

A mockup design of a DMS student's cloud-based content organization app.
Credit: John Riggin

Students were able to use their creativity to invent original startups. From a blank screen on their computer, to an entirely new product, students ended up with a business plan in place ready to share to investors.

"The startups class has taught me a lot about entrepreneurialism and startup culture, which has gotten me to think about how I can apply my skills as a journalism/PR student to creative business solutions," said John Riggins, a student in DMS.

We sat down with Johnson to learn more about her experiences teaching JOUR 399, "Digital Media Startups":

Q: Why entrepreneurship? Wouldn't that be a business skills course?


Entrepreneurial journalism examines how journalists can make successful news ventures exist in an online environment. It forces you as the journalist and the entrepreneur to understand how you can make money in today's digital world with your journalistic storytelling abilities.

Q: How did students benefit from taking this course?


Students benefit in many ways:

Q: What is the most important concept you wanted students to take away from DMS?


That professional opportunities abound for journalists in today's digital world if you're willing to accept risk and put yourself out there.

To read the chair's column, click here.