Last week, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) proudly participated in an event to unveil the Future of Journalism Lab, a new lab which will incubate alternative business models for media. The Future of Journalism Lab is a collaborative project co-led by Journalists for Human Rights, the BII+E, Ryerson University, and University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
At BII+E, part of our approach includes piloting projects in controlled environments to reduce risk and demonstrate feasibility. We are not experts on journalism and certainly not experts on Africa – but we were keen to support this project because it was a natural opportunity to connect some of our existing partners while also supporting entrepreneurs working in the burgeoning field of entrepreneurial journalism.
Context: Media is in crisis. How journalism is financed matters – and the business model is broken.
Worldwide, journalists are suffering from cutbacks and struggling with how to sustain their operations in this new digital age. Facebook, Twitter and Google now make considerable revenue from online advertising by distributing free content through their respective platforms. At the same time, legacy media advertising revenue, whether online or offline, is plummeting. This situation is threatening the quality of journalism.
For example, in Canada alone, ninety journalists at daily newspapers lost their jobs earlier this year due to cutbacks, and Postmedia, the country’s largest newspaper chain, announced a $225 million second quarter loss. The story is no different for broadcasters: 200 jobs lost at Rogers Media, 400 lost at Bell Canada since August 2015, CTV shuttering Canada AM. And this trend has been going on for years. The Canadian Media Guild reported 10,000 jobs were cut from the print and broadcast industries between 2008 and 2013, including 910 jobs lost following the closure of papers by Canada’s largest newspaper chain, Sun Media.
The story is the same across the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Opportunity: The future of journalism lab
Ryerson University, and the BII+E in particular, has cultivated a strong relationship with University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg (Nelson Mandela’s alma mater and one of Africa’s top research-intensive institutions). More specifically, Ryerson and the BII+E have worked closely with Wits to help build their new Digital Innovation Zone in Johannesburg, which is similar to Ryerson’s DMZ (formerly known as the Digital Media Zone) in Toronto.
Leveraging its relationship with Wits, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship connected leading Canadian NGO Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) to the South African university to help bring the Future of Journalism Lab to fruition.
The goal of the Future of Journalism Lab is to engage with and learn from disruptors in the industry who are innovating and funding their businesses in new ways. In so doing, the Lab will incubate alternative business models for media. Housed within the Wits Digital Innovation Zone and complementing its existing offerings, this lab will nurture talented students, mid-career entrepreneurs and journalists who are building startups focused on media and journalism. The success of this teaching laboratory format has been proven through Ryerson’s DMZ in Toronto. Recently ranked by UBI Global as the top university-linked incubator in North America, Ryerson’s DMZ showcases youth entrepreneurs and demonstrates that entrepreneurial education can help both student and mid-career entrepreneurs launch successful businesses.
The Future of Journalism Lab will also engage legacy media partners interested in hiring participants or acquiring the ideas produced by the Lab to help reinvent their distribution models, adapting the “acqui-hire” process used by large tech companies such as Google to a media context.