By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“It’s the most fun thing I’ve ever taught,” Melanie Faizer says of the inaugural entrepreneurial journalism course she led during Fall Semester 2015 at the University of Tennessee (UT).
If she has her way, courses like this one will become a regular part of the curriculum of UT’s College of Communication and Information, better preparing graduates for the reality of a constantly changing and definitely challenging profession.
“Helping them understand entrepreneurship and develop an entrepreneurial mindset is an important way to avoid short-changing their education,” Faizer explains. (This is fine.)
The Canadian by birth and now a U.S. citizen joined UT as a Lecturer four years ago and gladly accepted the opportunity to develop and teach the new special topics course.
“I have no background in entrepreneurship, but I just love it,” Faizer says. In fact, her path to becoming a faculty member is not atypical of the very entrepreneurial journey that more and more university graduates, regardless of academic discipline, are experiencing.
Faizer holds a B.A. in music history and an M.A. in musicology, not degrees in journalism, and a certificate in translation from New York University, something she earned after living in Berlin for a year. The certificate and fluency in the German language helped Faizer earn her first media job in 1998 as a translator with Bloomberg News.
“I started as the low person on the totem pole,” she says. By the time Faizer left 11 years later, she was managing a 25-person multi-media team. The Bloomberg tenure also helped her observe a highly-successful business executive who is known as an innovator and entrepreneur.
“He (Michael Bloomberg) was around everywhere (in the early years),” Faizer says, adding, “He ran a business the way an entrepreneur should . . . very lean.” Yet, while he was fiscally conservative, she also observed the importance that the company’s top executive placed on the development of his team.
“I have rarely seen an organization invest in people like Bloomberg did,” Faizer says.
After Bloomberg, she worked for two years at Opera America where her responsibilities included developing leadership and management opportunities for opera companies around the country.
Faizer’s passion for enriching the experience of her students was clear when we sat down with the new mother recently. We first connected with her by email in late October when Faizer asked us to help critique the final pitches for the inaugural Entrepreneurial Journalism class. By the time that opportunity occurred in mid-November, Faizer was on maternity leave, so the recent face-to-face was our first opportunity to talk.
“What’s happening to journalism,” she asks, then quickly answers with the observation that the old media model that I learned in the College decades ago called for the separation sales and journalism, while the current approach connects them.
“Eighteen, 19 and 20-year olds don’t watch the 6:30 p.m. national news,” Faizer adds. The implications for UT graduates wanting to work in media are significant. Faizer believes those who succeed will be innovative and creative thinkers with an entrepreneurial mindset. They just need to understand the principles.
As you might imagine, Faizer had the students study successful and unsuccessful media start-ups like AOL’s Patch experiment. She also invited guests lecturers from the media industry like Hannah Margaret Allen, a UT Journalism graduate who is Editorial Operations Coordinator at Inverse, as well as those like Uta Preston of Little Fishkopp who started entrepreneurial businesses unrelated to their educational training.
The students were allowed to prepare and pitch ideas beyond just media start-ups. One that captured our attention was a beer branded to your local university.