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Winning team offers practical solutions to address newspaper's budget shortfall

Judges at this year's CDIG student competition, top, had their hands full sifting through an impressive set of entries. Ultimately, Team Missourian won for their strategies designed to address a newspaper's budgetary shortfall. From left, team mentor Les Borgmeyer, students Shraddha Hegde, Emily Rackers and Alexander Starkey.A team of students from the Missouri School of Journalism and the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business was chosen as the winning entry in the ninth annual Entrepreneurship and Media of the Future Center for the Digital Globe Symposium competition.

Team Missourian designed a strategy to bring the Columbia Missourian out of a budgetary shortfall and into a sustainable future in less than one year. The three-member team was comprised of Emily Rackers, graduate student in journalism, and MBA students Alexander Starkey and Shraddha Hegde of the Trulaske College of Business.

Three other journalism-business teams developed plans for clients The Associated Press, Burst and Grafiti.

Mike Jenner, executive editor of the Missourian and Houston Harte Endowed Chair at the Missouri School of Journalism, was impressed with Team Missourian’s quick comprehension of the financial ins and outs of running a newspaper. “The students on the Missourian team didn’t have a deep knowledge of newspaper finances or metrics, but they quickly (identified) areas of opportunity and then asked some excellent questions,” Jenner said. “They came up with some terrific proposals for solutions. Any media company looking for a truly fresh look at their business and marketing plan should consider ‘hiring’ a team of students from this class.”

According to Missourian team member Rackers, she wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the Entrepreneurship and Media of the Future class taught by Randall Smith, co-director of CDIG and Donald W. Reynolds Endowed Chair in Business Journalism for the School. But as she began to work with the Missourian, the Columbia, Missouri, native realized the incredible opportunity she had been given to brainstorm innovative revenue solutions for a local news outlet that she already knew and loved. “I learned how to look at the Missourian from a strategic, academic, journalistic and business standpoint,” Rackers said. “Being able to blend these mindsets helped me see the capabilities of the outlet in ways that were optimistic yet realistic. Following this course, I am more confident in my abilities as a team player, strategist and public speaker.”

The team developed several recommendations, including having the Missourian have five special editions; double the number of events (from two to four) produced by the paper; create sponsorship opportunities; establish a “feemium” digital model; and launch a re-branding/marketing strategy to attract more print subscribers.

“The skills and work ethic displayed by the students throughout the course would have provided me, as a manager, with a talented team capable of meeting any challenges in the media industry,” said Team Missourian’s mentor Les Borgmeyer, local sales manager for Fox/MyZou TV and Digital Services, and former vice president of sales for the Columbia Daily Tribune. “By approaching the class as young professionals, with creativity and passion, the students showed me they have the skills necessary to be the media and business leaders of the future.”

According to professor Smith, the student-profession collaboration has had a positive impact on the industry. In the past, the class has worked with NPR, American Public Media and major metropolitan dailies. “Many of the students’ suggestions have been implemented by the companies they are doing work for. More importantly, many of our students are now working in the media industry as a direct result of connections made in this class.”

“These Missouri students faced challenges from companies that forced them to apply market research, journalism trends and business best practices,” said Ebony Reed, director of innovation and the Futures Lab at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and one of the competition judges. “It was nice to see what they spent their semester working on and how they tried to address the opportunities.”

The other three student teams in the competition included:

Team Associated Press

Goal: To seek out commercial opportunities to generate revenue from data driven stories and strategies.

The Team: David Campos and Lycus Woo, MBA students;  journalism graduate students Uliana Pavlova and Grigor Olegovich Atanesian.

Team Burst

Goal: Suggest strategies to quickly move Burst from a startup to a full-fledged sustainable company.

The Team: Meredith McGrath, journalism graduate student; MBA candidates Erin Webb, Dakota Shanes, Orvill Savery, Brian Throm.

Team Grafiti

Goal: Refine the business model to move from startup to full-fledged business for a web- and phone-based app that converts data sets to data visualization. Challenge: Prove there is demand for the product and identify sustainable sources of revenue.

The Team: Michael Frieseke and Robert Jones, journalism graduate students; MBA candidates Ryan Hogan and James Wilkinson.


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