Pitch to boost newspaper’s revenue wins student business plan contest

Well-established media companies everywhere are facing threats to their business models, and mid-Missouri is no exception. For the Columbia Missourian, a community news organization established in 1908 and run by the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the biggest challenges is a need to generate more revenue in the face of a budget gap.

A team of graduate students from MU’s business and journalism schools spent the semester sizing up the Missourian’s situation, and they devised a plan to address that budget crunch.

That team won the Entrepreneurship & Media of the Future Symposium, an annual business plan competition hosted April 20 by MU’s Center for the Digital Globe. Three other teams participated: one representing The Associated Press, the global news service; one working with Burst, a platform for mobile video distribution; and one for Grafiti, an app for creating and sharing data visualizations.

Emily Rackers, a journalism master’s candidate, and Alexander Starkey and Shraddha Hegde, both MBA candidates, made up the winning team.

Rackers said the project was a challenge but also an opportunity to recommend impactful change for the Missourian.

“The goal was to continue to support its mission as a learning institution, and as a foundation for journalism and democracy in our community,” she said.

The team proposed a multi-phase plan to boost revenue by introducing new special editions and hosting more events. Another phase would include the introduction of a premium subscription model and a rebranding campaign.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges featuring Ebony Reed, RJI’s director of innovation and director of the Futures Lab, Scott Christianson, an associate professor at MU’s Trulaske College of Business, and Bill Turpin, president and CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center.

Reed said the decision was a close one, especially knowing how much effort was put into preparing the projects.

“We hope that the feedback and questions they got from us as judges will help them be able to go on and further refine their skills,” Reed said.

The Associated Press team, tasked with exploring revenue-generating opportunities around data journalism, took second in the competition.

Third place belonged to the Burst team, which developed a set of strategies to maximize the short-term success and long-term growth of the video platform.

The team working with Grafiti took fourth with its plan to identify the next critical move for the app.

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