Noted media thinker Jay Rosen offers this advice to to working journalists: if you don't thoroughly understand your company's business model, then "you should quit." Allow us to offer this counterpoint: whatever you do, do not listen to this man.
Jay Rosen has built a healthy career as a media thinker despite the fact that he is a career academic (NYU) whose actual experience working in the media is limited to "a very brief career in journalism at the Buffalo Courier-Express before beginning graduate study." Jay Rosen makes money by producing proclamations about journalism rather than by producing actual journalism. I say this not to smear Jay Rosen, but to shed light on why he may not be the very best source of career advice for the average working journalist.
Here is what Rosen had to say in his latest missive to you, the reporters of the world: "If you work in any kind of editorial organization, it is your job to understand the business model. If you feel you can't do that, you should quit. By 'understand the business model,' I mean you can (confidently) answer this question: What is the plan to bring in enough money to sustain the enterprise and permit it to grow? Can't answer? You have the wrong job."
Now: sure, you should understand your company's business model. Likewise, you should have a working understanding of the theory of evolution, and of the monetary mechanisms of the Federal Reserve, and of 1990s East Coast hip hop. These are the sorts of facts that help make you an interesting and worldly person. But they are not necessary to your job. To say to a working reporter that "it is your job to understand the business model" is wrong. The reporter's job is to report and write stories. It is nice and good and sometimes even useful in a broad sense for a reporter to have a nuanced understanding of his company's business operations, but it is not the reporter's job. The next time you miss a deadline, try telling your editor, "I was busy understanding our company's business model."
Furthermore, if you do not have a firm grasp of your company's business model, you should not quit your job. Why the fuck would you do that? Are you independently wealthy? If not, do not quit your job for a tertiary and easily remedied reason. You should quit your job if it involves morally outrageous actions, or if it makes you exceedingly miserable. You should quit your job if you can get a better job. You should not quit your journalism job because a journalism professor has decided that a part of your job that is not actually part of your job is part of your job.
Jay Rosen has a lengthy explanation—a 15-point explanation, in fact!—of why you must quit your job if you are not an expert on "the business model." Please feel free to read them all for yourself. They boil down to: "It's your job to understand the business model, because you have to know what kind of good you're being asked to create, or you won't be any good at creating it." I would argue that you can know what kind of good you're being asked to create by just listening to what your story assignment is, and then doing that story well, independent of any knowledge of business operations per se, but then I would be repeating myself.
Jay Rosen also has this vaguely related harangue for all you media purists: "When I see journalists throw up their hands at new media or Silicon Valley 'buzzwords,' I smile. Because my students aren't permitted to do that, and they're going to eat your lunch. I teach them to find out what terms like pivot, native advertising, microtargeting, value-added and, yes, 'vertical integration' mean." I have no doubt that Jay Rosen does smile, because teaching students the meaning of various buzzwords comprises a significant part of Jay Rosen's academic career, thereby paying Jay Rosen's rent. This has little or nothing to do with the life of a working journalist. A few final thoughts—
1. It's good to understand your company's business model but it is better to write good stories, if you have to choose one or the other, which you don't.
2. If you would like to know what "pivot," "native advertising," "microtargeting," "value-added," or "vertical integration" mean, Google them. It's free. Alternately, email me, and I'll tell you, for free. If you're interested in what Jay Rosen has to say, read his blog (free). Whatever you do, do not try to find out by enrolling in NYU Journalism School, which costs well over $60,000, and is a ripoff.
3. Be wary of people with cushy jobs telling you to quit your less cushy job.