Alumni profile: Stephen Robert Morse

In this alumni profile Stephen Robert Morse talks investigative documentaries, startup culture, and remaining cautiously optimistic as an entrepreneur in the field of journalism.

2015.02.01 | Hannah Spyksma

Stephen Robert Morse / USA

Mundus Cohort 09-11 / London

The number of journalism initiatives and projects that Stephen Robert Morse has been involved with is impressive. Prior to joining the Mundus Journalism programme he, among other things, completed a master’s in creative writing, scripted and produced his own investigative journalism documentary, and worked as a fellow for American investigative reporting organization Mother Jones. During his time as a student in Europe he was working on the side to develop his business, And since graduating from City University London in 2011, Stephen has furthered his business experience as a fellow of the Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism programme at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. He’s also got an investigative documentary that he started working on while a Mundus student coming up for release in 2016. Oh, and he’s also co-founder and head of marketing at Skillbridge.

With all this different project experience racked up, Stephen seems a great alumnus to talk to about the entrepreneurial side of journalism. We quizzed him about his undoubtedly varied career direction and his thoughts on startups, entrepreneurialism and the media:

I loved the idea that I could travel around Europe and make friends from all over the world while learning about journalism, media, and globalization. I was very lucky to be surrounded by 50 top-notch journalists on my course.

Mundus Journalism: You seem to have been working on your own projects from as far back as your journalism career goes. Has your intention always been to develop a career within the startup industry, rather than to go down the track of a full time journalist for a mainstream news organization?

Stephen: I wish I had the foresight to see far into the future. I have had the pleasure of working with startups, traditional media organizations, and new media organizations in different capacities. Startups are similar to news organizations in that both are fast-paced, and your efforts can create real change. In general, I have many ideas, and eventually they get whittled down into tangible projects.

MJ: For you, what is the attraction of working as an entrepreneur within the journalism industry?

Stephen: Journalism has always been one of my passions, and I am glad that I still have the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial goals within this realm. One attraction for me is that in a startup you can create the rules, rather than just having to follow them.

MJ: What do you consider your biggest career achievement to date?

Stephen: I consider a film that I made in college to be my biggest achievement: working on a shoestring budget, I created a feature-length political documentary, Ain't Easy Being Green. I still have no idea how I managed to do it.

MJ: What has been the biggest learning curve of your career to-date?

Stephen: In startup culture, time is always of the essence. Learning how to manage one's time efficiently is key to success.

MJ: While you were on the Mundus Journalism programme you created your own business, What interested you in creating this right then? How did you fit this in alongside your studies?

Stephen: I created prior to coming to Mundus, but I worked on it while I was in Mundus. I think it's healthy to work while pursuing one's studies, as this keeps your ideas relevant to the real world.

MJ: And more broadly speaking, what attraction did the Mundus Journalism programme hold for you? Were you looking for international experience, or to develop a certain skill set?

Stephen: I loved the idea that I could travel around Europe and make friends from all over the world while learning about journalism, media, and globalization. I was very lucky to be surrounded by 50 top-notch journalists on my course.

MJ: And what did you write your thesis about?

Stephen: My thesis was about political and economic changes in the Republic of Georgia at the end of Mikheil Saakashvili's presidency there. Georgia's a very interesting country.

MJ: What kind of impact did the Mundus Journalism programme have on your career direction?

Stephen: I am a more globally-minded person because of the Mundus Journalism program. I certainly entered the program with a very American perspective, but I left with a very global perspective.

MJ: Post-Mundus, you were a fellow of the Tow-Knight Centre for Entrepreneurial Journalism. How did this come about and what opportunities did your involvement with this programme bring?

Stephen: Believe it or not, I first heard about the program on Twitter. It was an excellent experience that enabled me to work closely with 15 other early/mid-career journalists who were all trying to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

MJ: Through Tow-Knight, you’ve also worked with the creators of several successful journalism startups such as What kind of new energy do you see these people bringing to 'doing the news'?

Stephen: Noah Rosenberg, the founder/CEO/editor of Narratively was in my class as a Tow-Knight Fellow. We both live in Brooklyn and have since become great friends. Noah saw the value in high-quality content and long-form content and didn't want to compromise. He has helped create a "slow journalism" revolution. I am always amazed by how entrepreneurs look at journalism.

MJ: And how do you see people like yourself and these other leading entrepreneurs influencing the direction and form of journalism at such a pivotal time for the media industry?

Stephen: It is about measuring consumer tastes and determining what there is demand for. Jonah Peretti at Buzzfeed recognized that people love quick lists while sitting on their computers at work, whereas Noah Rosenberg at Narratively saw value in longer stories that were starting to disappear from the mainstream media.

If you are passionate about your projects, you will be less easily discouraged when doors appear closed to you. Always keep fighting if you believe in something.

MJ: What kind of economic models do you see as having some viability to help fund journalism, given the economic crisis facing many legacy media outlets?

Stephen: Great question. If I had that answer, I'd be trying to monetize it.

MJ: You seem to write more on niche subjects these days as well as working on the marketing side of journalism; do you see yourself going back to your political and investigative journalism roots at any point?

Stephen: I am very excited that an investigative documentary I worked on while pursuing the Mundus Journalism programme is now in the process of being completed. Stay tuned in 2016.

MJ: You’ve written a bit about the hard road that entrepreneurs face if they want to have a financially successful career. You’ve also written about your path to success so far and the different things you’ve studied and done in your 20s. Based on these, do you have any sage advice for young journalists wanting to work as freelancers or on their own entrepreneurial projects?

Stephen: Remaining cautiously optimistic is always important. I would never count on someone to fund a project, but occasionally it happens. If you are passionate about your projects, you will be less easily discouraged when doors appear closed to you. Always keep fighting if you believe in something.

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Tags: entrepreneurial journalism, documentary, reporting, start up, media