HOME
          
LATEST STORY
From rumor to out: Tim Cook reminds us that “unpublishable” facts don’t live in a vacuum online
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 8, 2012, 9:45 a.m.
Corey Ford

PRX hires Silicon Valley journopreneur Corey Ford to run the Public Media Accelerator

Ford worried that public media was not changing, so he left it for Silicon Valley; now he’s bringing an entrepreneurial spirit back to his roots.

Corey Ford

Corey Ford, a former Frontline documentarian who left public media to reinvent it in Silicon Valley, has been named director of the Public Media Accelerator, a $2.5 million incubator launched by PRX and funded by the Knight Foundation.

Ford, 34, produced 17 films in six years at Frontline, sharing in duPont and Emmy awards, before quitting to earn his MBA at Stanford and eventually become a venture capitalist.

Public Media Accelerator logo

“I had a tremendous career in public television, but for me, I thought…Media is changing so dramatically. Business models are changing so dramatically. This is not a growth industry. We’re not changing at all,” Ford told me.

“That’s when I started thinking, I want to get out to Silicon Valley, and I want to learn more about how entrepreneurship and innovation work.”

That kind of thinking is very much in line with the PRX ethos: We love public media, but we wish it could be so much more.

“It’s almost like he was dreamt up in our laboratory,” said Jake Shapiro, the executive director. “He shares a lot of DNA with PRX.”

The idea for Public Media Accelerator is built on Y Combinator and TechStars. Entrepreneurs and engineers compete for seed money and the chance to work heads-down on a new project for 12-week stints. The resulting work is presented to high-rolling investors for the opportunity to build a business. Applications open this summer.

“You may or may not save the current institutions, but you can have the mission of journalism at the core of what you do.”

While at Stanford, Ford discovered the Institute of Design, the d.School, and became a disciple of design thinking, the multidisciplinary, blank-slate approach to problem-solving.

After finishing the program he became a teacher, leading an experiment to “redesign journalism” in 2009 that helped inform Stanford’s revamped, project-focused Knight fellowships. Ford’s students included Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify and founder of Hacks/Hackers, and Andrew Haeg, co-founder of APM’s Public Insight Network.

Ford was then recruited to join a new venture-capital firm for Google’s Eric Schmidt, Innovation Endeavors, where he created a paid nine-month entrepreneurship program not unlike the Public Media Accelerator’s. After a year building that program from scratch, Ford is taking on the new role at PRX beginning April 1, bringing his career full circle.

Ford stresses the parameters are still being worked out. “Like any good design thinker,” he said, “I need to start with empathy and need-finding and low-res prototyping before jumping to ‘This is the solution.'”

Ford will stay put in Palo Alto, which is not what PRX originally had in mind. Shapiro had hoped to give the accelerator a strong Boston/Cambridge identity. “My fantasy is everyone’s working elbow to elbow,” Shapiro told me, but in reality PRX’s own staff is spread across the country. Ford said he will have to figure out whether the accelerator is “a place or a distributed thing,” how much value physical space has in the digital world.

Public media has a problem attracting hungry 20-something tech stars.

This is all very new for public media, for journalism in general. The industry has a little bit of an image problem when it comes to attracting tech talent. Just this week, Sarah Cohen at Duke’s new Reporters’ Lab said it best: “Bright engineers tend not to be interested in solving today’s problems but future problems.”

For a lot of hungry 20-something tech stars, journalism might seem like today’s problem.

“Entrepreneurs come from all different walks of life — technologists, designers, business people, media people, storytellers who are passionate about this mission,” Ford said. “Yes, the biggest talent war is going in Silicon Valley right now, as we speak, but I’ve learned from personal experience that if you set up something that really celebrates the entrepreneur, and gives them a chance to pursue their passion and treats them…like entrepreneurs, you can attract amazing talent.”

Ford continued: “It’s not about looking toward the past. It’s more about reimagining the future…You may or may not save the current institutions, but you can have the mission of public media and journalism at the core of what you do.”

Disclosure: The Knight Foundation is also a financial supporter of the Nieman Journalism Lab. The photo of Corey Ford is provided as a courtesy of the Stanford Institute of Design.

POSTED     March 8, 2012, 9:45 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
From rumor to out: Tim Cook reminds us that “unpublishable” facts don’t live in a vacuum online
The Apple CEO confirmed what some websites had reported years ago — the fragmented lens of online media giving new meaning to the idea of an “open secret.”
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
Before the “teaching hospital model” of journalism education: 5 questions to ask
It’ll take a new generation of academic leadership — willing to incur the wrath of faculty, the greater university, alumni, industry, and analysts — to break through the old ways we train journalists.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
528Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Quartz
Newsweek
Gotham Gazette
Voice of San Diego
Google
The Economist
PolitiFact
Salon
The Atlantic
McClatchy
The Weekly Standard