Professor, former SPN editor build a business journalism startup

On any given day, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle that takes place in Lee Hills Hall, the home of the Columbia Missourian newspaper, a publication that has served the ...

On any given day, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle that takes place in Lee Hills Hall, the home of the Columbia Missourian newspaper, a publication that has served the community and the state since the University of Missouri School of Journalism first opened its doors. 

Yet it is truly as sign of the times when a budding media startup shares the same building as a newspaper founded in 1908.

Missouri Business Alert, a startup news site run out of the School, is the newest media outlet to spring up in the Columbia area. 

The site launched publicly in late July, covering business news across the state. In addition, it receives wire news and aggregates articles from various state publications such as the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and business journals across the state. 

Readers are able to subscribe to email updates daily and industry-specific updates weekly. Additionally, the site will be launching an iPhone app in the near future. The app incorporates a “5, 10, 15 minute” sorting layout, which helps cater to the time-constrained needs of the readership.

It all started when professor Randall Smith (left), founder and editor-in-chief of the site and the Donald W. Reynolds endowed chair in business journalism at the School of Journalism, saw a gaping void in the business coverage across the state.

“I saw businesses not being covered in the state. I saw business journals and major metros cutting back their business staffs,” Smith said. “What I thought was that there was a highway so large you could drive a Mack truck down it, as far as covering the whole state’s business news.”

Coupling the need to increase coverage of issues throughout the state with a desire to better equip students with opportunities to hone their journalistic skills, Smith kicked off the startup in fall 2011. Students became directly involved in working on the business plan, content and design. Continuing through 2012 with the work of more students and interns, those working on the site witnessed the emergence of a digital newsroom. 

On the educational side, the venture offers students a unique blend of training in journalism and in building a news organization. For many of the students, this is the first exposure they have in business journalism. Through the various programs of study offered at the Missouri School of Journalism, students are required to work in at least one of the university-owned, professional newsrooms available, such as the Columbia Missourian newspaper and NBC-affiliate television station KOMU-8.

“What I wanted to do really from the start was to start something that was akin to the Missourian, akin to KOMU, akin to KBIA, so that our students could practice business journalism in a hands-on, Missouri Method format,” Smith said.

Smith sees the business-focused environment at Missouri Business Alert as a golden opportunity.

“I see so much great potential in it for students,” Smith said. “Every day I get opportunities for students to be placed at Bloomberg or at Reuters or at a Dow Jones or whatever it might be, and the thing of it is that I want to have qualified students to be able to send them. Because, to tell you the truth, the students from Missouri who have gone to those places make such a dynamic impression that they’re opening doors for future Missouri students.”

Michael Stacy (right), former edtior for Silicon Prairie News and current University of Missouri MBA student, serves as managing editor of the site. 

In heading the newsroom on a daily basis, he oversees the staff of 25 to 30 reporters, editors and contributors. Business and convergence journalism classes provide most of the students present, many of whom work for the site in eight-week blocks.

“I really enjoyed my time at SPN and got a lot out of that, and I think to a certain extent was bitten by the startup bug while there,” Stacy said.

When asked about the transition to Missouri Business Alert, Stacy said, “The educational piece of that was really interesting to me, having worked with interns at SPN. I was interested in kind of enhancing that and working with young journalists, especially of this caliber.”

As a veteran of a media startup himself, Stacy knows the wealth of knowledge that can be amassed in this sort of environment.

“I think there’s a lot of value in just experiencing that (a media startup) and working someplace where if you have and idea and you’re willing to see it through, it can become a part of the structure of the organization,” Stacy said. “So in addition to the essentials of business journalism, (we’re) trying to teach them the essentials of media startups.”

When it comes to growth, Smith and Stacy see bright prospects for the future.

“We’re probably going to take our experiment and try to launch it on some other campuses because one of my goals with this is to take it to other journalism schools,” Smith said. “I just believe this: We can’t graduate enough people in business journalism.”


Credits: Screenshot from Missouri Business Alert website. Head shots provided by Smith and Stacy.


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