Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Media - Is it an industry, or a sinkhole?

Last night I went to a party sponsored by Media Bistro at 111 Minna St. in downtown San Francisco. The experience reminded me of that old joke series, that always started with the following question, "What's the definition of confusion?"

In this case, the punchline would be, "Going to a media party and asking people 'what do you do?'"

A few brave souls actually wrote "unemployed" on their name tags. Most did not. When I talked to them, they said things like, "I used to be at (name of major news organization or magazine), but now I'm freelancing." For whom? "Well, I have a blog..."

Some have found a (temporary) safe haven in corporate America. I met a woman who used to be at a leading business magazine located in Silicon Valley. As we know, most of those titles are gone. Replaced by the Gigaoms and Mashables and Techcrunches of the world we now inhabit.

She now contracts for ... get this... Walmart doing packaging. She has been scooping up friends and bringing them on board. These folks had all been top editors at other magazines. I admit it. This chilled me to the bone. The former editors of major mags are now working at, of all places, Walmart? And not even as staffers, but just on a contract basis. What could be more of a sign that the industry is headed for the discount bin?

Interesting side note -- she seemed happy.

"Walmart's a good employer," she confided.

And of course there were plenty of party goers who had taken the obvious route. That old safety zone, PR. For now, there are jobs in that realm that are reasonably easy to get. But how safe is it, really? How long will that last as a haven from the storm? This morning, I put the following tweet out:

This was retweeted by several, and a good discussion ensued. Most of us who are already on Twitter are aware that we need to get on the clue train and start manifesting some new business models. So I'm not surprised at the level of dialogue we created around this.

But I wonder about the rest. Many of the folks I met at the party were nervous about giving out their Twitter name so I could tweet about meeting them there. "I prefer Facebook," said one. "Twitter seems too techy to me."

"You want to put my picture on Twitter? Like, right now?"

"Oh, Twitter. I don't have an account. Do you think I need one?" Well, no, not unless you want people to find your blog...

Folks, we need to stop clinging to small pieces of the wreckage of the media world. Let's just admit it. The ship isn't going to come bobbing back up to the surface. It is going down.

And just like the guys in the movie Time Bandits, I would urge one and all to let go of that little scrap of wood that seems to be keeping you afloat. Give in to reality. We're headed somewhere new. Somewhere that might be quite magical and exciting, but not the same place we were before.

If we can't turn back, where are we going? And what are you doing to join the ride?


Francine Hardaway, Ph.D said...

Well, I have a blog :-) And I hang out with Dan Gillmor at the Knight Center for Digital Media entrepreneurship, and there are tons of smart people doing hyper-local reporting. There's also I'm loving all this. But I missed you last night:-)

Sunshine said...

Well, exactly, Francine--you're a leader in how to stay ahead of the curve--and certainly someone I look to as a model. Agree that Dan Gillmor and many others are modeling where media could be going. What surprised me was the attitude of most folks at this particular party. They didn't see the new opps--rather, many seemed to be clinging to the last vestiges of the old way.

Jame Ervin said...

I am so puzzled. I feel like the media should feel empowered. Finally you can create your own media. And be successful. There is so much more opportunity with "new media." Content can be syndicated across lots of properties, and you as a journalist can get more exposure and have more influences in a specific niche.

Suddenly you are an expert in your topic, in control of how your content is presented, and you can profit from your output. We've been in the "free agent nation" for a long time now, and I wish traditional media would wake up. :)

Sunshine said...

I know, strange, isn't it? This is actually a moment in which anything is possible...and I for one am rejoicing!

LaceH said...

I definitely agree with Sunshine, that writers need to take control of their careers and utilize the tools out there in order to continue their work. As a PR person, I always try to stay up to date on what writers would be interested in covering, and who best to approach with good stories. But with the way the media industry has shifted over the last year/two years, it's been difficult to keep track of where people are going, whose covering what beat, etc. I probably only received two e-mails from Businessweek reporters I've worked with letting me know they were leaving the publication (where did everybody go??) Although I know there are PR people who get around this by blanketing a news story, and spamming a long media list, but I've always tried to take the strategic route and do my research first - but writers need to do their part too (whether you're freelance, newly assigned, newly employed, etc.) From the perspective of a PR person, there are a growing number of companies out there hiring us to get them ink - and a decreasing number of reporters out there to write it. It's frustrating to have a good story to tell and not be able to find the right people to pitch it to. Newly "unemployed" writers jumping into freelance are looking for stories to sell - There needs to be a more efficient way for newly "unemployed" writers to market themselves, communicate what sorts of stories they're looking for, and provide details on how to reach them. If you're newly unemployed - make it known! I guarantee you'll have an inbox full of story ideas just waiting to be written.