Media's Fall and Rise
“Read this,” I instructed several CUNY J-School students in a recent email. “Read every word of it. He’s talking about you.”
I had provided a link to David Carr’s latest Media Equation column, “The Fall and Rise of Media,” in which he wrote:
Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers…
Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in.
As even casual readers of media news know, those assumptions now sound precious, preposterous even. Calvinistic ideals are no match for macromedia economics that have vaporized significant components of the business model that drives traditional publishing.
Carr recites a now-familiar litany of media industry woes: fewer pages, lower revenues, a seemingly endless trail of buyouts and layoffs, and traditional skill sets that are no longer in demand at a price most would equate with earning a living. And yet, Carr concludes on a note that I read as hopeful:
Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent. For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down…
Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.
For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.
Carr’s column unleashed a torrent of thoughtful responses from third-semester students just days away from graduation. Some were encouraged, like the young woman who said, “Thanks! A good read and break from all the obits being written about media,” and another who wrote, “That was a bright side, nice for a change. Someone still believes in us.”
A third said:
It does depress me a bit. I don’t know what’s out there for me and I’m 10-15 years older than most. But I’ve also been around long enough to have seen and heard other reports that “the sky is falling.” So…I do believe that there’s still hope.
Another student, also older than most of her classmates, had this perspective:
The people who chose to ignore the teetering and heedlessly dig deeper screwed us all by not using their vantage point to scope out firmer ground. So now as the legions of burgeoning j-students slouch into being, we don’t get the secure escalator, sure, but maybe that’s a blessing. Maybe what we needed all along was to stay grounded.
Yet another wrote, “Thanks for this. I guess there is some hope,” but later that day, sent further thoughts:
Yes, the landscape is ripe for innovation, independence and freelancing, but how are we making money? Yes, I can start a blog, maybe get a few Google ads, but I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the money to come with the reality of rent, bills and student loans that are in the now. So I’m optimistic yes, but believe me, it’s hard.
Similarly, one of the young men about to graduate, and frustrated by the hunt for a “traditional” media job, voiced a concern of those for whom becoming an entrepreneur feels more like a burden than an opportunity:
I know my limitations. While some young people can easily turn their ideas into small companies, we don’t all have the talent to create a new app or software that would change the media landscape. I still consider some of the traditional skills — curiosity, skepticism — to be vital to journalism.
Finally, there was this:
I love Carr’s take on this, but it makes me really tired, to be honest. It is hard enough to think about writing good stories and being a good journalist, let alone having to also figure out how best to package and sell it at the same time. I feel a lot of pressure, as traditional models are shattered, to become not only a good journalist, but a good entrepreneur. And I don’t particularly care to be one of those latter animals.
I think that in this urgent conversation, we forget … [that] a writer is not a photographer is not a copy editor is not an editor is not an ad salesman. In “traditional’ journalism,” those things hung in a kind of balance. Maybe imperfectly, but functionally.
That model is going the way of the dodo. That’s fine, we can’t change that. We have to come up with something new. But, as graduating student journalists, we are being asked, expected, required to have as many specialized skills as possible in order to have a hope of making a living in this field. Sure, there are some multi-talented, bottomless-energy folks who are able to do this. But not everyone can. And not everyone wants to.
Still, this same young woman concludes:
I’m as excited as Carr that enterprising people who love technology and information are able to create new avenues for delivering stories. And really, as curmudgeonly as all the above may sound, I don’t think that “traditional” media does it perfectly. We’re all just fumbling through as we always have. I just hope that in the scramble to make a dime in this business, we don’t forget why we’re doing it and who we’re serving.
So, DNJ readers, take a look at Carr’s piece; do you find it depressing? Hopeful? Somewhere in between, or something entirely else?