I just got contacted by a young journalist I met while working at Citizenside. She’s graduated from a good journalism school, and is now working for a local radio station – for free – while living with her parents, trying to find a steady job in journalism. Here’s my advice to her.
Sounds like you’re painfully aware of the difficulties most established news operators are going through right now. Publishing is essentially dead, or dying (witness the Encyclopedia Britannica’s decision to stop publishing yesterday – a case in point if ever there was one). By some accounts, television is holding steady, and radio too – but that’s only because most stations have trimmed staff to the barest possible minimum. While I was at the BBC, I worked through three separate rounds of staff cuts. Each one was meant to be the last one, impossible to go further, pushed through against tremendous opposition from the unions, and yet – they pared down even further. Those legacy publications that have done well, like the Economist and perhaps the Guardian, have done so because they’ve embraced the digital sphere and let it change the very nature of their business.
Make no mistake: traditional, platform-based journalism is being crushed, and its dust will blow away on the winds of the internet. I know this is a melodramatic way to put it, but it’s an important point to make. Newspaper, television and radio journalists now are all in the position of itinerant bards at the advent of the printing press.
The good news is that there’s never been a better time to be a journalist. The bards have disappeared, but we still sing, and we still spread news. Just so, the digital sphere is growing fast as the blast front of an explosion. Good skills in writing, producing video and audio are more important than ever. They just need to be couched in an understanding of sharing and search – the air and water of the internet. There’s no use writing if your content can’t be shared or found. A mediocre piece optimized for social sharing will beat a piece of beautiful content without links every time. So you need to intuitively understand the answers to two questions:
- What makes people share stuff? Will they want to share this? How will they share it, when they find it?
- How do people find stuff? How will people find this? What will they be looking for?
So don’t try to be a television journalist, or a radio journalist, or a newspaper journalist. There’s no future there. But be a 21st century journalist instead, and every day new opportunities appear, new platforms are launched, and the ecosystem you work in will grow more subtle and more complex.
If you understand the way social media works, you’re in a strong position. And by “understand” I don’t mean “have a Twitter profile.” That’s good – essential, even – but a real understanding of social media means always thinking against the background of those questions up there. Taking this further, it means knowing how a company or news operator can apply its brand values to effectively reach people of a particular demographic.
Editors and publishers can sometimes be an egotistical lot, so they’d never admit this: most of them are desperately trying to find ways to make their particular news brand relevant in the social media environment. As for those who aren’t, they either:
- think they’ve got it sussed, (in which case they’re guilty of a dangerous case of hubris), or
- think they don’t need to do anything (in which case they’ll be unemployed in a year or so)
No one has figured this out yet – not completely. That’s why if you can come to such an editor with implementable, practical ideas on how they can thrive in the interactive media sphere, you’ll have good chances. Be ready to sell your ideas with enthusiasm and persuasion. As the saying goes, never be afraid of people stealing your ideas. If they’re any good, you’ll have to ram your ideas down people’s throats.
You’ve already gone some of the way; you’re on Twitter, you’re on YouTube. Work on that. Make sure that when I Google you, your channels dominate the top 5 search results. If you’ve got a unique name, that’s an advantage. Use it.
If you want a job in PR, we’re looking for people in London right now. It’s the same stuff as journalism – communicating ideas with effectiveness and power. Better pay, too, and hot damn is there a lot of work to do. The team I joined in January was 40 people last year – now we’re 80, and hiring as fast as we can.
How about it? You can apply right here.