Three Ways to Turbocharge Your New-Media Career

MUD day 9:

For anyone involved in communications, coming to accept new media is only half the battle. The next, much harder fight, is in leaping into and mastering the ways of new media. There are probably an infinite number of effective approaches to doing so, but, based on my recent reading and on my experience this month as a blogger, I’d start with these three:

1. Be Gutsy. In a recent interview with Nieman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber, retiring newspaper editor John Robinson offered his profession this advice:

What editors really need right now, Robinson says, “is guts to do the nontraditional things”: to consider new approaches to newsgathering and dissemination, to be open to new ways of knowing the community they’re meant to serve.

Robinson is pointing out here something that isn’t often emphasized: It takes courage to adopt new-media tools. You might just be wasting your time, or worse, risking your job.

2. Be Weird. Though the title of Seth Godin’s latest book is We Are All Weird, its premise is that most of us don’t realize or admit it. Our traditional mass-market culture and ways of doing business are built around serving the mass, the normal.  But as Robinson notes in his interview, “The sooner that we grasp that we aren’t mass anymore—that there is really no mass, that everything is broken apart—the better.” To use new media effectively, you have to be willing to look weird to a lot of people.

3. Be Arbitrary. If you worry too much about how to use new media, or what platform is best, or how to make the most of it, you may never move forward. Pick a platform, set a goal for how to use it, and stick to your plan. If you choose Twitter, for instance, you might pick a number of tweets to do each day and a number of people to retweet. Or, like me this month, you might set yourself a goal of writing one post a day in a set period of time. You might not hit your goals, but you’ll be giving yourself an excellent chance of mastering your new medium.

Schadenfreude Is Cheap: Don’t Worry About the Journalists of the Future

MUD day 3:

I recently joined the LinkedIn for Journalists group, which turns out to be more useful and interesting than I had expected. A post from a couple of weeks ago pointed to an entry in Roger Ebert’s Journal headlined “Help! Our journalists of the future.” The entry consisted almost entirely of extracts from bad student writing, provided by a friend who teaches a university journalism course. The following extract is typical:

One thing is for sure were in for quite a ride and an impeccable race that’s for sure.

I do my share of bagging on journalists, but students are too easy a target. Having taught college English for several years, I know that in every batch of papers, you can find both brilliant and abysmal bits of writing. I also know that, as one of Ebert’s commenters pointed out, “some of the problems are the result of the rush to get the assignment done overnight—or, even more likely, in the moments before class started.”

What Ebert’s column really reflects, other than an easy way to write a blog post, is what every elder generation feels: that their young are a disappointment, not up to the great things they did. There is even a kind of schadenfreude, or covert joy in their shortcomings.

Bad, even sub-literate writing, has always been with us, and always will be. But of those students Ebert quotes, the few who really care, who are passionate about their craft, will overcome their weaknesses and become good, perhaps even great, journalists.

The Lure of a Dying Profession

I saw pale kings and princes too / Pale warriors, death-pale were they all

On his Guardian blog today, Roy Greenslade noted a curious phenomenon involving current journalism students. Though they don’t actually read newspapers or use other traditional media, nearly all want to work for these declining mainstream outlets rather than pursue new-media and entrepreneurial opportunities. Never mind, as Greenslade notes, that “they know the risks” and “have been told there will be few job openings.” For them, “mainstream media remains a lure.”

Though it sounds irrational, I understand it. For these acolytes, the morbid state of the print profession is a large part of its appeal.

I should know. Years ago, I applied not to journalism schools but the even less promising career route of graduate English programs. My college professors were encouraging (“follow your bliss!”) but cautionary (“of course, don’t expect to find a job”). Later, when the application packets started to arrive, they all included an emphatic word or two about the weak job market and how post-doctorate employment was not guaranteed.

Were they really trying to scare me off? I think not. If anything, those warnings simply increased the appeal of graduate school. It wasn’t impossible to get a job, just really, really difficult, and I, (like all my fellow applicants, I imagine) was way above average. If only one in ten got jobs, why, I would be that one. The message my future profession was sending was not “don’t apply,” but “only special people like you will be accepted into our fold.”

Greenslade writes of those journalism students that “they may be digital natives, but their ambition is to work for others rather than themselves.”  The reason, I think, is the need for confirmation, to believe that you, perhaps alone among all those others in the lecture hall, will be taken into the elite society of journalists. That society is still defined by the old-media professionals, not the new-media entrepreneurs. Journalism schools, it seems, are, consciously or not, complicit in maintaining this mystique.

Will journalism students be sucked in by this mystique, only to have their hopes dashed and end up alone and palely loitering?

I don’t think so. We’re all entitled to some romance in our career plans, and I have no regrets about mine or how they turned out. Those students may not be thinking about entrepreneurial, new-media careers now, but I bet many of them end up there anyway.

Still, why not inject a little romance into achievable careers? There may be few alternatives to traditional jobs for graduate English programs, but those for journalism schools are both numerous and exciting. It’s time to make the future just as romantic as the past.