I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.
I recently finished a small remodeling project at my house, and I learned something that validates a suspicion I have about the future of work and specifically those who work in journalism.
I turned a bedroom/bathroom combination into a second master bedroom, because my 90-year old father-in-law is coming to live with us. I wanted to give the old guy some privacy, and putting the bathroom “inside” his space did the trick. The guys who built it were independent contractors who were paid by the contractor I hired. Sears delivered dad’s new mattress and box spring, and the deliverymen, while wearing Sears shirts, were independent contractors paid by Sears. Empire Carpets came out and installed hardwood flooring. The two guys who did the work were independent contractors paid by Empire to install carpets, tile and hardwoods.
I spoke with each of these people about working as independent contractors instead of employees, and while they all bemoaned the lack of benefits, they all said that working for themselves had some advantages, especially when it came to taxes.
Clearly the business world is moving in the direction of independent contractors, and I’ve been writing for ten years that this will one day be the model for media companies. In the beginning, it will likely come about as a cost savings, but in the end, I think it’ll also be a part of acknowledging the growth of what J. D. Lasica first termed the “personal media revolution” in his 2005 book “Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation.”
Right now, in every community in the U.S., there are people practicing a form of journalism who aren’t employed by traditional journalism companies. Athletes, actors, retired journalists and TV people, elected officials, municipalities, police and fire departments, writers, moms, dads, students and many others are self-publishing content worthy of consideration as “news,” and tomorrow’s news organization will aggregate all of it. And if news becomes a matter of aggregating, then it makes sense for those who are currently “employed” to work for themselves and the highest bidder. This could upend the entire local media farm system, which finds young people just passing through small markets on their way to jobs in bigger markets. Smaller markets will be home to those who wish to live there, and I feel that would be quite a good thing for journalism.
Forbes is already practicing a form of this, as is the Huffington Post. Don’t be surprised when local media companies begin to move in this direction.
Pop star Amanda F–king Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign has been well-chronicled elsewhere. She abandoned recording labels four years ago and released a new album via a highly successful kickstarter campaign ($1,192,793). The record hit Billboard today at #10. There is much to be learned from this, and I want to leave you with just one sign that Amanda presented in her “This is the future of music” video. Enjoy (and don’t forget it).
The business of media has been a part of my life for over 41 years. I care deeply about it and especially the people who are in it for reasons of journalism. It is to you that this open letter is addressed:
Via Newsblues this morning comes word of a young reporter with a new job. He’s Syed Shabbir, and the lucky TV station to acquire his obviously brilliant services is KSHB-41-NBC in his hometown of Kansas City (Market #31). He must be brilliant, because he’s only been in the business for two years, having begun in Topeka (Market #136), where he worked for a year before jumping to WCPO-TV in Cincinnati (Market #35) a year ago.
He told Cincinnati.com that working in his hometown has been his dream since the 8th grade, and now he’s made it. He’s a big city kid. Good for him. Bad for the business.
“I came to Cincy, because I needed to get out of Topeka,” he tells Cincinnati.com. “It only took me a year before I got tired of the small market stories and small market pay (in Topeka). I knew WCPO was only going to be a stepping stone, so I only signed a one year deal. It served its purpose, and I guess I’m lucky things are going according to plan.”
According to plan. Yep. That’s the way it is. Along the way, everything this young man did was to prepare himself for his dream, and this is the curse of the ego it requires to “be on TV.” Mr. Shabbir’s concern as a journalist in both Topeka and Cincinnati was for what those stops could do to fulfill this dream, not in serving the community. I’ve seen it a million times. The job reel is more important than serving the news needs of the community. Moreover, these kinds of people who are just having their purpose served have no interest in the roots of their stepping stones, because they’re not really in it for the news; they’re in it for their own purposes, and one foot is already out the door at the moment the other foot steps in.
A commenter to the Cincinnati.com story, Steve Gaines, wrote: “loved being your ‘stepping-stone’ .…pls feel free to come back to cincinnati & walk on us again in the future…but honestly, i don’t even know who you are..”
I hate this about our industry. It cheapens what we do and robs smaller markets of what they need and deserve. Parochial news coverage wanted by small towns gives way to the cosmopolitan stories that look good on a young person’s reel. The retort, of course, is “pay me what I’m worth, and perhaps I’ll stay.” No you won’t. It is what it is. What you’re worth? Give me a break! You’re not in this for a “living wage” in a small town, because your definition is a better-than-living-wage. You’ll add “who doesn’t want that?” to which I’ll reply “go to law school.”
Maybe I’m the prick here. Maybe I should instead be chiding broadcast companies for not paying people more. I don’t, because I honestly don’t believe it would solve the revolving door problem. Besides, it’s extremely unrealistic economically. These people likely believe that they’re doing the Topekas of the world a favor by loaning them their brilliance for a year or two. Oh. Right.
Moreover, the egocentricity of young news people is an evolution that took place during my lifetime in news management — on my watch. People used to get into “the biz,” because it was a way to make a difference. Today, it’s all about “being on TV” or “being a star.” Watergate produced Woodward & Bernstein, and they became the poster boys for a new generation of journalists and journalism instructors. Shortly after that, trust in the press began to decline. Around the same time, communications schools began popping up to feed the growing beast known as television news, and the industry borrowed from the newspaper paradigm of small-market-to-big-market.
The Personal Media Revolution challenges all this, and I believe the day is coming when communities themselves will grow their own journalists. The Syed Shabbirs of the world — with their 8th grade dreams — will build and study their craft at home and work their ways into positions with local media companies. They will then be people with roots who care deeply about the communities they serve, whether it is governed by geography or issue. That will be good for journalism, it seems to me, because what we have now are gunslingers passing through towns, people generally who are a mile wide and an inch deep (but look good on TV).
Like Mr. Shabbir, they’re serving the purpose of self, and crapping all over the public in the process.
I feel pretty sad about the “profound dismay” expressed by former and current New York Times’ employees due to a decision by management to freeze the pension plan for foreign bureau employees and other “recent developments.” The union sent a petition letter (384 signatures as of this writing) to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. expressing their concern.
We have worked long and hard for this company and have given up pay to keep it solvent. Some of us have risked our lives for it. You have eloquently recognized and paid moving tribute to our work and devotion. The deep disconnect between those words and the demands of your negotiators have given rise to a sense of betrayal.
A Huffington Post article on the matter by Michael Calderone notes that it could have been worse.
Bill O’Meara, president of the New York Newspaper Guild, said some staffers had considered even “more dramatic” actions.
“There were people who wanted to storm Arthur Sulzberger’s office,” O’Meara told The Huffington Post. “There were people who wanted to stage a walkout.”
The problem here is that this is 1960’s style labor posturing that really feels ancient in today’s media world. I don’t like it anymore than anybody else, but crying for yesterday does nothing to solve today’s problems. Managers of public companies have fiduciary responsibilities to their owners, the shareholders, and people don’t buy or hold stocks in companies that can’t produce growth. It’s not about how much money one makes, nor is it directly about margins; it’s about growth, and there are only two ways to do that. You can increase revenue, which isn’t happening anymore, or you can cut expenses, and that’s what’s happening here.
There’s very little growth in any sector of our economy right now, but this is more than just an economic problem. This is a problem of core business decay, and it will not get any better unless there’s a total reinvention undertaken. The truth and the laws of economics apply to everyone, even a vaunted institution like the New York Times.
What can be done? Take a look at the marvelous work of Lewis DVorkin at Forbes. Here’s a company that has blown out the original concept of making media and replaced it with a much leaner, more nimble and flexible system. The problem, of course, is that there’s no room whatsoever for organized labor’s perspective, which is now simply dead weight around the necks of the people who are trying to save the institution.
But beyond that — and to every individual in media today — the safe harbor that once was “the collective” is no more. It is literally every man and woman for themselves. If your organizations won’t or aren’t able to assist you in reinventing you, then you must do it yourself. I get the letter to the boss, but the arguments are sadly and unfortunately irrelevant. You must take care of you, because nobody will do it for you.