Everybody needs to row in the local media lifeboat

As I travel around the country meeting various people in the local media world, I continue to be amazed at the denial that exists towards the disruption of mass media’s business model. I think upper management certainly understands by now and middle-level managers are beginning to get the message. But at the street level, denial is the norm, which leads to ignoring reality, avoiding doing anything about it, and the ignorant assessing of blame.

A new blog popped up last week that bears watching, even if only for a short season. Young Broadcasting Laid Me Off is a place where former Young employees can post about themselves and hopefully find a job somewhere. It’s an interesting concept, but there aren’t a lot of posts so far.

It’s presented anonymously, but clearly the creator(s) had some connection with Young in the past.

We want to help. We’ll post your resume, a YouTube clip of your resume, whatever you like. We’ll break it into categories, and then publicize it so employers will have a one-stop shop. Why are we doing this? We started our careers at a station now owned by Young, and without those people, our careers wouldn’t be as rich as they are today. We want to help.

The company has cut its workforce by 11%, with much of the blame for sagging stock prices placed on its decision to play chicken with NBC over KRON-TV in San Francisco a few years back. There is a sense, I’m sure, among those employees laid off that Young was a particularly poorly run company, and so the tendency is to the blame management and complain all the way to the next job.

The company’s history and how it was and is run are irrelevant, however, for the forces that led to this reduction-in-staff will impact everybody in local media sooner or later. Young’s problems may have put them to the front of the line, but they are not the exception, as many would have us believe. My colleague Jerry Gumbert notes that we’ll probably be seeing a lot more of these kinds of sites in the months and years ahead, and I certainly agree with him.

If you are currently employed in local media — regardless of the format — now is not the time to point fingers or make the assumption that your job or responsibilities are safe, because your company is well-run. Local media is in a full-blown business disruption, and the handwriting is on the wall — diversify your skill set for a digital world or find another line of work. Do it now while you’re still employed. There is no “us versus them,” worker versus management conspiracy. That archaic notion is foolishness, because the disruption doesn’t care whether your company is well managed or not.

The two-person local TV team as the industry standard is dead. Actually, it’s been dead for a long time. Sooner or later (and later is actually sooner than you think), the preponderance of news gatherers — whether print or broadcast — will be fully-equipped, versatile multi-media journalists. That is not a guess; it’s an absolute certainty.

One of the most refreshing discussions I’ve had in recent years was with a publisher who had finally reached a point where he could say, “I don’t believe the money is coming back (using traditional media means and methods).” The numbers are headed in the wrong direction, friends, and they’re not coming back.

Deal with it.

Once you can turn the page on that, then you’ll see the insanity of insisting that the way it’s always been done is the way it will be done.

It’s not about “one-man bands” or insults to your professionalism or doing more with less or those idiot managers or anything else your mind can create as an excuse. You are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution, and when you’re in a lifeboat, it’s just not the right time to be moaning about how the ship would never have hit the iceberg if YOU had been in charge.

Acceptance is our quest, and once acceptance is gained, our eyes are opened to possibilities, we get excited, and coming to work becomes fun again. I have seen this with my own eyes, and it is happening in many places.

But as inspiring as that can be, the truth is that some — perhaps even many — in local media will not make the transition, whether it’s through an inability to adapt to new skill requirements or their own attitudes towards change. And I think we’ll begin to see managers confronting the reality that these people are a net liability in an environment of workflow change, so those who are shown the door are likely to be the most resistant and therefore angry and hostile.

So be it. If you can’t or won’t row, you’ll be a drag on those who are, and no smart business would keep such people around, regardless of how “important” they may be.

There may be some real “victims” in this — people who are actually incapable of making the switch, and to them I would say that Life has something else for you. The sooner you determine what that might be, the better off you and your family will be.

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