Futureview: the coming season of independents

As I face my class every Thursday night at the University of North Texas (“Ethics in a networked world”), I see the dichotomy that is today’s budding journalist. These young people are going to school to “become” professional journalists, yet they are painfully aware of how the industry is collapsing. Their only real hope for work is that they’re technically savvy and they come cheap. Beyond that, though, there’s a dark cloud that has many of them wondering if they’ve chosen the right field.

On the other hand, there is a great sense of value in their knowledge and abilities, especially as it relates to the actual creation of journalism. They don’t need an apprenticeship; they already know all they need to know, so it’s a matter of “just doing it.” In this, I see confidence, although it is somewhat tempered by confusion over a business model. “Go forth and make media,” I tell them at every turn. “Get a day job and let this be your passion, at least for awhile.”

David Carr has captured this energy beautifully in a weekend piece for The New York Times. He writes of the “velvet rope,” in which old school journalists determine who gets in and compares it to the meritocracy that is the Web.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. 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.

As I’ve written many times before, I think we’re at the dawn of the age of the independent journalist, and this is why I pay so much attention (with clients and students alike) to the concept of personal branding. I think that aggregators of personal brands is the new big media model (can you say Huffington Post?), and that organizations catering to independents by offering legal and other benefits will flourish. We may again see a version of the velvet rope, but for now, it’s truly every person for him or herself in a media land grab unlike history has ever seen.

And I like what Fred Wilson has to say about it:

I believe the move from a velvet rope model to a meritocracy is a good thing and that the new media business we are building in the wake of the old one will be a better media business; leaner, faster, and controlled more by users than media moguls.

I realize that the change is gut wrenching and many have lost jobs and careers in the process. I don’t celebrate that. In fact, I find it upsetting. But I have also watched many reinvent themselves and come out in a better place too. Change is inevitable and we are better off embracing it than fighting it.

As David says, “It’s a wan reminder that all reigns are temporary”. This one will be as well. So let’s get on with it.

Indeed. Let’s get on with it.

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