Scrolling through the now seemingly endless collection of sites that cover media and magazines Monday morning, I came across a great post by New York Times media columnist David Carr called “The Fall and Rise of Media.” In it, Carr expounds on media’s fall from the dot-com-era gluttony to the digitally-minded youth who might very well shape the future of the industry—online and in print.
Without citing a source, Carr said traditional media jobs in the U.S. began declining 2.5 percent each year starting in 2001, then began to nosedive in 2008. In New York alone, 60,000 communications jobs have evaporated since 2000 (according to the state’s comptroller).
In addition to the masses of unemployed media professionals on the market now, Carr talked about new firms like Demand Media (a company I blogged about a few weeks ago) that rely on computer-generated algorithms to come up with story ideas, and pay their content producers a pittance for their work. “The skills that once commanded $4 for every shiny word are far less valuable at a time when the supply of both editorial and advertising content more or less doubles every year,” Carr wrote.
For us content producers and media observers alike, this paints an arguably glum picture on the state of our beloved media landscape. But Carr went on to discuss a new wave of budding professionals that live and work outside the realm of traditional media. “Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent,” he wrote. “For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.”
It’s an unthinkably crazy time to consider entering the media industry now—especially magazine publishing. Once a year for the last three years I’ve returned to my alma mater, Emerson College in Boston, to speak to undergraduate and graduate magazine publishing students about the industry. I can tell you one thing for sure: They’re scared. Every year they pick my brain about the future of print, about when the industry might rebound and, more than anything else, if they have a chance in hell of landing a job after graduation.
Despite the industry’s contraction and the subsequent swell of unemployed talent out there now, I’m not sure there ever will be a job waiting for some of them. Each year I go there I see the same thing: The majority of students are convinced they’ll be in New York writing or editing for Esquire or Cosmopolitan in no time. Very few have known what terms like SEO mean, or have ever worked in a CMS or with Flash. They laugh when I bring up the possibility of working for a trade publication.
Emerson just recently hired a professor to teach and develop e-publishing courses. For what it’s worth, I urged the students to take those courses. I also urged them to start their own blogs, to get their hands dirty in all things digital and social media (after getting a suitable handle on publishing fundamentals first, of course).
It’s been six short years since I graduated in 2003 and already the industry has changed so much. The key, of course, is to make yourself a worthwhile investment by being exposed to, if not proficient in, as many publishing-based skills as possible.
The new wave of media professionals has a lot more on their plates today than ever before.