When was the last time you were in an unexplored place? These days you can’t hike a national park without a satellite being able to see if your dandruff shampoo is working, but early cartographers with neither satellites nor drones had to use phrases like Terra Incognita for unknown lands. Drawings of serpents populated maps beyond known borders and a 19th century Japanese map called Jishin-no-ben prominently featured a mythical beast in unfamiliar territory. The unknown was assumed to be dangerous. “Here be Dragons”.
With the exception of the occasional lost hiker, there are fewer unexplored places in the world thanks to that magical organ we’ve all grown at the end of our arm. As we use our mobiles to interact with the world, a widening gap of unexplored space is growing within us. There are more answers than ever at our fingertips but less time to react to changes in business, less time to be creative, less attention for the kind of contemplation that some problems demand. A quiet space can sometimes get you the deeper answer answer while a Google search may present just the most obvious one.
Media is not the only business requiring deeper answers to the issues dogging workflows, narrowing financial streams and changing the fundamental identity of employees. Social construction of identity is now as important as the stories we tell or the clients we serve because viewers/readers/clients want to know if they can trust us. We’re told they want to know us beyond our 9-5 lives and they are suspicious if we have no digital footprints.
A recent John Oliver commentary is making the rounds among journalists. It is a wickedly funny and depressingly accurate description of how emerging business models in media are changing newsrooms. The grizzled veteran reporter pitches an investigative story on city hall while the spunky newbie pitches a feature on a cat that looks like a raccoon, much to the delight of the manager who knows cat-raccoon will get more online hits. Its clear journalists are being pushed to the edges of comfortable, known territory.
Instead of answering the call to explore new territory, many skilled people have chosen to quit, retire or change professions because they cannot reconcile the values they’ve developed over their careers with the changes they fear. Sometimes its because they don’t feel the need to conquer new lands. They like the space they’re standing on and that is perfectly fine. I have great respect for people who say, “I don’t want to do this anymore”, no matter the profession.
At least in terms of journalism, support has always been about advertising dollars. That is how you afford a newsroom. A new Kelsey-BIA study shows local television stations are second only to direct mail for the amount of advertising dollars generated. Television generates 21.9 billion dollars. Newspaper and online advertising come in at 17.4 and 17.3 billion respectively. Digital is the focus and increasingly important but it has a long way to go to be as valuable as television to advertisers. Not that it won’t happen…in fact I think it will..it just isn’t the current reality.
That leaves journalists in an interesting place. Those who choose to stay and those emerging from college with a shiny, new idealism are now tackling the issue of rebuilding the industry with two masters: corporations facing changing business models and viewer/reader driven demand. Even those leading media companies don’t really know what exists on the other side of the mountain. Maybe its gold, maybe its dragons. You can find consultants to tell you its both. Pleasing all stakeholders is a problem that needs a creative solution and it requires expeditions into the unknown. The answers won’t come by sitting still.
It is not an easy exploration but it is an exciting one. New challenges are whetting the appetites of veteran journalists who are expanding their understanding of the business beyond the newsroom.
Some companies are equipping their “explorers” better than others. What Mark Twain called, “literature in a hurry” now requires not only journalism skills but marketing skills, digital skills, social media skills and entrepreneurial skills. This is no different than what is going on in other industries. Our careers are taking not only more of our lives, but additional talents, more flexibility and a holistic approach that requires more creativity. Ah…but creativity takes time. Creativity takes inner exploration which is why the pursuits that bring you to that quiet space in your life are more important than ever. Exploring the Terra Incognita inside is as important as conquering new spaces in your career. Traveling first internally may prepare you to deal with whatever dragons you’ll encounter in your career.