Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Advice from Sean Blanda, recent J school grad

many thanks to Ethan Klapper for this! see Blanda's RSS feed now on blog.

4 things I would tell a freshman journalism student

Looks like she read another newspaper article about newspapers dying

Looks like she read another newspaper article about newspapers dying

I remember the exact moment when I decided it was time to get a job. Chris Wink and I were winding down some travels and we had to set ourselves up with a grown-up job to come home to. So in a hostel basement we propped open the laptops and starting firing off emails to everyone who would listen. Throughout our four years at Temple and The Temple News we had amassed a respectable list of contacts and friends in the industry, and we began to ask them if they knew of any openings. Slowly the responses came back. The responses slowly spiraled from “Sorry, no” to “Why the hell are you trying to work for a newspaper now?”

At the same moment, a member of my family was preparing to enter college and was considering some sort of media field. As I gave him advice and pondered my own employment future, the same advice came up again and again.

1 - Don’t create content, manage it.

The sad reality is, nobody is hiring basic content creators. No one needs writers, and there are thousands of them that were just laid off that are more talented and experienced than most recent grads. No matter what happens to the industry, you can be sure that content creators will continue to be treated like pieces of meat as long as the business is suffering. There is no scarcity in people willing to write, shoot video, or report. To further the problem for grads, there is a huge crop of veterans floating around in the talent pool while editorial staffs are getting cut daily. Yet journalism schools continue to pump out thousands of new entries into the market every year. Simple supply and demand would dictate that in the off chance someone is hiring, they are going to take the best talent for the cheapest cost. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that talent is not you.

If my younger brother came to me today and told me he wanted to do any of the jobs I listed above I would tell him to avoid being the grunt that creates the content, and instead be the person that controls it. If you step back and look at some of the most successful companies in the sphere of media, they aren’t the Philadelphia Inquirers of the world. They are the Googles or the Apples. That is, companies that organize and make sense of the huge amount of content out there and sells it to the consumer.

It may seem as if I am advocating the repurposing of content instead of the creation. Creating content is the most important function in media and journalism. But there are a large amount of people capable of doing that fighting for a very small amount of jobs. I think it behooves members of the media to either increase the amount of jobs available through entrepreneurship, or maximize the productivity and impact of the small amount of paid content creation that is happening.

2- Be prepared to be untraditional

Throughout my professional life, my friends and I mostly had the following plan: go to a good college, intern at some newspapers, make contacts at said papers, get a journalism degree, use aforementioned contacts to land entry level newspaper position. Several links in that chain have since become unreliable. As a recent grad you must be flexible in your vision of your future. Don’t be afraid to work for a small upstart news company, or a business to business publication, or a Web site.

Those in the job market willing to get outside of that traditional path will get to the new opportunities first. Sitting around and lamenting the loss of the traditional reporter job won’t help. Or, even worse, it will force you to miss some budding fixes to the journalism industry.

3- No one loves Journalists more than themselves

This was something pointed out to me by a friend during inauguration coverage. Journalists are among the most self-referential trades in the world. Industries come and go regularly. But because the media has the soapbox, you would think the end of the world was in store when a local newspaper stops printing.

For sure, there is nothing light-hearted about the loss of jobs and the end of a business. But it is disgusting how much coverage the death of newspapers receives in newspapers. Maybe I may feel this way because I have an ear out listening for such news, but the journalists-covering-journalism angle taken in many publications leads the common person to roll their eyes. Don’t get caught up in the cycle, as it doesn’t do anyone any good. Leave the stories about journalism to Romenesko and move on.

4- Multimedia won’t save journalism.

In j-school it is a common belief that journalism students will be most marketable possessing multimedia skills. For the most part that means slideshows, short videos, and flash animation. But how many of your friends family members spend more than five minutes on a news site? Considering the amount of education and man power that goes into some multimedia presentations, the multimedia model is not practical.

Journalism students should learn multimedia for sure, but not in a dabbling capacity. It would be wise to learn one aspect of multimedia in depth so, if need be, the student could do that full time. For example. don’t just learn enough Flash to get you by, learn enough Flash to be a professional Flash animator. Most people can write and taking photographs to some capacity, and those talents have a limited application in a limited set of industries. If you learned Flash, not only can you use that talent to land a media job, you can freelance with that talent. Or create your own content. Or work for a non-media corporation, as well as being part of smaller talent pool.


I’m aware that the above points contain an overabundance of generalities, but when we are discussing a turbulent industry’s state in four years, that is the only language this conversation can take place in. Is there anything radical or unconventional you would tell an incoming journalism class?

Many thanks to Brian James Kirk for lending ideas about this post.


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