I’m giving a talk to a group of students about life in creative industries and it’s about the challenges and opportunities they will face entering the big wide world of work.
Aside from worrying about whether my cultural references will be ten years out of date, I’ve been pondering how the media landscape – at least the foothills in which I tread – has changed over the last 20 years.
Quick bit of exposition (with some sweeping generalisations thrown in for good measure). Please note I will also be using some of these gags – if you can call them that – in my talk.
As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a journalist (I’m aware that sounds awfully like Ray Liotta). I loved stories, I loved writing, I loved Lou Grant.
At around 12 I wrote to the NCTJ they sent me an A4 brochure describing the life of a journalist, it wasn’t the working day that grabbed me, or the route to entry, or the specialism. It was the stats that journalists held the highest percentage of suicides, divorce and alcoholism. There had to be something very special about an industry that was prepared to point that out.
To say I was fixated is something of an understatement. I read everything I could lay my hands on from All The President’s Men to Scoop! It firmed up my views that journalism was for me. Here were a group of fearless writers, people with integrity, ready to bring down governments, battling ne’er-do-wells in all their forms (or more likely reporting on the local summer fete).
Work experience reinforced these views. I joined the profession at a time of flux. But it was very much the profession I had expected.
I met people with similar views. Journalism was on the side of the angels, it was us against the world. In short it was hugely adversarial, a definite sense of them and us. Us being editorial, editorial (including the photojournalists) were full of integrity, we were the reason people bought the newspaper, listened or watched the news. Them was everything else. Advertising, marketing, IT. They were there to support editorial.
Just. Plain. Wrong.
I think those coming into journalism, digital media (for want of a better term), or creative industries face an entirely different set of circumstances, but they need to understand their history (if only someone had a pithy remark about forgetting history being doomed to repeat it.)
Whenever I see documentaries about the birth of commercial TV, radio or cinema I’m a tad jealous. The men and women involved in that era were pioneers, they experimented and shaped the way we consume media now.
This generation will do the same with our digital future, but they need to avoid the traps we fell into. Who accept the traditions of an industry without wanting to change it for the better. It took me the best part of five years to understand why journalists need to work with other disciplines to be seen as a value rather than cost centre.
No one team or person has all the answers. You need a team of people to create services and content people want to use. So here’s the advice I’ll be giving:
Make use of technology
Technology is your friend. In my day – cue Dvorak – we didn’t have Soundcloud, iTunes, digital audio at affordable prices, flip cams, online editing tools, the cloud, blogging. There are dozens of services which make it easier than ever before to build a portfolio or demonstrate ability.
Working with people with different ideas, skills and experience can lead to some great services. I’ve written about this before,but I think it’s more important than ever.
Collaboration is increasingly becoming a way to do business, from open innovation to crowd-sourcing ideas. I’m talking about more than networking it’s a cultural shift in what we do and how we work.
Look at how you use your skills. Will Hutton writes that we will have to undergo a career change every ten years. I tend to agree (at least in my own personal experience). For some working for major organisations like NewsCorp or the BBC you might be insulated against the changing nature of the workforce but for most of us change is going to come at some point. Look at how your skills can transfer, how you can help other groups, people. Always keep learning.
Get a Mentor
I used to work with a great journalist, a kind of “been there, done that guy”. He knew how to write a great story. I learned more from him in two weeks than from my editor in my entire tenure at the paper. I have had other mentors. People who have been in the profession for a while are great teachers, learn from them.
Don’t be blinkered
Take inspiration from what other communities are doing – just because there’s an idea that’s out of your bailiwick it doesn’t mean that principles can’t be adopted or built upon. Look at what the likes of Maker Bot are doing in building communities.
Look at how manufacturing is collaborating or using multi-disciplines to re-invent the way they do business
It’s a genuinely exciting time to be entering the creative industries – almost makes me wish I was starting out again!
* My colleague recorded my talk and produced a slidecast – so anyone who wants to can listen to my talk below.