Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My sky isn't falling

I'm in New York this week, as I am most days. But I'm finding this a particularly annoying place to be this morning.
Because I'd really like to be in Kansas City as several hundred young journalists converge at the College Media Advisers convention. But I had too much work to do, so I decided to cancel my appearance at this year' show.
Now I'm sitting here in Manhattan thinking that was a really bad move.
Here's why:
Those kids are arriving at the convention in the midst of a print death spiral. And that's likely to cause an unnecessary panic.

Consider the news of just the past few days!
Time is cutting 600 jobs. Gannett, which has been a big supporter of CMA, is cutting 3,000 jobs. The L.A. Times is cutting another 10% of its editorial staff. McGraw-Hill is cutting 270 jobs. The RBI sale is faltering. The Washington Post had its credit outlook lowered to "negative." Radar and 02138 both folded. Even more disconcerting -- Masthead, the magazine about Canada's magazine industry, also shut down.

Now that is all awful news. It's sad. It's depressing. But it is not a sign of the apocalypse.
But if past is prologue, the students at CMA will be briefed on all that bad news and then hear:
a) a lot of doom and gloom from professionals longing for the past; and
b) a lot of terrible advice about competing in the tough new world by building skills that are valuable only at print publications.
And what they won't hear is anyone like me, a guy who:
a) is actually recruiting to fill some great jobs, and
b) feels fantastic about the future of journalism.

Late last year I predicted that 2008 was going to be an "awful year" for B2B publishing.
As it turns out, I was right.
Several months later, I said things were "awful and getting worse."
I was right then too.
And as bad as things have become in B2B, things are worse in some other parts of the journalism world, particularly newspapers.
But I'm not panicking. I'm not telling journalism students to change majors. I'm not telling people to head for the exits.
Rather, what I'm telling people are these three things:
1) Expect things to get worse at most publishers. This is a bloodbath. And it has just started.
2) Brace yourself for the end game. Sometime very soon we'll some of the giants of publishing collapse under the weight of outrageous debt levels, falling ad revenue and rising print costs.
3) Print is under siege. Overleveraged corporations are under siege. But journalism is not under siege. Because of the Web, journalism is in one of the most exciting periods in its history. If you see that, you see clearly. If not, you shouldn't be in this industry any longer.

I just wish I was telling people those things in Kansas City.

(Note: Coincidentally, while those college kids were heading to the Kansas City, their future bosses were gathering here in New York at the Future of Business Media conference.
I didn't attend that show either.
But I don't regret that decision.
I think I learned all I needed to learn from one of Rex's live posts from the conference. )

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education

1 comment:

  1. Athen O'SheaNovember 15, 2008

    I have to agree with you in this post, Paul: the sky isn't falling but the building sure feels like it's crumbling out from under us.

    I've never been more excited about what's possible in new media publishing. At the same time - faced with the current economic climate, the tension between old and new publishing methods, and the human limitation of how quickly large, hierarchically organized groups can adapt and change - I sometimes feel like I and my colleagues are trying to learn to swing dance in a three-legged race.

    I'm pretty taken with the new-to-me buzzword: content agility. To me it summarizes (if maybe too neatly) what we're reaching for, and what's possible in new media. But the more excited I get about the potential of new media, and what's coming with Web 3.0, the more I fear that the economic foundations to support that potential will not be there -- or will at least be derailed for an indefinite period of time.

    Selfishly, I sometimes feel like a kid who's trekked halfway across town to find the playground of his dreams, only to discover that the gates are closing at 5.

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