Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Three job tips for students

Few things tell me less about a prospective hire than clips from a college newspaper.
Yet most of the students I meet use clips as the center of their job-searching efforts. The students, apparently at the urging of teachers, are often quite proud of their clips. And they have come to believe that the perfect clip will lead to the perfect entry-level job.

I don't want to suggest that a clip has no value. But the truth is that when a student hands me a pile of clips, it will take weeks before I so much as glance at them. And glance is the most I'll do.
And I think that most established journalists feel the same way. We know the clips have been edited --often heavily. And we know that many of the stories that students hand to us have been kicked back for rewrites numerous times.

Most importantly, a clip ties a student to the part of the industry that is least likely to hire him -- print. When a student hands a clip to a publishing executive today he's likely handing it to someone who has already laid off a slew of print-only reporters. It's an exercise in absurdity for students to market themselves as talented print journalists to executives who have laid off talented print journalists by the thousands.

So what do I -- and many others in the industry -- look for from students?
We look for people who can help us navigate the future.
We know what many students seem not to know: no young person is likely to spend his career in print alone. But we also suspect that students are already living in the future we see for the industry: a 24-hour environment of collaboration, community, multimedia and mobile, a work/life of creation and consumption that erases the lines between professionals and audience.

When I meet students I'm looking for three things. And I urge my clients and friends in the industry to look for these same three traits. I may write more about each of these in the next few days. But for now, I'll offer this brief summary of the things that can get a kid a job.

1. Youth itself: I was in a newsroom the other day where a young person, fresh from school, was talking about the weather outside. "It's 72 degrees," she said glancing at her computer, "according to my widget." And I had to laugh aloud. Because an hour earlier I had found myself in a frustrating conversation with her boss in which I tried to explain what widgets were and how they worked.
The simple truth is that youth itself has a value in today's publishing world. We need people who live online and understand what it means. I tell students not to let anyone -- particularly older journalists and teachers -- belittle their culture. I want to hire people who send text messages on a PDA, have Facebook accounts and MySpace pages and write blogs about local bands. I don't need experts in these things. I just need people I can talk to when I want to talk about new products and ideas. And I'm just so tired of explaining to people how to use de.licio.us bookmarks.

2. Self-taught: When I look at the skill set on a student's resume I'm most interested in things that are not part of the curriculum. I know how quickly things have changed in our industry. And I know how quickly they will continue to change. And time and time again I've seen journalists complain about things that they don't know how to do because no one has taught them. Then I've waived good-bye as they were laid off.
So I want new hires who have enough sense to teach themselves what they need to know. Sure, there are skills and software that I prefer to others. But when I'm meeting students I'm thrilled by someone who taught himself Dreamweaver, whereas I'm not so impressed by someone who took a course in PhotoShop.

3. Entrepreneurial: Back when I was leaving school, with my degree in hand and a ton of clips from a great journalism program, I had the good luck to interview with someone who quizzed me incessantly about my life. And he was pleased and surprised to find that a) I had helped publish a fanzine about music in New York, and b) had been paid $15 a week while a student to type up sport scores from my school and walk them over to a local paper.
Neither of those things were on my resume. But they were the reason he hired me.
Now I'm the old guy. And I look for those same indications of ambition and entrepreneurial sense in students.
That's why I tell students that the only clips I want to see are the ones they were paid for. Nothing tells me that a writer has value like that fact that someone "valued" his writing.

I'll be talking about these issues tomorrow at ABM's Digital Velocity conference. If you're going to be there, stop by and say hello.

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education

Sunday, March 25, 2007

InfoWorld blazes a print-free path

PaidContent is reporting that weekly magazine InfoWorld is about to shutter its print edition.
I haven't seen a confirmation yet from parent company IDG. But I have no reason to doubt the news. What started as a report in Sam Whitmore's newsletter (sorry, the story is available only to subscribers), then spread across the blogosphere, now appears to be true.
And I for one am thrilled.

I don't mean to belittle the pain that some on the InfoWorld staff will feel. It's likely that a small number of folks will be laid off. (Rafat at PaidContent says his source reports that "there won’t be too many layoffs as most of the team had been working on multiplatform already: print, online and events.")
But even one layoff is painful. Heck, I lost a gig last week after stepping into the middle of a nasty bit of office politics. And I had given up two other paying gigs to take on that assignment. So believe me when I say to anyone who is about to lose a job at InfoWorld: "I feel your pain."
Heck, even those who keep their jobs at InfoWorld will feel some pain. No matter how we look at the changes in media, it's clear that part of what is happening must be described as "loss." InfoWorld, the magazine, existed. Soon it will not. So something is lost.

But something is gained, too.
And it's more than the business opportunities offered to a magazine brand that transitions to the new era of connection, conversation and containerless content.
What is gained is a trail to follow, and vindication for the trailblazers.

Allow me to explain.
IDG is a client. And in the past few years I've had numerous opportunities to speak with the journalists and publishers of that company. Some of those conversations have been one-to-one. But most have been speaking gigs. I'd stand at the front of a room. They would sit. And we'd talk about the future.
And at IDG -- as is true of every single place I've spoken in the past five years -- most of the audience could be divided into two groups. One group consisted of those who were excited about the future. The second group consisted of those who saw the future solely as a possible threat to their present.
At IDG, the first group was larger than it was at some other companies. But even at IDG, a company that many folks would describe as visionary, there were always a few folks in the second group.
The Group Two folks always sat together (they always knew their compatriots, even those from other magazines). And they spent an enormous amount of energy rolling their eyes whenever anyone appeared excited about what the Web meant for journalism.
The Group One folks were most noticeable for how they reacted after I finished my speech. They had tons of questions. And many of those questions involved the people in Group Two. "How do we get them excited?" "How can we help them learn multimedia skills?" "How can we make them less afraid?"
And therein is the key -- while the folks in Group Two were interested only in protecting what they had; the folks in Group One were interested in helping Group Two to adapt.

The advice I gave to the kindly folks in Group One was to ignore the laggards and slow wits of Group Two. (Although on bad days I've advocated murder.) I told the people in Group One to move ahead on their own. Clear a path. Create a trail of your own. And in the end, when you have reached a clearing and the road behind you is free of obstructions, you'll find the folks in Group Two will follow -- still complaining, but at least moving forward.

In the past few days I've watched a handful of cowboy movies. That's not a typical activity of mine. And I'm not sure what it's about, but it's probably related to the recent anniversary of my father's death. He loved the cowboy movies.
And if you watch enough cowboy movies, you start to picture the world as a cowboy movie.
So today I see the staff at InfoWorld as scouts on horseback. They have moved further than many would have dreamed possible. They have reached a clearing. The clearing is not their final destination. But it's a place quite different from where they started.
And they have sent word back to the rest of settlers. And now everyone, even the folks riding mules and donkeys, are on the road.

Matt McAlister is an InfoWorld alumni. He says that somebody at IDG "had to step forward, and InfoWorld is as well positioned to make that transition as anybody."
Scott Karp also sees InfoWorld as leading the way for the rest of the publishing industry, but that "of course, there’s a big gap between a B2B magazine making the transition and a local newspaper making it across the chasm. But we’ve got to start somewhere."

Thanks to Rex for tipping me to the InfoWorld news first. Rex tracks the industry so I don't have to.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

ABM announces Neal Award winners

Congratulations to the winners of this year's Neal Awards, perhaps the most prestigious awards in B2B publishing.
I wasn't at yesterday's awards luncheon. So I had to wait until American Business Media posted the winners before I knew who had won. And I'll confess that I was afraid to look at the results for fear that eWeek would have collected a prize (for an earlier post on the inappropriateness of eWeek's nomination for Best Web Site, click here.)

But if you check out the press release on this year's winners, you'll see that eWeek was snubbed.
Rather, the big winner in online is McGraw-Hill's ENR, which won awards for Best Web site and best online article/series. Other online winners include CFO, BusinessWeek.com/SmallBiz and IDG's Macworld (Disclosure: IDG is a client.)
And the granddady of ABM's prizes -- the Grand Neal -- went to IEEE SPECTRUM, published by the the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) trade association.

Now my first instinct is to complain, to note anything and everything that might be wrong with ENR and IEEE SPECTRUM and some of the other winners. But that's just me being ridiculous. I think I'm still a little punchy from seeing eWeek nominated.
Because the truth -- when I calm down enough to see it -- is that this year's list of winners is a fine one.

Congratulations too to American Business Media. ABM's site has undergone an overhaul, and the new look -- complete with new logo and prominently displayed video -- is a great improvement over the old. ABM blogger Sara Sheadel gives the background here.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

End game for newspaper industry newsletter

As I spoke with journalism students last week, trying to convince them that there was no longer any such thing as a career in print alone, I wish I had known this:
The Morton-Groves Newspaper Newsletter, a B2B publication that covers the newspaper industry, issued a dire warning March 15 saying that time may have run out for publications that haven't adapted to new media. "For those who have not made the transition [by now], technology and market factors may be too strong to enable success," the newsletter said.
And then the newsletter said good-bye ... forever.

After 30 years of covering the newspaper business, Morton-Groves has published its final edition.
You can read the whole thing on this .pdf file, but suffice it to say that Morton-Groves doesn't see much light at the end of the tunnel. (You can also read more about the history of the newsletter on the "Reflections of a Newsosaur" blog, where I first learned that Morton-Groves was no more.)

At the College Media Advisers convention last week, I told students and teachers that it was clear to me that we were seeing the burst of a "content bubble." In an era when everyone can be a publisher, lots of people have become publishers. We're awash in content. Few of us -- even armed with RSS, widgets and content-aggregation services -- can keep up with what's out there.
For many publishers, it's become impossible to survive in a world with so many competitors.

And now, as the bubble bursts, things are getting tougher. The monetary value of content is falling. Companies that are tied to expensive production methods (paper, delivery trucks, outdated CMS systems, large staffs, etc.) are being squeezed into oblivion.
But this is the bubble that may never stop bursting.
The low cost of entry has kept the competitors coming.
And in a global economy, much of the U.S. publishing industry will offshore work in order to keep costs low.
And that is a very, very difficult environment for an entry-level journalist.

Back when I started out in this industry, the value proposition that landed me my first job was simple: volume. For the price of a mid-career journalist, a publisher could hire me and another kid straight out of school. We wouldn't produce work that was on par with that of the established professional, but we would produce more of it.
A student today faces a bleaker equation.
Why would a publisher hire an entry-level reporter at a price that could get him three writers and a designer in Asia? Why would a publisher hire a college kid when there are experts and professionals who will blog for free? Why would anyone pay money for more words in a world where there's already a surplus of words?

But as anyone who reads this blog knows, I see endless opportunities for ambitious journalists in this new environment.
Later this week I'll share my thoughts on what young journalists need to do to thrive in the content bubble.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

An online leader takes the lead

I've been on the road for much of the past two weeks, trying to convince journalism students that their future involves more than a single medium. I told print students they needed to learn to shoot video. I told broadcast kids they needed to learn to write for the Web. I told radio wannabes that they need to take digital photos. In other words, I told everyone that they needed to learn to do everything.
The reason, of course, is because our industry is moving from multiple media to multimedia. And in the very near future, no one will want to hire an entry level journalist with a skill set from the 1970s.

On several occasions, I found myself trying to make my point by reading from this post on my friend Colin Crawford's blog, in which he said that "the absolute dollar growth of (IDG's) online revenues now exceeds the decline in our print revenues."
Now comes word that Colin, long an advocate for an online-centered approach to publishing, is taking on a new role at IDG -- assuming the helm at two of IDG’s key brands PCWorld and MacWorld. (DISCLOSURE: IDG is a client.)

So first, I want to offer my congratulations to Colin. This is a well-deserved promotion and a great opportunity for a talented guy.
Second, I want to offer my congratulations to IDG. Few companies do as good a job in accepting that change is here. And Colin's promotion is further evidence that IDG knows what it's doing.
Third, I want to urge the students I've met in recent weeks to read what Colin has to say about work at a platform agnostic company.

I'll be writing more this week about my recent conversations with students. And I even have a few resumes to share with folks who are looking for the most promising among the next generation. However, I have to warn you, my list of the best of the class of 2007 is depressingly short.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The future of print and the future of hiring

I've said before that I'm not one of those folks who argue that print is dead. Rather I believe that "some of print is dead. Some of it isn't...yet. And some of it will live forever."
Newspapers -- and I mean the paper versions of them rather than the brands -- are in grave danger. And I see little use now, let alone in the near future, for weekly or monthly magazines that focus on news rather than analysis.
But I do believe that my infant daughter will read some form of paper when she reaches my age. And so, apparently, does author David Renard. His new book, titled "The Last Magazine," argues that the surviving products will be the independent mags that are "objects of absolute passion for both creators and readers alike."

It's unclear to me what Renard's future will look like for B2B. Trade magazines are objects of absolute passion for me. But I know that my affection for the business isn't shared by many folks -- including many of the people who work in the industry. And if there's one thing that I have learned in all my years of speaking with editors, publishers and readers it is this: those of us on the content side are often delusional about how much passion our audience feels for our work. We are seldom as good as we think we are. And we are often not as valuable to our readers as we could be.

I have learned this too: the biggest threat to the future of B2B isn't technology and new delivery vehicles, it's us. I continue to be disappointed and surprised by the number of people I meet who remain unwilling to learn the new storytelling skills. Nearly every day I see resumes by recent grads and established journalists that could have been written 25 years ago. And every day I toss those resumes into the garbage. Because neither I, nor anyone I know, has a need for someone who can only report, write, edit or take a photo.
Those skills have value. They always will. But in the competitive world of today, they are simply not enough.
I want to see evidence of video and audio skills. I want to see evidence of familiarity with CSS, RSS, HTML and every other acronym of new media. I want people who live online, consume content on mobile devices, use social-bookmarking tools and participate in Web communities. I want people who don't think they need some gray-haired, middle-aged man like me to give them permission to create -- I want bloggers and page designers and database builders who have made things even when they weren't getting paid.
I want to hire people who have "absolute passion" for the new era of journalism.

I'll be talking about such things at three different events this month. If you're going to be at any of them, stop by and introduce yourself.

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