We are living through one of the most profound changes in the nature of communications since the time of Gutenberg. The rise of digital technologies and the Internet have sparked a revolution that is affecting almost every aspect of our daily lives.
For people who were traditionally consumers of content—whether they were called readers, listeners, or viewers—the new-media revolution has been empowering. But for those who create and distribute content—whether journalists, performers, publishers, or broadcasters—it has more often been profoundly disorienting. There’s no reason, however, why content creators shouldn’t feel equally empowered by new media.
The premise of the New-Media Survival Guide is that you don’t need to be a digital native to thrive in the digital era. No matter how long you’ve worked in legacy media, you can find exciting opportunities for your talents and your career in the new-media arena—if you make the effort to understand and experiment with it. The New-Media Survival Guide can help you find your way through this challenging but exciting process of discovery.
My primary intended audience comprises people trained in traditional publishing media. In the first rank of this group as I imagine it are journalists. Behind them, however, I envision marketers, public relations professionals, and others who have participated in publishing, whether as producers, intermediaries, or clients.
Although I expect many of my readers to be full-time employees, the advice here applies equally well to freelancers and independent content producers. (Indeed, one of the core assumptions of this book is that as the new-media era evolves, journalists will become increasingly independent, whether by freelancing or by starting their own businesses.)
Given that my own career has been largely within business-to-business publishing, some of my examples and suggestions will be related to trade journalism, but my intended scope is broader. No matter what business you are in, if you are a content creator trying to master the transition from traditional to new media, this guide can help.
What can you hope to gain from The New-Media Survival Guide? First, a way to look at the changes in the media business and what your role can and should be. You may be familiar with all the social media tools and trends discussed here, but have you thought critically about them all and how you can best use them? If not, this book can give you a basis for doing so, even if—or perhaps especially if—you disagree with my views.
Second, if you’re new to social media, this book will give you an overview of the most important new-media platforms and the key issues involved in using them. You’ll find plenty of references to sources that can help you further explore any that intrigue or worry you.
You’ll also learn not just how to do your job better, but how to use social media to position yourself for your next job. The journalistic discipline is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial and freelance. Fewer and fewer journalists will devote a career, or even a decade, to any one employer. For this reason, much of the focus here will be on ways to market yourself and your new-media talents and to build up a network of friends, colleagues, and potential clients.
Though it may look like it here and there, I’m not trying to create hostility between you and your employer. In fact, you and your boss share a common interest in furthering your new-media literacy. As Ellie Behling of eMedia Vitals puts it, “Smart editors are adapting by learning new skills and taking initiative—and smart publishers are encouraging them to do so.” Realistically, though, your interests and those of your employer will not always be aligned. When it’s time for you to part ways, you should be prepared.
If you are currently employed in a traditional media operation, you may already be benefitting from a new-media training program. But if not, don’t wait for your employer. Do it on your own. Even if your company does offer training, there’s no guarantee that the skills they are teaching you are the ones you will need in the future. Mastering the complex requirements of a custom content management system can serve you well within your company, but might do less for your marketability than learning WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. Stay aware of the trends in new media and at the very least, try dabbling in them yourself.
Finally, don’t expect too much from training. Learning a technical skill is not equivalent to understanding the values and culture of social media. Yes, it can be helpful to know some CSS and to master content management systems. But by themselves, those skills are mere commodities. If you can’t also understand and adopt as your own the values and ideals that are driving the new-media revolution, you will never thrive in it. What will ultimately determine the extent of your success in new media is not your training in it, but your attitude towards it.
For that reason, my emphasis in this guide is not on how to use the tools of new media, but how to think about new media itself. For veteran journalists, the biggest challenges are not technical, but attitudinal. Adapting to new-media ways is not a matter of learning programming or other binary esoterica. To survive in the new-media world, you don’t need to be a technical expert. Rather, you need to understand the ideas and forces behind new media, and how they are changing not just your industry, but the world.