17 December 2008

"All We Have to Fear is Fear Itself"

You've seen pictures like this before, right? I mean, we all know what this is: an ostrich with its head in the sand. It's the image of a frightened animal, avoiding the very thing it fears by hiding its eyes and leaving the majority of itself vulnerable to whatever threatened it.

I'm never really sure (nor is important to this post) that these images are real or photoshopped.

These are dark days for journalists. Dark, bleak, frightening days of seemingly endless cutbacks and layoffs and buyouts. The road to the unemployment office or back to college is well traveled.
It's a sad and painful and uncertain time. The recession is hitting at a moment when the internet was already encroaching on how journalists are valued. And we aren't coming out ahead.

So I was very excited to meet with a news executive at a major city television station a week ago. He had sternly warned me prior to the meeting, "I have no jobs to offer. If five people walk in and quit tomorrow, they will not be replaced." But I was ready to counter that. I said that I had internet proposals for social network marketing and other suggestions. He seemed agreeable and interested in that idea and I took heart in my preparations.

I like to speak in simple terms, so let's just say my proposals were grouped in two categories: freebies and not so free. The freebies included ideas for social network marketing and setting up structures to handle those responsibilities and give the TV station's team of highly respected journalists ways to express those deep voices in the "new media."

The news executive told me "My people wouldn't be interested in that. They seem to get a big head of steam and then lose interest after two weeks."

I must admit feeling a bit surprised. I can only conclude he flunked the class at management retreat on "locker room pep talks." His people lose interest? (Anyone who has ever given an up-and-coming reporter a chance to promote their stories knows they rarely think of anything else ever again.) These were suggestions that wouldn't have cost him a dime to put into place and it wasn't within my power to offend the man by asking how he could afford to allow his people to not utilize these methods? To not promote his news product in these newer ways? I tucked my hair behind my ear and thought "Ok, so much for the freebies."

Then I offered my larger, over-arching proposal. It might have required some effort and perhaps working with the other stations in his group to develop the concept. But I think it would be a worthwhile investment in terms of what the future holds. It would have put that group forward in terms of where they stand in the new media and multiple platform use. And I included a quote I had seen in an article on Forbes.com only days before:

"Every day a station doesn't push more of its resources online is another day a competitor might."
He said he didn't see any benefit to it. His community wasn't interested and any investment would be a waste. I think at that moment I realized that I could say to him "Oreos are good dunked in milk," and he would have responded, "No, I think that wouldn't work for our viewers."
Let me point out that he lives in one of the top 2 or 3 most internet-connected cities in the country, where a large percentage of the population utilizes mass transit in their commute and is very focused on the daily news. So interested are many of his older viewers that they have an eye on the day's events continuously throughout the day. My proposal addressed all three of those aspects, and would have put the station itself out in front of many other stations and... allowed them a bigger piece of the network-to-affiliate pie. (Food metaphors flowing fast here today.)
Change is difficult. It frightens most of us. It is terrifying and painful and scares us witless. But as frightening as change is, in the communications field what we ought to fear most is being left behind.

And why do we have to be afraid? Can we not go forward with the knowledge that yes, there is a bit of Darwin's process is at work here. The fearless are going to make it. The weak are not. I don't know which I will be numbered among but I do know, I am not wanting to sit idly by and wait for it to happen. I'd rather bruise my knuckles knocking on the door than sit in the newsvan and do nothing. I'd rather get in the mix and be swallowed than the last kid in the game. There's always a risk that you get leftout that way, you know.

And if you stick your head in the sand, there is a possibility that winds will come up, swirling the sand around your body in a drift and bury you. Or at the very least, looking odd and a bit left out.

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