Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Media's Insurmountable Opportunities

So thank you Mitch Anthony for reminding us of Pogo's remarkably prescient comment: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.” Only days ago, media columnist David Carr reminded us of the promise of these digital opportunities as he was writing nothing less than an obituary for Old Media in The New York Times. To quote:
Magazines intended to help the reader primp for Christmas parties are, in many cases, half as big as they were just a few short years ago. Pages are down, spending is down, revenues are down, and the biggest feature of this holiday season in the media kingdom has been layoffs and buyouts at Conde Nast, Time Inc., The Associated Press, and yes, The New York Times.

Sadly, Carr could have added BusinessWeek and Fortune to that list and God knows how many other magazines and newspapers who have had to dump payroll because of increasingly losses and bloated cost structures. The cutbacks are hardly new. Some 60,000 jobs in communications have been lost in New York alone since 2000, according to New York's comptroller. Having witnessed so much of this devastation up close at BusinessWeek this past week, I have to tell you it's heartbreaking. But there is another side to this molting of the media.

As Carr himself notes:
For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down. 
Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well. For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.

Yes, as Pogo told us, there are "insurmountable opportunities" out there amid the chaos and turmoil in media land. My message to David Carr is that many of those opportunities are likely to be seized not by the "cabals of bright young things," but rather by the tens of thousands of highly talented and experienced journalists who are going to have what John Gardner called "the courage to fail" later in life. I guess I'm now one of them.


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