Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is a communications professional? Choose one.

Yesterday we had our annual meeting where we pitch our "majors" to first-year CreComm students, who have to decide on a specialty for second year. Their choices: journalism, broadcast, advertising, or PR.

"Choose one!"

Which would you choose, given the current economy and media climate?

Ad and PR: evil? Maybe. Adaptable? Yes!

If a job is your ultimate goal, I'd go with advertising or PR, (disclaimer) and not just because I teach them.

The late comedian Bill Hicks had a great shtick on advertising and marketing (see video above), in which he slams marketers for being so darn "adaptable" to every situation. I agree: marketers always win. Show them new media, and they'll find ways to get money out of it before anyone else.

As Hicks says, you'll sleep soundly at night knowing that your job manufacturing "arsenic childhood food" is safe and secure! Funny guy.

Journalism: excitement in lieu of pay

There will always be students who select journalism, job market be damned. I was a journalism major myself, so I know what that's about. Journalism always has the edge in the classroom setting: if you have a notepad and sources, congratulations: you're a working journalist!

The bigger problem today: after chasing and writing the story, how do you get paid for doing it?

I often use the example of my 18-year-old nieces in class. They go to the Franz Ferdinand concert, shoot video on their cell phone, post it on YouTube, and write a review on Facebook. They do it for free, and it's viewed by everyone at their school. Are they journalists? There are some who believe that what they've done is actually more valuable than the classic "newspaper sends a critic with a luxury-box view" scenario.

And, as long as my nieces - and all of their friends - are willing to do it for free, price is on their side. Yes it is.

Broadcast: is amateur the new professional?

For years, TV sustained the aura of being something very special, important, and glamorous. "Motion and emotion!" as we say in class. And we, the passive viewers, let it be so.

Everyone bought into the ideal of TV as a professional's medium, which made work easy for broadcast journalists and gatekeepers alike. "You're a reporter for the television? There will be no charge for that drycleaning, Ms. Kuzyk."

But now, TV is really only glamorous for people "of a certain age," who probably still remember when CBS was called "the Tiffany network." What could be less glamorous than working for CTV, CBC, and CanWest Global when they're all in various stages of "not existing?" I wrote about the broken broadcast model here.

Arguably, there is no such thing as broadcast anymore. It's all "narrowcast," baby: the idea is that traditional broadcast media's audience has fragmented so much, it's no longer possible for media outlets to be all things to all people. Now, it's easier to make money by targeting a narrow demographic and then sell space to advertisers who want to target that demographic.

Gone are the days when we all watched "the Wizard of Oz" on Sunday night because that was the only thing that was on for "that demographic."

But what if the 18 to 24 year-olds (the most desirable demographic to advertisers) don't watch TV anymore and are instead online, talking on cell phones, listening to iPods, and playing Xbox? And what if this demographic finds that the amateur videos on YouTube are more fun to watch than the latest episode of House on CBS?

Diner beats the Sophie's Choice model

For me, choosing one of the above majors is a Sophie's Choice-like scenario. Given that the current communications landscape is morphing into something altogether new, I think that it's more important than ever for students to be good at "everything;" indeed, they'll need to be a communications army of one - adaptable to wherever new media takes us.

As a result, educational institutions, instructors, and students will need to push aside the "choose one" model and move toward an "all-of-the-above" or perhaps even an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach.

In the great movie, Diner, Mickey Rourke is asked to choose: "Mathis or Sinatra?"

His answer: "Presley."

The correct answer to Ad, PR, J, or Broadcast? "Presley."

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