For a group that’s supposed to be up to speed on everything, a significant number of my journalist friends give me blank expressions when I talk about the explosion of content-producing jobs outside the newsroom.
Of course, I’m not pointing fingers. I can’t. Not that long ago, I was one of them.
After a recent layoff, I decided I needed to make a clean break with traditional journalism. The first thing I did was develop a job search plan that included a heavy dose of networking. Luckily, I’m one of those people who have never burned a bridge in my life. (If I were a German sapper in World War II, Patton would have been in Berlin before FDR even got to Yalta.)
I contacted as many former colleagues as I could, and one of them, who has been in the tech sector for nearly a decade, met me for breakfast at a hole in the wall in Milford, N.H. It was there – a few feet from a stool that had “Gore sat here” written on the leg in permanent marker – that he used two words that I’d never heard together before: content marketing.
He gave me a brief overview of how organizations are cutting back on traditional advertising models and outreach to traditional media to focus on creating compelling, meaningful content on their own Web sites and through social media. He explained that this marketing revolution has many different names – custom publishing, branded media, customer media, etc. – but that the common thread was the need for people who could develop and create useful information that strengthens the relationship between the content provider and the content producer, whether the provider was a business, a university, or a nonprofit.
Whoa, I thought, I can do that. Not only that, I can be excited about doing that.
When I later mentioned this to my newspaper friends – and even a friend of mine who’s a former journalism professor – they gave me a puzzled look. But the more I learned, the more I saw this is a great new career opportunity for someone with my skill set, and, just as importantly, my personality.
I’m learning that many of the things that drew me to journalism – the rush of deadline, the fun of trying new things and building a community, the joy of hanging out with smart, clever people and learning something new every day – aren’t exclusive to a newsroom. In fact, as newsrooms have been decimated by layoffs and attrition, those remaining smart, clever people are too damn busy bailing water to have much time left over to do the meaningful, fun things that drew them to the business in the first place. That’s not to say they aren’t trying, but the odds keep growing exponentially against them.
So, where does this leave me? I’m learning more every day and finding that many of the skills I though were unique to journalism – finding and telling interesting stories, organizing complex content into useful packages, engaging an audience – aren’t going anywhere; they’re just transitioning into another vehicle – one that I can’t wait to help drive.