Friday, January 23, 2009

Old Media Jumps to New Media

With the economic downturn, significant layoffs in old media, and no signs of improvement, it shouldn't surprise me that I have now seen two TV News Directors make the jump to Web in the past three months. Given the economic climate and historically short careers of News Directors, they must feel like the lucky ones.

Both took Director positions with the New Media division of media companies. I won't name names, but it is interesting to finally see this happen. I know for sure that one of them had been thinking about this for more than a year. The other received a recommendation from their "agent" to make the jump.

I made the jump12 years ago after taking an "acting News Director" role at a TV station where the News Director left for a larger market. I had already taken interest in the Internet as a career. MSNBC had just launched online. I was pressing for the TV station to start publishing news online, and eventually won a small victory in this area. Local TV left me feeling empty. Except for a few people in a newsroom, I thought most of the journalism was shoddy, unimaginative, and counter-productive to informing the public in any meaningful way. Acting as News Director only drove this point home.

Six months prior to this, I bought my first personal computer from Best Buy for $1,500. I took it home, set it up on my dining table in my one-bedroom apartment. I bought a book on HTML (Creative HTML Design, by Lynda Weinman) and a book on Photoshop. Each night and each weekend, barring breaking news, I would crack a beer and sit down at that computer. The simplest of concepts, such as FTP, were difficult at first. It took me several weeks to successfully publish anything. Eventually, I took my thesis from college and published it as a multi-page Web site. It was after that I started sending out resumes.

I was ignored or turned down for job after job. After ~ 8 months, I finally got a call. A TV station in the midwest needed a content manager for a Web site startup. I jumped at the job. I would manage 4 editors and get paid $1,000 less a year than I was already making. While this was a far cry from managing 30 people in a newsroom, it was a lateral move. Everyone was under 30 years old except the graphic artist. I was one of the lucky ones.

For me, it was an easy decision. My career was young. I was young. The Internet was young. I was able to help shape something new, in an industry that had few if any well-defined roles, policies or precedures. In all of these respects, it was everything local TV was not.

If I were a seasoned News Director now, with 20+ years of local TV experience, I don't know how this move would feel. I suspect that in their own way, they feel like one of the lucky ones.