New Seats and Bigger Challenges

How “new media” is expanding opportunity.
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

Last week, I attended an event put on by Folio entitled “Amplifying Your Brand.”  The purpose of the event was to introduce magazines editors to the challenges and opportunities provided by the changing media landscape – including CMS, cloud computing, social media outlets and the mobile App/tablet market.  Hosted by Tony Silber (General Manger, Publishing Group, Accesss Intelligence) and Bill Mickey (Editor, Folio), the daylong seminar highlighted what editors should be focusing on, and how changes in the way audiences consume content changes the way that content is delivered.

Most of what was discussed was very specific to editors, but there were a few bits of information that I couldn’t help but think would be relevant to the aspiring freelancer and ambitious blogger.  Below, some highlights…

First off, the bad news:  According to a recent survey conducted by Folio, magazine publishers are not expanding personnel.  Hiring is way down on the list or priorities, with only 1% of survey participants indicating that they plan on hiring new editorial staff in the coming year.  Instead, more content will likely come from marketers looking to expand their client’s reach and influence.  With advertising funneled into the content stream, traditional “church-and-state” journalist will find themselves competing with savvy new advertising entities – especially when it comes to tablet media and digital magazine.

“In the wild and wooly world of digital media,” said Silber, “that kind of blending is definitely going on.”

“Publishers are having to adjust on the fly,” he explained, “it’s not about our magazine anymore. Everything is going horizontal (tablets, social media, websites) and marketers are putting money into the different buckets.  It’s overhauling the perspective of what a media product actually is.”

Another big change waiting to pounce on writers and journalists: content aggregators.  In my day job, I was just recently put in charge of a content aggregator – a new site that culls content not only from our archives and the other editors on staff, but also from “free” resources available online.  We are not employing any new writers or contributors, but instead are relying on bloggers and news sites that serve up content free of charge (often in the hopes of building more traffic on their own websites).  If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, think of the Huffington Post, which started out as a forum for bloggers and journalists to post content online for free.

While some editors in the audience believed that continuing to generate original content was a way to stand out from the crowd, Silber pointed out that aggregation  websites help “bring clarity to this overflow of information.”  And as one audience member argued, “curating content is important because if you’re covering a niche, the editors can cultivate a more visual presence and the reader will feel like “you’re covering the industry for me.”

In discussing some of the unique and innovative cross-pollination efforts of larger consumer magazines (Money and This Old House pairing up on a home improvement special edition, for example), Silber advised editors to consider “redeploying your staff to do different things.”

“All of us as journalists need to think about whether we’re falling into a pattern,” cautioned Silber. “We’d be really well served by stepping back and saying, ‘how can I do this differently?’”

So as a journalist, creative writer or blogger, what can you do differently in order to carve out a career in this new media landscape?

Begin by looking at your preferred market (a magazine, a book publisher, etc) not as a company that puts out one product but more as a content creation company.  What is the niche they’re after, and how can you wedge your way into that narrow focus? How can you market yourself as an expert in the field, someone (perhaps the only one) capable of supplying a different perspective?

While this makes sense for journalists, I think it can apply to creative writing as well.  What stories are you uniquely equipped to tell?  What have you seen, experienced, felt that is at once apart but also universal?  We all walk a different path – what can you tell me about yours?

There was also a lot of talk about sites like Mashable, where contributors build up a reputation and a following that can then be parlayed into something larger.  There are literally thousands of sites out there in the ether that focus on tiny little subcultures and topics – sites on knitting and pet care and a plethora of hobbies and activities.  And all of these sites represent an opportunity.  You can submit original content to these sites, or even start out with relevant and insightful topics.  On the Daily Meal for example, 700 contributors supplement the in-house staff of 20, supplying content that’s vetted through an incentivized rating system that pushes popular content above the fold and into the hungry eyes of over 5 million visitors.  These sites require no resumes or interviews or qualification requirements – all you need is interest, ability and perseverance.

And that’s the take away – interest, ability and perseverance.  As you know, I’ve been reading The Four Hour Work Week and spending a lot of time on The Art of Noncomformity, and so I’m a bit rosy-eyed and flush with the notion that we can craft our own careers.  I’m may be a little late to the party, but it seems to me that whether or not print media is on it’s last gasp, stories will also be in demand and writers will always have a place at the content table – we just may need to adjust our perspective and re-imagine the seating arrangement.

All original content is the sole property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer. If you are reading this blog on another website, it has been reposted without the author’s permission in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

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