One Word: Audience

On the “Future of Publishing” panel this morning at Media Bistro Circus in New York, Dan Costa asked the panel what advice they’d give to young graduates looking to come to New York and enter the field of journalism.

Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

It reminded me of the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman’s uncle corners him and tells him “I got one word for you: plastics.” Except that now the new word would be something more like “audience” or maybe “brand.”

(Eileen Gittins of Blurb got the biggest laugh of the day with her answer – “marry well.” Ouch. I thought the days of “pre-wed” degrees were over – though to be fair she said that applied equally to male and female grads).

Anil Dash provided a bit of insight that “only the old folks are worried about this – young grads will get crappy jobs that pay poorly as young grads have always done.” True enough , but I’d argue the whole question is wrong.

It’s based on a premise that no longer holds – that you wait until after graduation to start “real life,” and that your employer (or set of employers) has a substantial and significant role in defining your career path. It assumes that your career is about what job you get, and how you manage it, rather than what kind of audiences you build and how you create opportunity based on those audiences.

It’s also based on the idea that college grads are 22-year-olds with no experience. I don’t have statistics at hand, but it seems to me that even when I was teaching college writing courses 10 years ago, college students were incredibly diverse in age and experience: I learned as much from many of my students as they (I hope) learned from me. Why assume the ‘graduate’ is looking to us, rather than ‘we’ (large media company folks with decades experience) looking to ‘them’ for guidance?

The digital natives are going to create the future of publishing, not necessarily the digital immigrants who currently run media companies.

Why, for that matter, assume that the college degree is the primary path to career at all? I’m a big proponent of formal degrees (and have a student loan bill which rivals my mortgage from gathering my own) but there’s no reason to assume that this is the only (or even primary) way to make a career in 2009.

For those who are the proverbial 22-year-old impending college grad looking to ‘get started,’ why wait for graduation?

Blog! You’ve got greater information technology producing and publishing power at your fingertips, at nominal cost, than most major media companies had just 2 decades ago. Build a consistent brand for yourself as a producer of quality content – that brand (represented in something like a blog, or a site which tracks your work over time) will be stronger than any resume or set of job titles.

Build your network of influencers – connect with people working on what you’re passionate about, and the “career” stuff will work itself out.

Check out the folks at CoPress and what they’re doing in bringing open source platforms and thinking to college publications. Get involved in an open source, open culture, open content, or other organization that is focused on creating community value first and company value second.

1 Comment

  1. As a 22 year old thinking about going back to school I would like to thank you for this post! I think there needs to be a balance between degrees, real world experience, and passion. For me it’s also interesting to watch the “need for a degree” seam to rise just in my lifetime alone. If we keep going at this rate in 10 years everyone will need a PHD just to get a job.

    Thanks for your thoughts John!

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