At the outset, let me put out a disclaimer. Resemblance to any character currently or previously employed, with any news media company in which a corporate entity has acquired stake or is about to, or, a media company which has downsized or ‘right sized’ its headcount, or both, is coincidental.
(If there are some who feel that the above disclaimer would cover almost all media companies, I think we’re in resonance.)
And while there is no reference to specific individuals or organisations here, this is in fact inspired by news on layoffs at a major TV network, and the reactions to it - the fact that it has touched a raw nerve in some old war horses. Critics of a reduction in headcount are perhaps those who would take offence to the use of the term ‘headcount’. I’m sorry, but that’s what it boils down to.
Most in the media - whether in editorial or marketing or sales or circulation - would fall way below the top 10 percentile on skill and performance. Nor are they differentiable on creativity and soft skills that we pride this business to be all about. Ordinariness has been tolerated for too long, because the media could afford to feed it. (And it also didn’t also help that media chose to spend only on the ordinary.)
A lot of journalists who have been in the business of news media have never been forced to look at news media as a business. Very few managements have impressed upon journalists (with some notable exceptions within the last decade, I am told), that they need to deliver measurable returns. These measures were often intangible and more often calibrated by the journalists themselves.
But this is not a has-beens versus next-gen debate by any means. If anything, I do believe it is the few grounded journalists who have stuck around with feet firmly on the ground that have ensured, that the basic foundations on which news media brands are built do not change, while adapting to the demands of new age consumption, ‘native advertising’, et al. But the time has come to ask: Along the way, what skill did we build, besides the ‘relationships’ that gave us our daily news feed? What skills will make us employable outside the comfortable cocoons of news media?
When it comes to other functions like media sales, the output is quantified, making it imminently more measurable. But what does the number reflect? How much of it is again based on the ‘relationships’ one built? How many print sales people can boast of bringing about paradigm shifts like opening up categories for the medium, or path-breaking innovations? How many airtime and space sellers have gone on to understand the client business so well, and adapted, to move on to the other side successfully?
Be it journalists or sales persons, a lot many of us have been chasing our daily bread in a familiar video game arena for so long, that disruption disturbs us immensely. We’re simply not ready for it.
There is some truth in what a media owner once supposedly told his team: ‘The editor’s job is like my EA’s. His job is to put the information and analysis on the table for my consumption. How I act on it, is my decision.’ An editor who believes he or she can be the sole source of that information or analysis today, is living in fool’s paradise.
It’s not just editors. They have to contend, as a former editor used to say, with their journalists’ ‘exaggerated sense of self worth’.
We’re powerful when fronting the media brands that employ us. What are we without them? Let’s be prepared for a shakeout, because news media has to make business sense to sustain itself and fund its future.
Gokul Krishnamoorthy, editor, Campaign India