In my time as a media trainer and interview coach, I’ve seen a lot of material used to prepare executives for the “media experience.” It used to be easy to spot the old stuff; the people in the videos had dated clothing, the xeroxes were copies of copies. Now it’s even easier: anything that’s printed or taped is obsolete.
Having had a hand in recently updating the training materials for my employer, I can tell you there’s been more change in the media landscape in the past two years than the preceding twenty. Read that again. More change since the beginning of 2006 than from 1986 to 2006. And the catalyst is convergence of technology on the web.
As a budding journalism student, I had to choose my specialty. Print was well within my skill set, I had a voice for radio, but I also had the knowledge and skills for the additional equipment needed for television. By the time I decided to pursue the major, I already had two years of commercial production experience. The gear wasn’t friendly, nor forgiving. Television news wasn’t an art, nor a trade; it was a craft. I jumped through my special television hoops, and my classmates followed their individual tracks.
Today’s journalism schools (if they are any good at all) are ignoring those boundaries, and you ought to as well. The walls that separated print, radio, and television lie in ruin. Where savvy marketers and PR reps once had the special knowledge to navigate the editorial maze, the field is now wide open. Treating the Big Three like different animals will not set you apart and will not curry you favor — because it’s all converging to meet the standards of the web.
I’m not talking about internet video. I’m referring to the deference now given to the online news product. Three years ago, only the biggest of newspapers or broadcasters had full-time web people. Your average outlet in an average-sized city had a webmaster who’d upload news when he had the time. The website was an afterthought, and in no way to be considered a platform for breaking a story. “Why should I tip off my competitors before we get a chance to run/air the story?” News websites were considered competition for the presses at best — bullied kid brothers at worst.
No more. Not only are news outlets more prone to break news on their web property, they’re more inclined to look like each other. Strip away the branding and the banners, and can you tell a radio site from a television or print site? Not immediately. Maybe not at all. The web is the great equalizer, a platform where any content is fair game. Radio stations that never had a need for pictures will gladly post them to show storm damage. The New York Times now runs video obits. I know a photographer for the Birmingham News — several decades of experience — who asked for lessons from a former videographer on how to compose for motion. The paper gave him a video camera.
The convergence is here. If you want to take full advantage, then tear down the silos in your own thinking and strategy. Yes, print will still give you a more in-depth ride once it goes to ink. Yes, television will still provide the most bang for the buck on delivering emotion through visuals. Yes, radio will be a hard nut to crack as newsrooms and news jobs dwindle. But offer them something they can use on the web, where they are starved for content. Be prepared to deliver stills, slideshows, web-video, mp3s, whatever your heart desires — because the formats outside their natural comfort zone become an “extra” on the web.
Not only does it give you a better chance of placement — it cements your reputation as someone who “gets it.” And now that we’re in an age where streaming cell-phone video can go live on the air, a more realistic approach can be the difference between pickup and dropoff. This is the power of convergence, and this is why your adoption and understanding of the nuances of online communications will pay off.
Ike Pigott is a Communications and Government Relations Director for the American Red Cross, covering a five-state region in the Southeast. His work with social media tools in times of crisis and disaster has been cited often as a case study within that field. A former journalist and Emmy-winning writer, Ike founded Positive Position Media Consulting through which he has coached hundreds of managers and executives for media interviews and crisis situations. He’s a regular contributor at Now Is Gone, and writes about communications at Occam’s RazR.