I feel that before I invite you to embark upon this journey with me I should explain in more detail what such a journey will entail in order that you may fully understand what you are getting yourself into.
After spending a month in the heart of the city you truly learn more than you bargained for. And although I planned to be grasping for content, I instead find myself struggling to narrow down and categorize what I’ve learned into some kind of manageable format. Not to mention the more of these places I go and the more people I talk to, the less I feel like I know what I want to do with the rest of my forever. Thus I’ve worked hard as you’ll see, to approach these lessons broadly, in a way that will make them applicable to whatever field I decide to pursue.
So presented in the following pages, you’ll find my feeble attempt to consolidate a month of knowledge; professional insight, my own ingenuity, and even wisdom from some of New York’s finest. I hope you enjoy recounting said knowledge as much as I, throughout the compilation process, enjoyed reminiscing the means by which I acquired it. Thus I am proud to present to you, in no particular order, a few small bites out of the Big Apple.
Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better
You have to have something that makes you better than them. And they have to know about it. Something has to make them want to come to you for what you do. Whatever your profession, to some degree you end up selling yourself.
You can’t just stand on a street corner and scream at people, although you could, and people do “Comedy show, indoors, starting in 10 minutes” but do you hear that… even that guy on the street has a competitive advantage. “Indoors.” It’s 10 degrees outside, snow is falling, I’m packed onto the slushy sidewalk with 200 other people who don’t know where they’re going, a gust of wind has just blown my hood clear off my head, my eyebrows are frozen and I hear the word “indoor.” Well frick yeah, that has to be better than what I’m doing.
I mean… I don’t really need to buy anything at Toys R Us (I don’t really need see a comedy show either but that’s beside the point) … and I’ve already seen M & M world in Vegas, so sure Mr. ugly guy with the funny hat and stupid comedy show sign, I’ll come see your thing, why not.
Regardless of what you do, you have to do it better than anyone else in some regard, from some angle you have to be better. You have to believe it, you have to sell it like you believe it, and soon enough, they’ll believe it to. And then… and only then, will you be successful. You’d better find a street corner and start yelling.
Watch Your Step
Who’s toes are you stepping on to get where you want to go? Something I discovered throughout this trip is that the value of journalistic integrity (or integrity as could be applied to any profession) is relatively subjective, and truthfully, varies greatly between institutions.
A balance needs to be found when answering the question “what kind of (insert choice profession here) are you going to be?” If you want to be well respected, it’s important to not hide behind the safety curtain that your “title” may offer, but it’s also important to not bite the hand that feeds you. If you’re stepping on toes (and arms and legs and faces) to get to the top, when you get there, you aren’t going to have much of a support system behind you.
Shhhh… it Happens
It’s inevitable. Bad stuff happens. It sucks but it’s life, and sadly enough there’s people whose job it is to deal with it. Every time. Even more so, it’s their job to expect it to happen, and to be ready when it does.
Prepare for the worst. Know what to expect and when it happens, have a plan. Know how to communicate what you need to communicate. Know where you need to go and what you need to do and do it calmly.
And remember to be glad that when everything does go wrong, you’ve got someone around who’s skilled in handling your problems. They’ve thought about and prepared for far worse. And while you’re at it, be glad you don’t have their job.
Passing the Bar
This job market, in case you weren’t aware, is horrendous. College graduates look at themselves in the mirror on graduation day, diploma in one hand, tassel in the other, clad in their wrinkled cheap Jostens robe and think to themselves ‘Cool, I just spent more money than I have on an education, and then spent even more for this crappy robe, to walk down an aisle that leads to nowhere, no job, no money, and maybe after some twists and turns, mom and dad’s house.’ Every college grad’s dream right?
But it’s important to remember that even though the market is awful and it’d be exciting to get offered any job at all, it isn’t going to matter that you have a job in a month if you hate it so much that you wish you were unemployed. Have standards. Don’t settle. Something great will come. Patience is a virtue and Bloomberg is an ant farm.
Talking the Talk
It takes little effort to express in words ones desire to accomplish a given thing. It takes constant effort however to accomplish that which one desires to accomplish. Anyone can claim to be anything but if their actions do not defend said claim, no one will label them as that which they are not, but rather they will be labeled according to their actions, and what they appear to be.
In the world of journalism and “news” and “media” I have realized that it is one thing to claim to be ethical, or even to try to be ethical. It is another thing entirely to actually act ethically, to in fact strive daily, outwardly, and to accomplish ethical tasks by ethical means.
Very few self-proclaimed “ethical” news entities are in fact “ethical.” (And more broadly even still, very few self-proclamations hold remote degrees of validity regardless of what the proclamation may be) And those who think they are, or even more so, claim they are, may well be worse off than those who know they aren’t and never claim to be. Distorted self-perceptions may be one of our societies greatest pitfalls.
It’s All Greek to Me
“Regardless of what profession you seek, you need to know some degree of HTML,” they said to me.
Now it would behoove you to understand one thing about me. The only thing I know about HTML is how to spell it. So it follows logically that in this given conversation my jaw would drop, my shoulders would slouch, and my brain would think, “well there go my chances of ever getting out of Visalia.” So what do you presume happened at this point in the conversation? Well… exactly that.
Soon I’ll be picking up the phone, ringing John Wiley and Sons’ number, and in 7 to 10 business days, a 300 page “HTML for Dummies” will appear on my doorstep. Let the job search begin.
And I imagine chapter one will begin much like this. “Now that we all know how to spell our subject matter, let us move forward…” This is bound to be a long 300 pages.
And The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
I learned in New York that it’s ok to steal. But you can’t steal what you would think. If an educated business professional writes a 700-word article and puts in online, it’s totally ok for you to highlight the text, copy it, paste it and post it. And if you forget to copy their name and give them credit, they’ll shrug it off, say “it happens” and move on.
However, if you approach the homeless man on the subway and steal his piccolo in hopes of salvaging what little hearing you have left, he might cut you, he might chase you, he might fight you, and he’ll definitely scream profanities at you.
The costs associated with piccolo theft are much graver than those that accompany the pilfering of intellectual property. Noted.
Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer
Our society has deemed “skeptical” as such a Debbie-downer sort of word but I gained new perspective on the term during my stay in New York.
“I’m an early tester and a late adopter,” one of our professionals said of his Facebook habits. He proceeded to explain that it’s ok to be skeptical, to test things with an objective perspective. You don’t have to pick one side or the other right away most of the time; and often we think we do.
Be skeptical. Get the facts. Make an educated decision. Don’t be a follower. Don’t do it just because, whatever “it” is, you’ll get much farther in life being skeptical than you will being gullible.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
So. I may not shower daily, I may not always shampoo and condition, I may not wash my face thoroughly every time. But I do brush my teeth twice daily, I do (most often) brush my hair and I only wear the same clothes two days in a row if they’re really cute and totally worth it.
I can’t say the same for approximately 48% of the New York subway system population. This idea of cleanliness is much more important to me than I anticipated. Life lesson: I like to be clean, I want to be clean and I like clean people.
Washing my hands has never felt so good. I would probably be O.K. if I never rode the subway again for the rest of my life.
A Bird in the Hand is Better than a Foot in the Door
If I were to summarize this lesson any more bluntly it would simply state, “don’t be a tool.” Essentially, professional businesses are professional. They want the people they hire to be professional. They want to be treated and respected as professionals. Thus, sending a shoe to a company with a note that says “I just want to get my foot in the door” attached to your resume isn’t going to work.
You may ask “even if I’m qualified?” The answer is no. It won’t work, even if you’re Bill Gates. It’s tacky, it’s lame, and well… it’s unprofessional.
So. Don’t be stupid, and keep your dirty shoes to yourself.
I love it when things come together and the world for once seems to make something obvious and easy. There were two times on this trip that this happened. The following is my account of the of those times:
It seemed that every place we went we talked about (in a vague sort of “I don’t want to hurt the media’s feelings” way) how corrupt our society is. It’s pathetic really when you think about what sells today.
It’s not intellect, it’s tweets that get hits. Editors are switching college vocabulary with Google keywords because it’s what society reads. The entertainment industry is a testament to this.
What’s logical isn’t competitive. Our society isn’t lacking intellectual individuals, it’s lacking intellectual consumers, and in turn it’s wasting the hard work of its educational institutions.
Internships > Professional Degrees
The other lesson beat over my head was a simple equation “internship = important.” This is great for me considering the fact that I’ve had three. However for a lot of people it can be rather disheartening. Here you’ve just spent a quarter of a million dollars on an education, you’ve struggled to choose a degree that fits your “personality” and “what you want to do” and now they’re telling you that your college degree is nothing more than “a placeholder”.
Essentially you’re diploma isn’t going to get you anything but a pat on the back, a hole in your wallet and maybe, if you’re lucky, an internship. Then that internship will get you a job. Cool.
But it’s all a journey, they’re all stepping-stones, and looking at college as a waste of time would be the wrong thing to do. Unfortunately for us (although, fortunately for society) the majority of our population has college degrees, so it’s just not as respected as it once was. We have to take it one step further. That step is experience: internships.
Have a Cold One, on the House
Lately we’ve talked a lot about elections and about what wins votes, we talked about policy and entertainment. And throughout the conversation one thought kept coming back to my mind. The guys this morning talked about an election rating system they had based on which candidate you’d rather have a beer with. Since when was THAT what made a good president of the United States of America?! Do you really (and more importantly should you really) want a president that would share any of the traits you look for in a wingman?
Every person we talk to seems to say “the people want “x”…” I get it, we’re a government by the people, for the people, of the people. Yeah yeah yeah. but to some point, how much do the people really know about what they need. Isn’t that, after all, why we elect people to make decisions for us?
So where then do you draw the line? How much do you cater to the uninformed, uneducated public? How much do you use keywords instead of intellectual content? How far do we let it go before all we are is a society of twitter feeds, dumbed down campaign messages, and funny talk shows. NO! The fact that Sarah Palin entered the realm of reality television isn’t good. It may be good for her campaign, it may be what the people want, but it’s not good for the people, it’s not good that it’s what the people want.
I hate that it becomes about winning instead of about the right. (not the left vs. right right but the wrong vs. right right.) Someone needs to stand up for what they believe in. Someone needs to expect more out of our society. Someone needs to call them to a higher standard and remind them what’s important. Someone needs to tell them what they need.
Obama was right. We do need change. But what he brought and what our society thinks is change, is conformity, it’s a crowd, it’s a follower. How can you lead the people if you’re operating by their stipulations? Is it even possible? It seems our government leaders are so afraid of biting the hand that feeds them (losing votes) that they won’t stand up for the principles they used to believe in (the principles for which they were elected). That is the downfall of our government, it’s not republican, it’s not democrat, right, left, liberal, conservative, House, Senate, President…. it’s the lack of leadership (creativity, innovation, courage, CHANGE) from the top, any “top”, all “tops.”
Papyrus: An Endangered Species?
A lot of people have been asking questions about new media. Where is the media as a whole headed? What about the newspaper industry, is it going solely to online? It’s become apparent in our conversations that really, no one knows. They can pretend to know, they can speculate, and they may be right, but no one really knows what’s going to happen.
Especially with the spectrum battle between broadcast and broadband, the industry could go anywhere. Right now most agencies are spreading themselves over both sides, just trying to break even.
You have to ‘fake it til’ you make it,’ whether it’s high up in a corporate powerhouse, or fresh out of college attending your first job interview. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got. You have to make educated guesses and take action in one direction or another without really knowing how it’s going to turn out. And then when something does happen, you may have to turn around quickly and go the other way.
It may not be your insight that makes you an industry leader but rather your ability to follow quickly.
It’s Business Time
When I told people I was a Business major my freshman year of college, I got a lot of strange looks, even some chuckles. “So, you don’t know what you want to do?” or “Figured you’d get the easiest degree they’ve got?” were among some of the snide remarks. But what they didn’t understand was that I wasn’t looking for a way out, I wasn’t looking for a catchall. I was looking for a basic understanding of what drives everything.
If you work at a newspaper, you are producing a product for profit. You’re a paid employee, a part of a hierarchy. You have a boss who has a boss who has a boss. You are a part of a business.
Someone has to understand that business, someone has to run it, and while it may behoove the company to have that person understand the newspaper industry and the role of media, it behooves them even more to have that person understand business, enterprise, cost benefit analysis and economics.
Business is the cornerstone of every organization. Everything is about business, at some point what you do is about money and if you understand that you can understand your role in that company, you can understand the actions of your employer and you can better both yourself and your organization.
Young children always ask “why,” oftentimes to the point of parental frustration. As we grow older we assume that we understand the way things work, and if we don’t understand, we assume that we should. We stop asking “why?”
This is a terrible thing. The “why” question is not only the question that should be at the forefront of every good reporters mind but it should also be at the heart of everything we do.
Whether it’s applying for a job, conducting an interview, or choosing where to go for dinner, there’s a reason and a motive. Find it. The easiest way to do this is to as “why.” And one step beyond that, we must always be prepared to answer “why?”
It’s a question we should never stop asking, both of others and ourselves. Why does my company exist? Why do you want this job? Why should we hire you? Why should I move all my content to online. People are going to ask, and you best be ready with an answer.
Our society is disgustingly afraid of being alone. I’m not talking about the “finding your soul mate” alone, I’m talking about day-to-day, moment-to-moment alone.
Do you ever notice that we can’t ride in a car for 15 minutes without turning the radio on, answering a phone call, sending a text message or talking to the person next to us?
What’s wrong with silence? When did solitude become a curse? What happened to being able to entertain ourselves? It’s disgusting in truth that Facebook will soon appear in your car. Because God forbid that you may have to go on a 3-hour car ride and not be able to update your status.
We see this everywhere, the movie “The Proposal” shows Sandra Bullock, a book publisher, on a weekend getaway. Her phone is taken by an eagle and what happens? She calls and has a new one over-nighted to Sitka, Alaska. That’s absurd. And even more, in 24 hours she had received 37 voicemails.
It truthfully scares me to think what could become of our society? Where is it going to stop? How long until Facebook and iPod are recognized by Microsoft’s dictionary as “real words?” How long until Webster deems “tweet” and “facebook” verbs? Will there ever be silence or solitude again? Or will the muffled noise of our neighbor’s iPod remain the soundtrack of our lives for eternity?
Money Can’t Buy Happiness
No matter what job we have, what car we drive, where we live or how much we make, it’s never going to be enough.
This course led me to the doorstep of some of New York’s finest and much to my surprise I still heard them say things like “there I was circling things in ads that I couldn’t afford,” or “we waste our time looking at things we wish we had.” I was somewhat discouraged to think about how much these people had and how unsatisfied they still were.
At first I lost a little hope, but then something came back to me, the idea that more important than how much you make, or what your job title is, is that you love what you do.
I finally understood. It’s not because you’ll be the best at that and consequently climb the corporate ladder faster, it’s because even if you climb the ladder doing something you love, you’ll still find reasons to be unsatisfied (be it financially or otherwise). Loving what you do is compensation for the fact that you’re never going to make “enough” to not want to make more.
I remember when I was little my dad once told me “there’s always going to be someone better than you.” I don’t remember what he was talking about anymore, it could have been soccer, piano, geometry, or a multitude of other things, but it really doesn’t matter. It sort of applies to all facets of life. If you’re only going to be happy being the best or making the most, you’re never going to be happy.
Find something to put your happiness in that you can control, measure it by means you can attain, not because you want to sell yourself short but because you actually desire to be happy.
Journalism is like Snowboarding
There are a multitude of things in life (reporting being one of them) that by their nature are not difficult tasks. The difficulty lies in the mastery of the art.
Take swimming for example. A 4-year-old can swim but could a toddler hold his own in a race for the Olympic gold? The answer is, “of course not.” They don’t have the stamina. They haven’t been taught. They haven’t practiced enough.
Much like in life, in order to be really good at what you do, you have to practice. Yes, you can be naturally good at something. Good. Remember in 2nd grade when your teachers didn’t want to hurt your feelings with A’s and B’s and F’s so they gave you grades like “satisfactory”, “excellent”, “poor” and “good”? Well… if you don’t recall, “good” wasn’t “good,” it was at best, “mediocre” and mediocre isn’t good enough. It wasn’t in 2nd grade and it isn’t now, nor will it ever be.
No One Gets Lucky Without Being Ready
After our meeting at an advertising agency, I emailed the account executive we talked to and set up a one-on-one the following day. Everyone was really jealous of my “professional meeting” because my subject was rather good looking. I shrugged off his good looks and went straight to the valuable conversation I came for. We talked a lot about agency life, about learning to ask the right questions, about the value of experience and a relatively lengthy list of other things.
We talked for a while and he had some really insightful things to say. I really appreciated the perspective he brought to the table. One thing he said stuck out in my mind was this, “no one gets lucky without being ready.” What he meant was rather simple but quite valid: essentially if you meet the right person at the right time (say the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in a bar downtown) and he thinks you’re great, he’ll go to HR and say “I want this kid, she’s something else” and when HR looks at your rap sheet and finds nothing more than “oh cool, they go to college,” you’re gone. It doesn’t matter if you met the President of the United States, you aren’t going to catch a lucky break if you don’t have your ducks in a row.
Are you ready for your lucky break?
You Can’t Not Communicate
Last but certainly not least, after a month of media saturation and corporate conversation I’ve learned one thing that I think is far more valuable than the rest. Communication is everywhere. We cannot escape it. Whether it’s in the form of a press release, an advertisement, a news article, a Facebook post, a tweet, a sign on a street corner or a song on the radio, we are surrounded by communication.
On the flip side, whatever you do, you communicate. Positive or negative, you are sending a message, whether by your presence by your posture or by your proclamations.
We must be careful of what we “say,” and in order to do that we must first be aware of the fact that we are always “saying” something.
In this culture, more than ever, it’s important to be able to send a message: an accurate, consistent, concise message. That ability alone will put you leaps and bounds above the competition.
I hope you have enjoyed the tidbits of information I managed to gather from my world travels. I hope you found it applicable to your life, and I hope you continue to find it useful as you proceed whichever direction you feel called.
Remember that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from everyone. Keep your eyes and ears open as to not miss what this world has to offer. And bear in mind that it may not be perfect place and it’s certainly full of imperfect people but it has perfect opportunities and outstanding potential. Go find it.