Is the media industry too insular for its own good?

“The auto companies are historically insular, which is a big part of the reason they’ve stumbled so badly,” wrote Joe Nocera in the 5/23/09 New York Times, pg. 5. “Bill Ford, the previous CEO had spent his life in the family business; he new some of these things needed to be done, but he could never bring himself to pull the trigger.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/business/23nocera.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=ford’s%20cheerleader&st=cse

I’ve been thinking this exact concept about the media/publishing industry for a few years. We are at crucial juncture of enormous change in consumer demand and the advertising-supported business model. Business-school basics tell us that today’s giants literally can’t change gears to tear themselves apart and build models for new realities.

Part of this reality in media, I believe, is due to not bringing in enough new talent from other industries. We think this industry so different from others that we shun the idea altogether. Instead, we could learn so much from how other industries approach and solve similar problems.

What are some examples that you think fit?

Also, media companies historically are not big recruiters at MBA programs. In the late 1990s I applied to and visited three top-ranked MBA programs at universities with top-ranked j-schools: Northwestern, NYU and Columbia. Each time I asked about media companies that recruit, and each responded with a blank stare. This was particularly dumbfounding at NYU, where Condé Nast’s then-CEO, Steven Florio, got his MBA.

That’s because companies tend to put too much focus on having experience in the industry. Not that we want everyone in the company to have zero industry experience, but a healthy balance is needed to avoid groupthink.

Here is a review of execs from select media/news companies, based on the companies’ websites. It’s a work in progress that I will continue to update. The evidence so far suggests minimal outside experience.

New York Times Company (5/26/2009)
* Chairman/Publisher: Arthur Sulzberger – No outside experience listed; Poly sci undergrad, Management program-Harvard
* President/CEO: Janet Robinson – School teacher before 1983; English undergrad, Management program-Dartmouth
* Vice Chairman/President/COO: No outside experience listed; Undergrad major unknown, MA in English-Lehigh, MA in journalism-Missouri, MBA-Emory
* Sr VP/CFO: James Follo – CPA firm before 1994; Accounting undergrad, CPA
* Sr VP Corp Dev: James Lessersohn – No outside experience listed; Government undergrad, MBA-Harvard
* Sr VP Corp Communications: Catherine Mathis – Shipholding and paper companies before 1997; Business undergrad, MBA-Minnesota
* Sr VP Digital Ops: Martin Nisenholtz – Content and advertising roles for telecom and advertising before 1995; Psych undergrad, MA in communication-UPenn

Gannett

Tribune (6/1/2009)
* Chairman, President, CEO: Sam Zell – Real estate scion; Undergrad major unknown, JD-Michigan
* COO: Randy Michaels – Broadcast TV and Radio prior to 2007; Undergrad major unknown
* Exec VP, Chief Admin Office: Gerald Spector – Real estate prior to 2007; Business undergrad
* SVP, Chief Innovation Office: Lee Abrams – Radio prior to 2008; Undergrad unknown
* CFO: Chandler Bigelow – Investor relations prior to 1998; Undergrad major unknown; MBA-Wisconsin
* Pres/Tribune Interactive: Marc Chase – Gov’t, eBay and radio prior to 2008;Undergrad unknown
* EVP, General Counsel: Don Liebentritt – Real estate prior to 2008; Undergrad unknown, JD-Chicago
* SVP Corp Relations: Gary Weitman – PR and broadcast journalism prior to 2008; History undergrad, MA in journalism-Northwestern
* Pres/Tribune Broadcasting: Ed Wilson – No outside experience listed; Undergrad major unknown

McClatchy

Dow Jones

Time Inc.

Hearst

Meredith

Penton

Advanstar

Losing or lost your job?

Losing your job is probably not on your wish list, especially in 2009, when finding a replacement is relatively tough. Make the best of the situation, find the silver lining. Based on my experience – my position was eliminated in September 2008, and I started my new job in February 2009 – here is an approach for handling the situation. Stay tuned for updates.

1. Most likely it’s not your fault – or the fault of your spouse, child, parent, etc. who lost the job. Don’t blame yourself or that person for the situation you’re facing. I know (of) people at every kind of organization getting notice: public, private, for-profit, non-profit, big, small. Focus on what you can control and what’s good in your life.

2. Send an email to everyone you know, telling them what happened and what you’re looking to do. You might need a few days for gathering your thoughts. The most unexpected contacts can be helpful, and don’t discount anything. My realtor pointed me to her son-in-law, a recruiter who told me some truth about working with recruiters in different industries. Invaluable and totally unexpected.

3. Brace for impact. This could be a long haul. Talk with your spouse, etc. about significant life changes you might need to make. You should be optimistic but also realistic and pragmatic about the number of months you could be out of work. My wife had been on maternity leave for the school year but suggested returning early, and luckily she could. Consider pulling young kids out of daycare or at least cutting back the hours significantly. This saves tons of money and provides (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most working parents to be with little ones more than breakfast and/or dinner. I loved getting to know my kids’ friends’ parents and teachers; providing my wife extra freedom around her job as long as I was home; and participating in daytime programs I never would have attended while working.

4. Get your network in order and keep it going. LinkedIn is amazing for research. You need to learn as much about the industries and organizations where you want to work. Focus your attention.

5. Plan for major reset of salary and title expectations. A college friend told me not to get hung up about a possible pay cut. She presciently said every company would or should be looking to cut salaries 10%. Focus on feeling good about your contribution to your employer, your growth and, if you have one, your family.

6. Spend your time wisely. Spending eight hours a day online will not get you a job right now. Focus on 1-3 industries where your background is highly or obviously transferrable. Network like crazy into companies that post openings or where you want to work. Join industry associations, and attend events during the day and at night. It’s still all about who knows whom. Don’t know how to do this? Then ask one of those people who keeps offering to help. Get out of the house to see and meet people in person – but at more than “networking” and career events.

7. Spend your time wisely, part two. I regret not volunteering right away, figuring I’d find a job within a few weeks. Other than pitching in a bit at my son’s school, I was a louse. Volunteering is a way not only to feel good by helping organizations and people (including others who are in transition), but also to meet people who could have valuable insights or job leads for you. Maybe find one place that seems like a natural fit for your interests and background, and one that would expand your horizons. Focus on a strength and an unknown.

8. Spend your time wisely, part three. You might not ever have this much time again to work on you. The library offers a treasure chest of freebies to catch up on classic books, new hobbies and movies. On that note, though, for a few bucks a month, it’s worth joining Blockbuster or Netflix to watch even one movie a week. I blew this one. Focus on the inner you.

9. Spend your time wisely, part four. Since not having the time is no longer a remotely valid excuse, exercise more or start exercising. I suggest going in the morning. You feel better all day and only have to shower once.

10. Look at non-traditional employment: contract, temporary and part-time. Hiring companies find these arrangements less risky and good avenues to test potential permanent candidates. Some pay as much as you might have made full-time but without any benefits or so-called security/perks. Many firms in this space are focused on job functions or vertical industries so pick a few that match your background.

11. Print business cards, as suggested by a fellow Missouri alum when we had lunch shortly after I was out of work. These are cheap way to market yourself and feel good about presenting yourself in print. Vistaprint.com is an excellent source; I suggest paying the small fee to avoid having their logo on the back of each card.

12. Create a website that is just about your career, also suggested by the Mizzou colleague. This is an opportunity to learn a new skill and to tell potential employers a deeper story – about what you offer – than your resume or LinkedIn profile. See mine as an example.

13. Subscribe to TheLadders.com if you’re qualified for $100k+ jobs. In addition to searching for high-quality opportunities, you’ll be accessible to recruiters and hiring managers. Also, the daily emails have among the most useful job-hunting info available anywhere. There’s a monthly option, but consider saving some dough with the three-month subscription (or longer). Do not pay to join employmentcrossings.com or any of its affiliates; the job postings are redundant from many other places and therefore not worth the cost.

Comment on The Newspaper Biz: ‘More Poison, Please’?

Eric Alterman has a great conclusion: It’s painful to admit, but admit it we must: we have no more hope today of saving the “newspaper business” than we do the “telegraph business.” What is needed–pronto–is a plan to save the collection and dissemination of the news itself.

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090511/alterman