Creative destruction in the media industries: Adam Carr on the fall and rise of New York media

The New York Times‘ media writer, Adam Carr, has a great column in the Times about the “fall and rise” of Manhattan’s once-great media empires, like Conde Nast and the Times itself.

Beginning with a parable of the golden olden days of media work, he points out that the new landscape emerging is flatter, more diverse, riskier and more opportunistic:

Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers.

Beyond that, all it took to find a place to stand on a very crowded island, as E. B. White suggested, was a willingness to be lucky. Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in.

As we all know, those times are over.

Earlier in November, the New York comptroller said that employment in communications in New York had lost 60,000 jobs since 2000, a year when the media industry here seemed at the height of its powers.

I arrived in New York that same year as part of Inside.com, a digital news site conceived to cover a media space that was converging and morphing into something wholly new. The site covered the mainstream media’s efforts to come to grips with new realities and efforts by new players to cash in on emerging technology.

Few of us could have conceived that in the next decade some of the reigning titans of media would be routed.

But Carr sees an emerging upside in the entrepreneurial talents of younger writers and communicators unburdened by the expectations and responsibilities of past majesties and dead business models:

For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

I’m not sure where the new jobs in media will come from; they won’t surely won’t come from “new media” as it is often described. But Carr is on to something when he points out that the very uncertainty of the current downturn also creates new opportunities for those smart, nimble and lucky enough to create new models for monetising writing, communication and news.

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