5 Brutally Honest Hacks To Start A Media Career
This post originally appeared here on the Forbes Under 30 Network blog.
Now is an excellent time to start a career in media.
Much of what I do at Slant is support emerging writers, photographers, and videographers as they launch careers in digital journalism and build their online audiences. Naturally they have worries. Sometimes these worries are intensified by older advisers saying scary things about the industry, even though it’s actually a promising time for young people.
Sure, entry-level jobs at print publications are becoming fewer and farther between. Even the big online publishers can only hire so many full-time staffers. But for the social media-savvy, there’s a world of opportunity for those who play their cards right.
So here’s what I would do if I were you:
1. Become a social media master
Maybe this says more about my school than anything else, but there was this idea in college, especially among the students who were interested in writing, that social media was somehow distasteful. If you want to go into media, this attitude is crippling.
Social media is the only advantage you have over pros who’ve spent years telling stories and building up personal brands. Luckily for you, audiences on social media are pretty much author agnostic and platform agnostic. Learn to create highly interesting and digestible work, and how to disseminate it yourself on various social channels, especially Facebook.
2. Be your own distribution system
Build up your social accounts to the point where you can guarantee that any piece of content you create will reach a wide audience. If you have a large personal following, a lot more platforms and publishers will be interested in your work, since they’re chasing traffic.
I don’t mean to sound cynical or to suggest that traffic is all publishers want. No, publishers are looking for great storytelling and unique voices, but there are a lot of smart people out there who meet those qualifications. Personal access to distribution will set you apart.
3. Learn everything you can about video
Have you been seeing lots of video on your Facebook feed? Facebook is trying to compete with YouTube (owned by Google) and if you think about it, cable television too. So strike while the iron is hot: learn video and deliver what’s most in demand.
On the other hand, no one skill will stay in demand forever. The industry is shifting quickly, and it’s your job to keep track of it. Stay adaptable and always be willing to learn new skills.
4. Get paid for your work
Let’s say you do work for free for Company X. Later you want Company X to start paying for your work, but it’s probably no dice if you started working for free, valuing your labor at 0. Why would you pay for something that you can get for free?
There’s an explosion of creators giving away content for free, which throws off supply and demand for the entire market. That being said, not everything is worth money. No one is obligated to buy your work and pay you for it. You have to deliver the value that makes your work worth paying for, in terms of quality (as determined by the needs and desires of the buyer) and access to distribution.
5. Don’t be afraid to take risks
If you can see a better way to do things, do it. If you see a gap in the market for something you’re interested in making, go make it. Never assume that something is a bad idea just because it’s not out there already. You’re as capable of having good ideas as anyone else.
But if your idea doesn’t pan out, that’s okay too. Smart, hardworking people get many chances to reinvent themselves. Just don’t do anything illegal or permanently screw up your finances.
Be willing to take risks with your content. Your personal story is one of your most valuable assets, so learn to tell it in an authentic and interesting way. Put your opinions out there. Yes, both you and your opinions will change, but don’t let that stop you from expressing them as they are in this moment. Take comfort in the fact that the internet has a short memory.