Same skills, new package: Keeping your balance on a shifting media landscape

Same skills, new package: Keeping your balance on a shifting media landscape

Now on to an issue that’s as broad as it is important: The shifting media landscape and what to do about it. 

I don’t need to tell any of you about the depth and breadth of changes that have overtaken print, and to some degree, broadcast communications. But I’m going to establish a baseline. 

It’s true that making a decent living as an outdoor communicator alone has gone from tough but doable to akin to playing in the NBA. It’s true many of the media outlets that were once our bread and butter have gone from paying less for stories to fighting for their very existence. It’s true being a skilled writer or photographer was once enough, but is now just one of a set of skills necessary to be broadly marketable. 

So have we reached the end of an era? Should we hang up our spurs and wait for the world to come to its senses? 

The answers are yes and no, respectively. First, the old way isn’t ever coming back. Second, quitting is a moot point because many HOW members have buckled down and started adapting to continue practicing the craft they love – regardless of pay or prospects of celebrity. 

The point is we’re in a period of transition and it’s time to retool. Now is the time to hone skills that are universally valuable and learn new ones that are important for succeeding today. I’ve got three specific suggestions, but before I pontificate I need to make a disclaimer. 

Unlike a decade (or more) ago when one of a few strategies (if executed successfully) represented an attainable path to widespread publication, the current media situation isn’t nearly as clear cut. Today there are a few ways to make a reasonable wage and expand your readership/viewership. There are also numerous ways to expend a lot of effort, get paid poorly if at all, and not gain much of anything. This is the nature of an environment in flux. For an eager and motivated outdoor communicator, opportunities and pitfalls abound. 

Following are three strategies that don’t ensure a golden ticket, but are necessary to compete in the modern media landscape. If you channel your passion for the sporting lifestyle in these directions I  can’t guarantee fame and fortune, but I’m confident you’ll find an audience. 

1. Build a website: A website is absolutely key to being taken seriously as a professional communicator. It should feature your work as well as limited information about you. There’s little need to learn to hard code a website or pay someone to set it up for you. 

For example, platforms such as WordPress (some study required) and tumblr (really easy) are both acceptable for establishing a presence on the web. These options are free or cheap and easily customizable. The best thing about building a website is that unlike amateur gunsmithing, you can’t do any harm that can’t be undone. Be patient and experiment until you establish a home on the web that represents your brand and values. 

2. Get involved in social media: At this point “social media” is a misnomer. By the numbers alone, social media is just media. Make an effort to sign up for different platforms and stick with the one(s) you like best. Facebook is the obvious choice, but consider branching out. Twitter is much like curating an AP feed you can contribute to – pretty exciting for traditional news junkies. For the photographers among us, Instagram favors the visually oriented and maintains a vibrant community. 

Don’t get caught up in agonizing over proper social media procedures. Consistently post about your interests and interact when reasonable. The rest will take care of itself. 

3. Value your work: Regardless of the publication platform, you have to assign value to your work. Giving away your copy, images or expertise establishes a value of zero for your efforts. Do some research as well as critical thinking and decide your rates based on what you have to offer. Negotiate as necessary, but keep in mind that no one but you is going to advocate on your behalf. This is one principle no amount of technological advancement will change.

Originally published in The Blade

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