Who is changing the media game?

I give up.  Who is it?  The Huffington Post is asking this question and we get to vote on the nominees.  I hardly think of anyone making traditional media moves as a game-changer.  I’m learning towards the folks at The Atlantic for “treating its website as an extension of the brand.”  I’d like to see every traditional media business adopt this way of doing things.  Print and broadcast can benefit from evolving onto the web and finding new and non-traditional ways of creating revenue.

Who are the game changers in the media?  People like Gary Vaynerchuk?  How about Pam Slim?  I like people like Shira Lazar and iJustine.  All of these people have done something unique by combining their personal brand with several forms of media.  You can’t just be in one kind of media anymore–you have to expand.  I can’t just do radio and expect to survive.  I love radio, but I also want to change it.  The old models don’t work.  So who’s coming up with the new business model?  Who do you think the game game-changers are?

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An honest mistake in a changing celebrity news landscape

This Q&A with John Mayer by New York Magazine’s pop culture “Vulture” was pretty dang funny, to say the least.  I only happened upon it after one of my Twitter followers sent out a tweet that Mayer had threatened to sodomize female journalists.  As both a fan of Mayer and as a radio professional who has played his records since the beginning, I had to click on the link in her tweet.  As I started to read the Q&A with Mayer, I began to realize the joke, but my Twitter friend hadn’t and instead was upset with Mayer.  She had taken his words literally when he said, “I’m going to forcefully sodomize your editor.”

Here’s what might have happened.

An editor gave her writer questions to ask Mayer that were absurd.  But how absurd are they really?  In an age when what we post online is driven by page views and how much audience we can gain, the NY editor didn’t really make a mistake here.  The Q&A has me blogging about it and, earlier in the week, my twitter pal was up in arms about it.  So that’s two people driving traffic to the NY Mag site.

It seems to me like the editor thought she may get Mayer to say something controversial and newsworthy about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The questions asked seemed like attempts to snag something newsworthy to drive traffic to the site by asking serious questions.  We see TMZ.com do it all the time in their videos.  But the plan doesn’t always work when you ask a celeb a question like this.  Usually, they have no opinion or nothing newsworthy to say.

C’mon, editors, like you’re really going to get well-coached stars to say something to give you a hot story?  Mayer would rather say something smart ass about sodomizing you than take a Nobel question seriously.  He’s got a record to promote, so he’s not going to say anything to piss off his red state or blue state fans.  To me, this just seemed like an attempt to compete with TMZ gone wrong.

We’ve hit the saturation point with celebrity news and gossip.  How are we going to do it differently?

By not falling victims to trends or by copying what everyone else is doing.  But there’s also one vital thing to do.  If you’re going to cover celebrity news for a living, it doesn’t stop  when your 40 hours a week are up in the newsroom.  You don’t walk up to Mayer and ask him dumb questions like he’s a stranger you have no respect for.  Do your research.  And when I say “research,” Google doesn’t count.

You have to live this stuff.

You lifestyle has to be celebrity/entertainment news 24/7/365.  You can’t miss a thing.  Mayer fans know he’s a smart ass with dry, sarcastic, rude humor.  The fans also know he loves to liberally dish out his unique humor to journalists.  The editor and her writer would have known this if they’d been fans, or had at least watched Mayer on some TMZ videos verbally sparring with paparazzi and journalists.  The guy’s current single is about, “who says I can’t?”  Well, what do you think you’re going to get when you hit him up with your tape recorder at a party or on a red carpet?  Who says I can’t smart-ass this journalist chick who didn’t do her homework on me?

I’ve got clients to serve who want news on Mayer’s new album.  I’m not going to waste 2 minutes with him by asking him lame questions.  Tell me about “Battle Studies.”  (She did at least ask about that after asking a bunch of questions that annoyed him.  Way to go to build rapport…)

You never know where a conversation will go anyway.

I talked to Mike Kennerty of the All-American Rejects last week about how the band was getting back on the road after Tyson Ritter had emergency knee surgery.  Somehow we got to talking about a few different subjects, which was really cool and unexpected.  It wasn’t an exclusive; a lot of us got to do press over the phone with members of the band.  So we all had the story about them going back on tour.  But I know I got a couple of other tidbits out of him that will be exclusive to my Westwood One clients only.

I get what I get from people by doing my own thing and not trying to be like everyone else out there.  I treat artists with respect.  In Kennerty’s case, he was calling from London on a day off.  How would you like a bunch of strangers asking you questions for a few hours on end on your “day off?”  Exactly.  This is why you get so much more as a journalist just by being cool with people.

Anyone can put up a blog and start trying to compete with TMZ or Perez Hilton or whomever in online celebrity news and gossip you idolize.  Some of us were doing celeb news before it grew to what is currently is online, which is a massive echo-chamber.  I did it in radio first and I still do it for radio.

How do you do entertainment news today and stand out from the crowd?  How do you not fall victim to the echo chamber trap?  How can you do music news and still compete with countless blogs all writing about the same thing at the same time?  Should we even call it “news” any more?

Disclosure: I am a “New York” magazine subscriber and long-time fan of the online site.  Opinions expressed on this blog do not reflect that of any of my various employers.  I have also bought every John Mayer album I’ve ever had.

Gone are the days of having a “comfort zone”

This is why I stopped freelancing nearly two years ago.  I wanted a “comfort zone” and was driven by a boyfriend-at-the-time to “get a real job” that was “steady” that I could “depend on.”  It was a nice idea at the time and it’s just what I did.  I don’t think such a thing exists anymore and it is something I never believed in anyway.  The reason why I was freelancing to begin with was because I felt to my core that you can’t depend on anyone but yourself to make a living.  I have also worked in radio broadcasting for 11 years now, which is an unpredictable industry to say the least.  I was used to the idea of always having a resume ready to go.

Two years later and single, my core beliefs have been proven right on once again.  The economy is much different than it was then, and in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.  I knew then you couldn’t depend on “father employer” to always provide for you, and today we all see why that is.  When Westwood One told us about our pay cut/furloughs at the end of September, I realized you can no longer depend 100% on a full-time job for income.  Since we got the news, I started talking to friends whose furloughs and pay cuts are more severe than mine, and also to friends who’ve been out of work for over a year now.

The only thing I can conclude from this experience is that every one of us must learn to provide for ourselves.  Here’s what I’m thinking…

My full-time, 40-hours-per-week job no longer pays my bills.  At least, not for the next three months and even after these three tight months are past, it still doesn’t help me meet my financial goals.  However, it does have some benefits I won’t get in freelancing like a paycheck every two weeks.  I do know I will at least get some kind of check every two weeks, no matter how small.

I also get health insurance for a dirt cheap monthly fee.  While I do still get stiffed with a lot of health bills I can’t afford on my salary, I know it could be much worse.  I’ve been there, done that in the days of providing my own health insurance.  I don’t even want to know what that would cost me today.  I am guessing at least $300 a month with expensive copays and prescriptions on top of that.

Another benefit of a full-time job, even if I don’t make full-time pay is sick and vacation time.  If I’m running a fever, I can call in sick, unlike in freelancing where a deadline is a deadline.  I do also have paid vacation time.  It’s so hard to take a vacation or sick day when you are your own boss.  If I am too sick to leave my home, I can call in sick to my full-time job but I’ll still have to turn in my freelance work.  Hey, at least I won’t have to do both.

Having a full-time job also gets me out of the house  five days a week, which is also a plus.  I get to interact with coworkers and learn from them, which is something I don’t get working alone at home. Freelancing interaction for me in 2006-2008 was limited to email, phone, Skype, MySpace, and Twitter.  I spent next to nothing on gas, but I think I also ended up out of touch without all those great “water cooler” chats I have now with coworkers.

So those are all the great things about having a full-time job.  You get sick time, vacation time, a paycheck every two weeks, cheaper health benefits than one can provide oneself, and a sense of community.  Not to mention how good it looks on the resume as you seek jobs.  The best time to get a job is when you already have a job.  I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true.

But when the rent doesn’t get paid…it’s not so fun anymore.  This brings me to the entire point of this post:

Don’t depend on an employer to be your everything in 2009 and beyond!

We have got to be moonlighting on the side, whether it is by selling crafts, cleaning houses, DJ’ing weddings, or walking dogs.  I just don’t see being able to get by on one income anymore like our employers are some kind of gods meant to provide for us.  Being in such a comfort zone is a mistake.

I plan to treat my full-time job as my main source of income and benefits–but not as my only source of income and benefits.  To me now, it’s like just another freelance gig to juggle; the income from it can go away at any time.  When I juggled several freelance gigs, I knew this.  When one gig went away, it didn’t make me sad or angry.  I just moved on to the next gig.

So I can continue to be bitter and angry at my employer for cutting my pay, or I can move on to the next gig.  I think I can accept what I’ve known for years in my gut–that only I can create my income by using my unique talents and ideas to find meaningful work I enjoy that pays the bills.

I am looking for freelance writing gigs as I re-brand myself

I am on a furlough day today.  After catching up on “The Office” and “Community” on Hulu.com this morning, my attention naturally drifted towards searching the Internet for freelance writing gigs.  As a full-time entertainment news writer suffering a severe pay cut, I feel the need to support my writing habit with…more writing jobs.

So I begin a serious search for gigs once again for the first time in nearly two years.  I honestly don’t remember where I found the good gigs before.  Some quick searches today showed me that ads online for gigs haven’t changed much in two years.  I used to apply for any and every appealing gig I saw–and took every single one I was offered.  I had to; freelancing was my primary income.  I would like my freelance income to supplement my main income today, as I do have a full-time job and therefore not as much time to freelance.

Branding

The other thing I want to accomplish with freelancing now that I didn’t think about before is personal branding.  Each gig I take now is an opportunity to increase my personal brand.  I can write about anything.  Freelance writers are generalists and being able to write about any and every subject assigned to you is survival.  But there are a few things I am really good at like music news, entertainment news, podcasting, being a radio personality, writing for the web, national news, and anything pop culture.  Actually, increasing my pop culture brand is the best thing I can do right now.

My Brand: Pop Culture

I think that’s a good goal above all else: increase my brand as a pop culture writer/content provider. Because I can create pop culture content for the web, print, and broadcast.  I hope you’ll join me as I blog about my career recreation right now.  Is it a recreation?  A makeover?  A re-branding?  I am not sure which word applies best to what I am trying to do.  I guess we’ll see as time goes on how this evolves…

A new, improved “about me” page

I just shut down the $9/month Godaddy website tonight account for WriterHeather.com.  You know what?  It’s not a big deal. I already moved my “about me” page here to this blog.  I think I like it much better.  Everyone who is out of work right now or looking for extra work can easily put up a resume and about me page on WordPress and start blogging about their area of expertise.

On a furlough.

To make a very long story very short, my “furlough” at work is a two-week decrease in pay without actually being two weeks off.  So I’m now faced with restarting my freelance writing business with absolutely no money at my disposal to invest in it.  When I started freelancing from home in 2006, I did it on a rock n’ roll budget, well–for a first-time freelancer anyway.  Today, I kick it off on a country song budget with Jennifer Nettles’ voice in my head on repeat singing, “Livin’ on a shoestring…”

So I’m pretty sure I’m closing down my WriterHeather.com and moving its contents elsewhere before I send out a single query or resume.  I’m uploading clips to my Media Bistro profile and it will likely make a functional “ground zero” for me at this point.  This blog, as well as EverythingHeather.wordpress.com will also be good tools in my war chest right now.  It cuts my expenses by about $9/month to close WriterHeather.com, which is no big deal as I was about to redo the site anyway.  Plus, now I need that $9 to buy new business cards!  That’s what a small amount from Overnightprints.com costs.

I’m trying to show you how easy and cheap it is to start freelancing from home since I know so many people are in the same boat right now.  Media Bistro is something I pay $50/year for, but it has so many benefits for that price that I think it’s worth it.

Money is one thing, but time is another.  It takes time to start freelancing more than it takes anything else.  I’m finishing up my 15th Boston University class right now, which means I have two papers left to turn in and one of them is actually my final project.  I’m also moving.  (The second time I have been in the process of moving while working on a final!)  I’m also still required to show up to my full-time job every day at Westwood One Metro Source, where I’m a broadcast entertainment news writer.  And you know I’ll drop everything to fill in on the air at my radio station, 98.7 The Peak, if anyone needs some time off.

So if I can do it, you can do it.  And you’re probably even busier than me.