Last month, one of the most powerful people to sit at the old-media/new-media junction, New York Times social media editor Liz Heron, told a crowd that her job probably wouldn’t exist in 5 years. Her rationale, though, was solid and hopeful, according to Nieman Journalism Lab’s account of the presentation:
That’s “not because social media will die out or fade,” Heron noted. Quite the opposite. We’re in a moment of disruption right now — social media may be slowly transforming some formerly standard newsroom practices (and formerly standard newsroom assumptions), but, for all their impact, they’re not universal. Twitter and Facebook and social news in general are still things that need to be learned — and, within the newsroom, advocated for.
But Heron’s truth goes beyond just her job, and beyond just the New York Times. The jobs held by just about everyone in the communications world will be extinct in 5 years. It used to be that job titles said something important. If a business card said “editor,” you knew the person edited. If it said “account manager,” they managed accounts. “Reporters” reported. “Art directors” directed art. And so on.
But the last few years have destroyed the idea that titles mean anything. Writers are also producing for the web, which can include not only wordsmithing, but coding, video production and marketing (stories don’t read themselves anymore). I have colleagues that are analyzing web traffic one day and networking with advocates the next and scrutinizing creative the day after that. The phrases on their business cards are meaningless.
Of course, the explosion of new ways to communicate has created ambiguity, too, making it easy to bamboozle and creating an army of buzzword-spouting people calling themselves “ninjas” (8,000+ on LinkedIn) or “gurus” (100,000+) or less flashy but equally opaque titles. It’s easy to judge a writer: just look at their writing. But what’s the standard for successful ninja-ing?
My hope is that the ninja/guru era is over and — like Heron — we’ll get increasingly comfortable with jobs that don’t fit neatly into boxes but that do rely on definable skill sets. We need editors like Heron (now, more than ever). We need people who conduct web usability testing. We need folks who can shoot video. And we need people* with a thousand other skills. It’s my hope that that means we’re moving into an era in which we’re less interested in inventing titles and more interested in assessing actual skills. If you can describe those skills, there’s a place for you in integrated marketing no matter what your title is. Otherwise, you can do what gurus have traditional done: go sit alone on a mountaintop.
* And when I say “need people,” I mean that quite literally. Here’s our list of open jobs. I’d love to have you aboard. Unless you’re a ninja.