There is no real precedent for what’s happening to media right now. I graduated college a mere seven years ago and already, the sports media landscape into which I was thrillingly thrust has changed so dramatically that even I sometimes have a hard time keeping up.
Imagine what it’s doing to those who have never not been in control of the industry: white men in their early 40’s and beyond. To be 40 years old and a person of a certain color and gender in sports media once signaled the beginning of the golden years – the years in which nearly two decades of experience doubled as automatic proof that someone knew what they were doing – and more specifically, that they knew better than anyone else.
In 2017, they’re increasingly less qualified to be making the big decisions. Yet they still have the kind of access, power, prestige and benefit of the doubt that their predecessors have enjoyed since the earliest days of sports writing.
In the age of the internet on smart phones, Twitter, Instagram and instant score updates – and the death of highlight shows, locker room reporting and revered Sunday columnists – a person has to have done a lot more than just graduate from Northwestern or Syracuse and the climb ranks of a newsroom in order to successfully run a flailing television network or media company.
The problem is that no one has figured this out yet – or more likely, they are unwilling to accept it. The industry has been overtaken by gifs, memes and athletes who essentially control their own public narratives – rendering newspapers, daily beat reporters and SportsCenter nearly obsolete. The relationship between the consumer and the sports and the superstars is intimate in a way it’s never been before, but we’re still seeing network executives institute plans to build their entire network and digital brand around a bunch of middle-aged men and their opinions.
The digital space is currently dominated by late 20’s and early 30-somethings who not only grew up with the internet, but also with far greater social awareness and empathy. We were raised in a post-Anita Hill world where we actually talk about sexual harassment and discrimination of women in the workplace. A world where many of the best and most respected sports writers are black. A world where female athletes – Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Marta, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, Lindsay Vonn, Danica Patrick, Ronda Rousey – are more popular and influential in their sport than most of their male counterparts. A world where Robin Roberts is easily one of the most respected people of any race or gender that has ever done sports television.
This isn’t a middle-aged white man’s game anymore, and unless networks and major media companies begin to recognize that the people in power have to look like the people they’re covering, managing and creating content for, they’re going to continue to fail.
Millennials of all colors and genders are the future of every industry, because that’s the nature of generational shifts. But media, particularly sports media, is unique because the industry really can’t wait for the future to arrive before they start putting us in charge. What worked even two years ago doesn’t work anymore, so unfortunately for many fantastic people, their decades of experience simply doesn’t mean what it used to.
Many of those who are equipped with the answers and the ideas are the ones who arrived in the work force while all of this was happening, and who have learned how to navigate the instability and constantly adjust. The point being: you can’t do this without us.
If you want your company or your network to succeed, keep every smart, hardworking, honest employee of integrity who is genuinely interested in finding out what works rather than stubbornly adhering to a philosophy that’s no longer viable. There are some old school media principles that have a place in this new frontier, and talent from every era and concentration of the business can contribute to a successful model. Whether those employees are 25 or 65 years old, men or women – and with no consideration given to skin color – keep those people.
Then hire millennials, women and minorities and put us into us into as many positions of power as you possibly can, alongside those who are older and have more life and career experience. Don’t just have us just produce, talk and write at the behest of our superiors. Do those things when appropriate of course, but also have us in business meetings and at round tables and making decisions. Give us titles and creative control.
Do the best thing for yourselves and let us help you run the show. In ten years we will be doing it anyway. You might as well get a head start.