It’s about people, stupid

With apologies to my readers, the title was a reference to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign when George Bush denied that there was any problem with the economy. No direct insult intended.

In 1998, I was leaving a 10-year job as a book and magazine editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association in Idaho. The tradition there was that when you left after being there a while, they threw you a party at morning assembly. When all was said and done, you got a chance to say something about how things were run at the Press.

When it came my turn, I racked my brain, trying to decide what was most important to draw to fellow workers–and management’s–attention. And all I could come up with was to remind them that, “It’s all about people.”

Because that’s really the bottom line. Writers write to be read, but what they write has to meet the need or desire of their audience. And to do that, they need to know the people they are writing for.

All of this came back to my mind last week when I was in Denver at meetings for the Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC). Everyone in journalism is of course talking about where things are going. With newspapers laying off people and dailies folding, will there be jobs for my students when they graduate? Well, the answer, thankfully, is yes. The hitch is that they won’t be where they used to be, and in many cases, we can’t even predict where they will be. But the world will always need writers.

And the good ones–the ones that survive–will learn to build a community around them. That’s one of the buzz words this year at AEJMC: community. No longer can you set yourself up as an information source and just wait for readers to come to you. Now you have to go find them. The new mantra is: If it is important enough, it will find me.

This is a concept I am being challenged to wrap my mind around. And the implications in publishing, in journalism, in broadcasting, in entertainment are pretty profound.

One of the presenters last week made the observation, “It’s gone back to shoe leather journalism. You have to get out there and beat the bushes, find out what’s happening, build your infrastructure. It’s come full circle.”

That’s important for me, not only as a journalism professor, but as an author. And just someone who likes people.