This weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of watching our daughter and five high school classmates perform in a play entitled “On the Verge; or, The Geography of Yearning,” by Eric Overmyer. The play’s plot deals with the travels of three female explorers who depart in 1888, traveling together to an unnamed land in the Southern Hemisphere they allude to as “Terra Incognita.” The play deals with their exploration and personal transformations as they travel.
Ultimately, they wind up in a very different world, having come to some personal epiphanies and the realization that they must come to terms with what has been afforded them on the journey. Experiences of change have given them the chance to choose how they will deal with new realities that are very far from their point of departure.
Without giving away the plot further, I will only say that the play had resonance for me as a metaphor for my colleagues being affected by change in the current media landscape.
We are being confronted with the full power of destabilizing changes that began with the arrival of cable television and the personal computer in the mid-1970′s. These disruptors of the media landscape helped hasten the end of media company positions of relative geographic “choice scarcity. Limited television outlets and limited daily newspaper competition in given markets in the 1950′s, 1960′s, and 1970′s meant that advertisers were paying maximum rates to reach consumers and that consumers had to be content with the information choices provided by these media outlets. It also meant that media companies could scale in ways that did not require continuous rethinking of employment levels and cost structures supporting content creation, production workflow, and content distribution through limited channels.
Since the early 1980′s, the “economics of scarcity” have given way steadily to a new world where the old business models no longer suffice to fund journalism activity as practiced by mainstream media companies in the heyday of their profitability. The massive “creative destruction” of disrupted business models has forced many journalists out of their organizations and placed them in a position to necessarily reconsider their own career choices as media companies struggle simultaneously to “rightsize” with steadily declining revenues. Compounding those woes has been the splintering of audience attention, fueled by a plethora of technological device choices, and also by the perception of steadily shrinking available leisure time to acquire journalism-supplied information.
Therein lies the challenge of being “on the verge” for individual journalists. Can one view displacement/disruption as an immense opportunity for reinvention; a change that propels one to a second or third career life as a contributor to a larger, more profound endeavor, or does displacement cause paralysis in the face of an insistent, relentless “future” that has already arrived, demanding that we accommodate to its presence and consequences?
The choice of how to adjust is within each of us, and I suspect it depends greatly on whether or not we can frame change as a necessary accommodation that holds within its mystery more seeds of opportunity than misfortune. Maintaining optimism in the face of turbulence, and surrounding yourself with fellow travelers excited to be on the same journey of self-discovery and self-actualization may be the best way forward. Good luck with the journey. Try to see one of the points of being “On the Verge” as choosing to believe in the possibilities of future abundance rather than scarcity, notwithstanding contemporary evidence to the contrary.